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In today’s industry, storytelling has become the new vogue. Brands of all shapes and sizes are introducing a narrative to their content. You need to think of this narrative as a marketing journey. It’s no longer enough to point to unrelatable metrics. Customers won’t translate a series of charts and figures into a reason to trust you. Instead, you need to be able to convince them of your likability and place in the community.
Since the dawn of social media, the company-consumer connection has become stronger than ever. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram give businesses the opportunity to interact with their audience instantaneously. There’s no longer a need to organise expensive events or arrange time-consuming focus groups. You can now connect with customers on the other side of the globe in the same way you can with those in your local area. Companies have the chance to prove their worth to every member of their customer base.
So how best to show your audience that you’re an authentic, trustworthy brand? Gimmicky advertising no longer washes with savvy customers. They are looking for more in a brand than simple marketing ploys. This is where brand narratives hold their own. A great story links all the major components of your company. Come from humble beginnings to the verge of conquering the world? Then show your audience exactly how you got there.
Whilst there is more than one way to tell a story, the simpler your approach the better. You want consumers to instantly relate to your brand. The only way to do this is to keep your narrative easy to follow and understand. Strong brand narratives explain your company’s journey for you. So there’s no need to waste your time focusing on untranslatable statistics.
Fostering Trust In The Storyteller
If your brand voice isn’t convincing then neither is your brand. The authenticity of your story is the single most important part of the process. It should be carefully thought out before you print any words. Do you know what the core values of your company are? Are these easily identifiable in your story? Failure to answer these questions can leave you stranded long before you’ve set off. If you don’t know the purpose and direction of your company, then how can you expect your audience to? All great stories start with a captivating opening and this is the first thing you need to decide upon.
People want to understand the lead up to your finalised product or service. No matter how you started, you’re bound to have gone through many changes along the way. These will have helped shape the business you are today. When GoPro was first founded in 2002, it was a niche service aimed at professional athletes. Now, almost 14 years on, it is producing some of the most versatile cameras in the world.
GoPro’s slogan ‘Think it. See it. Do it’ epitomises the main function of their product, as well as the journey they took to create it. The reason their brand narrative is so strong is because they deliver flawlessly on their promise. GoPro’s consumers want to be able to capture every second of their experiences. The camera allows them to do this without any hitches. Simply put, it offers professional performance to amateur adventurers. This professionalism convinces the consumer that they are receiving a bonafide product. The more they find out about the brand, the more they realise this is the case. They haven’t had to use clever gimmicks to sell their brand, just its naked, authentic appeal.
GoPro’s print ad
Ensuring Your Brand’s Vision Is Relatable
A brand that is relatable will resonate far more with its audience. The consumer should be able to empathise with the main characters in your story. If they can, then they will find it much easier to believe what they have to say. Portraying your CEO as a hero who defied the odds to bring his or her product to the market is fine. But you need them to be a hero of the people too. No one wants to read a convoluted essay on why your brand is superior to the rest. You need to prove this through the course of the narrative. Don’t force-feed it to them one superlative at a time. Keep your brand narrative simple and compelling. The best way to tell a story is to make people care about those involved.
Take Virgin Airlines for example. When Richard Branson started the company, he had little money and influence to his name. In fact, his only defining edge was his determination and vision to ‘make flying good again’. Finding himself stranded after a cancelled flight, Branson decided to franchise his own airline. The result, Virgin Airlines, made the prospect of travelling comfortable and exciting again. This idea alone allowed him to sell thousands of airline tickets to previously disgruntled passengers. The rest, as they say, is history.
Virgin wasn’t successful because of Branson’s previous work in entertainment. It was its relatability to millions of travellers around the globe. Virgin’s brand narrative mirrors the struggle of a traditional long haul flight. It sets up Branson as its spearhead and shows people that he is just like them. Your audience can’t relate if they can’t see themselves in the main character’s shoes. You need to work out what the driving ambition behind your company is. Realising this will enable you to prove your authenticity to the consumer. How did you get from concept to concrete? Once you know this, your audience will understand the mission you are trying to complete.
Virgin Atlantic’s ad to promote their comfy Upper Class Suite
Stripping Out Every Superfluous Detail
Simple stories work because they are economical. Their design tells the reader only what they need to know. If your founder’s birth is irrelevant to your brand, leave it out. It may be useful to know a few background details, but everything else is of little consequence. It all comes down to the that creative spark. How did it come about? How far have you come since that moment? These are the things your audience wants to hear about.
By overcrowding your brand narrative with tidbits and facts, you risk diluting its purpose. The singular aim of your story is to captivate your audience and inspire engagement on their part. If you succeed, they go on to become paying customers. An endless account of the early years of your company will detract from the main focus of the narrative. Would you buy into the story yourself? If not, why not? Take a closer look at your narrative. Perhaps you take too long to reach the pivotal part. Reassess the usefulness of each segment and decide whether it helps the consumer understand your brand any better.
Airbnb is currently one of the most lucrative hotel services in operation. With accommodation in 190 countries around the globe, its brand appeal is undeniable. But what makes its story so successful? In short, the concept of staying in a home away from home. Airbnb recently went through its own rebranding process. Originally, the company was simply a way for travelling homeowners to make money from their absent houses. Now, the company has become far more invested in the premise of those doing the renting.
‘Don’t go there. Live there.’ Airbnb’s new slogan perfectly defines their stripped down brand approach. They’ve realised that people’s main reason for choosing their service is the increased freedom. People want more than just a claustrophobic hotel room. Once they worked this out, everything else became superfluous. Their brand now emphasises the idea of living in another country temporarily. At heart, the brand narrative plays on humanity’s need for belonging. This simple idea is now used to drive all their adverts and content.
Airbnb ‘Don’t go there. Live there’ campaign
Simple storytelling has enabled Airbnb, Virgin and GoPro to create brands that are synonymous with their vision. The brand narrative of each compels the consumer to accept its necessity in the market. Study the underlying principles of these brand leaders. By implementing them in your own company, you can begin to redefine its purpose. When you understand your story, you’ll be able to build from it a stronger, more appealing brand.
BIO: Joseph Hedges has spent over 25 years working in the design and branding industry. He currently heads the team at London-based branding company, Garden, functioning as Creative Director, CEO and general tour de force. His multi-disciplinary background enables him to understand the needs of a variety of audiences and offer a three-dimensional experience to all his customers. An award winning brand specialist, Joseph lectures at industry events and was a guest expert on Channel 4’s Super Shoppers.
Photo credit: Unsplash
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In a narrative essay you tell a story, often about a personal experience, but you also make a point. So, the purpose is not only to tell an entertaining tale but also show the reason for the story and the importance of the experience.
Narrative Essays: To Tell a Story
There are four types of essays:
- Exposition - gives factual information about various topics to the reader.
- Description - describes in colorful detail the characteristics and traits of a person, place, or thing.
- Argument - convinces the reader by demonstrating the truth or falsity of a topic.
- Narrative - tells a vivid story, usually from one person’s viewpoint.
A narrative essay uses all the story elements - a beginning, middle and ending, plot, characters, setting and climax - all coming together to complete the story.
Essential Elements of Narrative Essays
The focus of a narrative essay is the plot, which is told using enough details to build to a climax. Here's how:
- It is usually told chronologically.
- It has a purpose, which is usually stated in the opening sentence.
- It may use dialogue.
- It is written with sensory details and bright descriptions to involve the reader. All these details relate in some way to the main point the writer is making.
All of these elements need to seamlessly combine. A few examples of narrative essays follow. Narrative essays can be quite long, so here only the beginnings of essays are included:
Learning Can Be Scary
This excerpt about learning new things and new situations is an example of a personal narrative essay that describes learning to swim.
“Learning something new can be a scary experience. One of the hardest things I've ever had to do was learn how to swim. I was always afraid of the water, but I decided that swimming was an important skill that I should learn. I also thought it would be good exercise and help me to become physically stronger. What I didn't realize was that learning to swim would also make me a more confident person.
New situations always make me a bit nervous, and my first swimming lesson was no exception. After I changed into my bathing suit in the locker room, I stood timidly by the side of the pool waiting for the teacher and other students to show up. After a couple of minutes the teacher came over. She smiled and introduced herself, and two more students joined us. Although they were both older than me, they didn't seem to be embarrassed about not knowing how to swim. I began to feel more at ease.”
The Manager. The Leader.
The following excerpt is a narrative essay about a manager who was a great leader. Notice the intriguing first sentence that captures your attention right away.
“Jerry was the kind of guy you love to hate. He was always in a good mood and always had something positive to say. When someone would ask him how he was doing, he would reply, 'If I were any better, I would be twins!' He was a unique manager because he had several waiters who had followed him around from restaurant to restaurant. The reason the waiters followed Jerry was because of his attitude. He was a natural motivator. If an employee was having a bad day, Jerry was there telling the employee how to look on the positive side of the situation.”
This excerpt from The Climb also captures your attention right away by creating a sense of mystery. The reader announces that he or she has "this fear" and you want to read on to see what that fear is.
“I have this fear. It causes my legs to shake. I break out in a cold sweat. I start jabbering to anyone who is nearby. As thoughts of certain death run through my mind, the world appears a precious, treasured place. I imagine my own funeral, then shrink back at the implications of where my thoughts are taking me. My stomach feels strange. My palms are clammy. I am terrified of heights. Of course, it’s not really a fear of being in a high place. Rather, it is the view of a long way to fall, of rocks far below me and no firm wall between me and the edge. My sense of security is screamingly absent. There are no guardrails, flimsy though I picture them, or other safety devices. I can rely only on my own surefootedness—or lack thereof.”
The following narrative essay involves a parent reflecting on taking his kids to Disneyland for the first time.
“It was a hot, sunny day, when I finally took my kids to the Disneyland. My son Matthew and my daughter Audra endlessly asked me to show them the dreamland of many children, with Mickey Mouse and Snow White walking by and arousing a huge portion of emotions. Somehow these fairy-tale creatures can make children happy without such 'small' presents as $100 Lego or a Barbie house with six rooms and garden furniture. Therefore, I thought that Disneyland was a good invention for loving parents.”
The Sacred Grove of Oshogbo by Jeffrey Tayler
The following essay contains descriptive language that helps to paint a vivid picture for the reader of an interesting encounter.
“As I passed through the gates I heard a squeaky voice. A diminutive middle-aged man came out from behind the trees — the caretaker. He worked a toothbrush-sized stick around in his mouth, digging into the crevices between algae'd stubs of teeth. He was barefoot; he wore a blue batik shirt known as a buba, baggy purple trousers, and an embroidered skullcap. I asked him if he would show me around the shrine. Motioning me to follow, he spat out the results of his stick work and set off down the trail.”
This excerpt from “Playground Memory” has very good sensory details.
“Looking back on a childhood filled with events and memories, I find it rather difficult to pick on that leaves me with the fabled “warm and fuzzy feelings.” As the daughter of an Air Force Major, I had the pleasure of traveling across America in many moving trips. I have visited the monstrous trees of the Sequoia National Forest, stood on the edge of the Grande Canyon and have jumped on the beds at Caesar’s Palace in Lake Tahoe. However, I have discovered that when reflecting on my childhood, it is not the trips that come to mind, instead there are details from everyday doings; a deck of cards, a silver bank or an ice cream flavor. One memory that comes to mind belongs to a day of no particular importance. It was late in the fall in Merced, California on the playground of my old elementary school; an overcast day with the wind blowing strong. I stood on the blacktop, pulling my hoodie over my ears. The wind was causing miniature tornados; we called them “dirt devils”, to swarm around me.”
This excerpt from “Christmas Cookies” makes good use of descriptive language.
“Although I have grown up to be entirely inept at the art of cooking, as to make even the most wretched chef ridicule my sad baking attempts, my childhood would have indicated otherwise; I was always on the countertop next to my mother’s cooking bowl, adding and mixing ingredients that would doubtlessly create a delicious food. When I was younger, cooking came intrinsically with the holiday season, which made that time of year the prime occasion for me to unite with ounces and ounces of satin dark chocolate, various other messy and gooey ingredients, numerous cooking utensils, and the assistance of my mother to cook what would soon be an edible masterpiece. The most memorable of the holiday works of art were our Chocolate Crinkle Cookies, which my mother and I first made when I was about six and are now made annually.”
Tips on Writing a Narrative Essay
When writing a narrative essay, remember that you are sharing sensory and emotional details with the reader.
- Your words need to be vivid and colorful to help the reader feel the same feelings that you felt.
- Elements of the story need to support the point you are making and you need to remember to make reference to that point in the first sentence.
- You should make use of conflict and sequence like in any story.
- You may use flashbacks and flash forwards to help the story build to a climax.
- It is usually written in the first person, but third person may also be used.
Remember, a well-written narrative essay tells a story and also makes a point.