Are you loyal to a specific brand that’s messaging feels compelling and tailored to what you care about?
I’m loyal to two brands in particular — Chewy and Scribbler. As a self-proclaimed helicopter dog mom, Chewy’s transparency in communicating, excellent customer service, and personalized product recommendations continually engage me, whether it’s in an email, a direct mail piece, or a digital ad. And as an aspiring novelist, Scribbler’s monthly newsletter speaks to a pre-published writer’s woes, offers resources, and includes networking opportunities that makes me feel seen and valued.
Audiences prefer authentic, narrative-driven content. It offers them a story to follow, relate to, and engage with. When companies incorporate brand storytelling into content marketing, success abounds — as I’ll discuss later with real-world examples.
Brand storytelling remains an important tool in a content marketer’s arsenal. In this blog post, we’ll explore:
- The definition and uses of brand storytelling.
- Four global companies that mastered brand storytelling.
- How to apply brand storytelling tips to your messages and content marketing initiatives.
What is brand storytelling?
The term “brand storytelling” describes the narrative a brand uses in its content marketing strategy to achieve a marketing objective and connect with an audience.
Each piece of content a business creates should have a unique story. But all of their content should work together to tell a cohesive story. Just as each campaign has its own strategy and objectives, businesses find the most success when each campaign works collectively to achieve an ultimate goal.
Forms of brand storytelling don’t have to be written content. Brands absolutely can — and should — infuse storytelling into their press releases, website content, and messaging, but storytelling also resides in how employees talk about the brand to others, the brand’s intangible unique selling point, and how customer services solves problems.
Brand storytelling differs from the general term of “storytelling,” as it incorporates the nuance of accomplishing a business objective. While storytelling’s overarching goal may be to entertain or communicate a moral, brand storytelling directly relates to a concrete business goal, like driving more demo requests, increasing the number of followers on a social platform, or improving search rankings. Successful brand storytelling:
- Brings equity to a brand.
- Adds to a marketing strategy.
- Resonates with the intended audience.
- Inspires a conversion action.
- Relates to trackable business KPIs.
Brand storytelling overlaps with the colloquial definition because it creates a story with a hero, conflict, theme, and stakes. Your customer stands at the center, the perceived problem is the conflict, your brand’s essence is the theme, and the status quo is the stakes.
For Lightning Media Partners, the breakdown of our brand narrative looks like:
- The Hero: Managing editors of digital publishing companies.
- The Conflict: Not enough time exists for the digital publishing company’s team to create the amount of content needed to maintain or grow.
- The Theme: Reclaimed time and improved digital marketing metrics (not simply “new SEO-optimized blog content”).
- The Stakes: Teams will continue to feel overwhelmed, fail to create enough content, or see a drop in analytics.
Brand storytelling in content marketing
While brand storytelling and content marketing remain separate practices, creating quality content accurately capturing the story a brand wants to tell is the best way to release a narrative to the world. Helen Eckhard, our marketing assistant, made a great analogy:
“If your brand story is the message, your content marketing strategy is the vessel.”
Brand storytelling in content marketing manifests in different forms depending on a company’s industry, size, target audience, and goals. In the next section of this article, I’ll discuss how The Walt Disney Company, VSCO, The Girlfriend Collective, and Zoom display masterful brand storytelling through different messages and avenues.
Having a strong narrative enhances the overall content marketing strategy of a brand. While content marketing creates written content, brand storytelling infuses written content — and the overall essence of the brand — with the “why.”
Why do you offer your product or service the way you do? Why should someone care about what you have to sell? Why should a customer pick you over your competition? Why would your product or service solve their problem best? Brand storytelling satisfies all the answers to “why” questions while content marketing answers the “what.”
Related article: 6 Things to Know When Starting Content Marketing
Why brand storytelling works
Brand storytelling — the ongoing, conversational narrative — and brand backstory — the foundation of what the company went through to get to where it is today — works because it puts the customer first.
Brand storytelling emphasizes selling a company’s values rather than its product or service. Within the conversation brand storytelling facilitates, brands connect with their audience via shared values and develop the relationship to a deeper level of understanding. Not only does brand storytelling enhance the overall quality of content marketing initiatives, it has a real effect on profit, visibility, and community or societal impact. Wrapping a brand in a narrative helps messages resonate with the right audience and sets companies apart in their industries.
Science proves the success of brand storytelling, too. Stories bring about neurological and chemical reactions in our brains. Human neural activity increases fivefold when listening to stories, as more of the brain works to imagine sensations and process emotional reactions. As such, listeners remain more focused on the story — and are likely to retain it later. The chemical reaction, an oxytocin release, causes humans to care about the characters involved in the narrative, build connections, and share experiences.
4 companies with captivating brand stories
After thoroughly discussing the definition of brand storytelling, how it differs from content marketing as a practice, and why it remains a successful tool, it’s time to look at real-world examples of storytelling in content marketing. Each brand mentioned exercises masterful artistry of storytelling to reach beyond the unique selling point of their product or service and creates an unforgettable narrative that calls the audience to action.
The Walt Disney Company
The narrative or theme: “Where dreams come true.”
The Walt Disney Company, a media and entertainment conglomerate most known for Walt Disney World® Resort, Disneyland, and Disney+, remains a popular real-world example of storytelling in content marketing thanks to its exceptional ability to reach broad audiences through resonating messages.
Storytelling is pivotal to all The Walt Disney Company does, seen by the company’s mission statement:
“The mission of The Walt Disney Company is to entertain, inform and inspire people around the globe through the power of unparalleled storytelling…”
Without the veil of brand storytelling, what products and services do The Walt Disney Company offer? It provides family-friendly entertainment through in-person experiences at theme parks, the hundreds of shows and movies on its streaming service, retail stores, national musical tours, and world-traversing cruises. On the social responsibility side, The Walt Disney Company contributes to Make-A-Wish Foundation and nonprofits focused on environmental causes, diversity and inclusion, sustainability, and well-being.
It’d be easy to write a book on the millions of things The Walt Disney Company has its hands in — as a former employee of the Walt Disney World® Resort, I saw it first-hand — but its examples of brand storytelling in content marketing speak for themselves.
Walt Disney World® Resort and Disneyland don’t brand the trip families take to the parks as multi-thousand-dollar sweat-fests with tired children and aching feet. Instead, a trip to a Disney Park is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the wonder on your child’s face or have a magical encounter with a character who means the world to you. It’s freedom from the “real world” to create memories that last a lifetime. It’s indulging in luxury dining, immersive experiences, and magical moments.
Throughout each vertical, The Walt Disney Company enables its narrative to guide the message and engage its audience.
Why it works
The Walt Disney Company transforms its suite of luxury products and services into magic-infused necessities for its audience by tailoring each message to their specific want or need through omnichannel engagement.
For each campaign or release of a new product or service, The Walt Disney Company finds a way to link the creation of new media to a general idea that impacts its segmented audiences.
Some examples I found include:
- The new “Eternals” movie — in which a deaf actor plays a deaf character — sparked a conversation about accessible films and content, serving fans passionate about creating media reflective of human experiences for those hard of hearing.
- Disney and Pixar’s new movie “Turning Red” — which follows the story of 13-year-old Mei Lee who turns into a giant red panda when she gets too excited — brought about a partnership with the Red Panda Network to protect endangered wild red pandas.
- One of WDW’s most anticipated new attractions — Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser — prioritized Make-A-Wish families as the first riders aboard.
As evidenced above, The Walt Disney Company uses each piece of content to infuse storytelling into content marketing. Each Impact Story ties a value and key audience to the message — be it environmental activists, members of the LGBTQ+ community, cancer survivors and Make-A-Wish alumni, deaf Disney fans, or someone else.
The narrative or theme: “For creators, by creators.”
VSCO — a photography app first released in 2011 — remains a product for creators, not influencers, taking the pressure off users to create content for likes and instead post as an outlet of self-expression. Unlike other social media platforms, VSCO removes metrics including likes, follower counts, and comments. The creator-first philosophy driving VSCO’s mission prioritizes artists’ creative journeys from start to finish and seeks to provide education, support, and inspiration at every turn. The primary audience for VSCO is creative Gen Z social media users.
VSCO’s storytelling appears nuanced in comparison to brands like The Walt Disney Company. Instead of written word, VSCO’s examples of storytelling in content marketing take the form of photos and intangible aesthetics. The theme of VSCO’s brand storytelling remains the celebration of the ever-evolving journey of self-expression through creativity.
An unintentional niche created by VSCO — the “VSCO girl” — often lands as the butt of jokes in marketing spheres. However, the “VSCO girl” phenomenon displays indisputable proof of VSCO’s successful brand storytelling. No longer guided by metrics like rates of engagement and number of comments, the aesthetics created on VSCO remain creator-led. Each piece of content’s existence directly contributes to the brand’s pursuit of helping each person fall in love with their own creativity.
Why it works
While The Walt Disney Company’s storytelling strategy engages its audience by understanding their needs and “granting their wishes” through content, VSCO prioritizes the inherent value of creativity and empowers its audience to define each story themselves.
In short, VSCO lets its audience lead the narrative.
Primarily adopted by Gen Z, VSCO’s community of creators have a permanent role in architecting the brand’s story, which aligns with the organization’s values. “VSCO girls” — a Gen Z subculture characterized by environmental concerns and a laid-back wardrobe — remain one of the most active segments of content creators on the platform combining personality with engaging content.
VSCO girls create a complex formula for marketers. Unlike Instagram, the VSCO platform doesn’t regularly support #ads or sponsored content posts — but the aesthetic evolved with notable brands (including Hydro Flask, Pura Vida, Mario Badescu, and Birkenstock) as the hallmark of identifying “VSCO girls.” While some brands like Pura Vida leaned into this market and adopted leading “VSCO girls” as influencers for their other social channels, others (like Mario Badescu) chose to ignore the subculture in their own content marketing strategy all together.
VSCO’s example of brand storytelling in content marketing distills into its tagline: “for creators, by creators.” The users active on VSCO establish their own portrait of self-expression through unique content that tells an evolving, never-ending story.
The Girlfriend Collective
The narrative or theme: “Clothing for people who care.”
The Girlfriend Collective is a clothing brand with a conscience. The brand creates fashionable active- and loungewear from recycled materials. As a retail brand, The Girlfriend Collective finds surprising ways to integrate its brand storytelling into more than just a webpage. Founded on the commitment to create a thriving eco-conscious fashion community, The Girlfriend Collective creates “clothing for people who care” about the Earth.
According to the brand, it “wanted to find a community of people who cared about where their clothes come from as much as how they look.” The Girlfriend Collective’s process — from start to finish — remains transparent. Leaders hand-pick materials, manufacturers, and more to ensure the brand’s process matches its goals for sustainability and “goodness.”
Self-professed as “like, the earth’s number one fan,” The Girlfriend Collective took sustainability a step further than the production process. Every customer who no longer wears their previously-purchased pieces can send them back (or “ReGirlfriend” them) to The Girlfriend Collective for a $15 store credit as a thank you. The Girlfriend Collective then upcycles the recycled clothes into new pieces.
Why it works
The Girlfriend Collective’s mission and messages consistently reinforces the brand story. The product — ethically-made leggings — is conveyed by the overarching theme of being part of an inclusive community that cares about looking good in loungewear and feeling good about where those clothes come from.
On The Girlfriend Collective website, both photos and messaging demonstrate the brand’s ethical values and inclusivity. With brand models of all colors and abilities modeling sizes XXS to 6XL, The Girlfriend Collective provides visual proof of its inclusivity, further creating a community of women-identifying customers who resonate with the brand’s values and see themselves in the clothes. Brand messaging on product pages and core webpages — like the homepage — consistently cite The Girlfriend Collective’s primary mission, using data to discuss its unique selling point.
The brand’s educational content also bolsters its values, showing audiences how to put words and virtues into action.
The narrative or theme: “Happy meetings for everyone.”
Nearly every person in the professional or educational world knows Zoom in-and-out after weeks or months of living a daily routine through the lens of video conferencing during COVID-19 shutdowns.
Zoom — a powerful video conferencing software — offers examples of storytelling in content marketing through its robust catalog of blog articles and About page. Zoom’s priority remains to create a secure meeting for every person on a team, regardless of ability. The brand emphasizes this mission for both sides of its business; B2B and B2C.
The brand works to communicate with a broad audience as it helps the business community create flexible environments that foster collaboration and connection between employees and clients. Though seemingly general, Zoom works hard to segment its audience of users (or potential users) by industry or intended use, creating blog articles and guides that show real-world examples of how Zoom can solve existing problems.
For example, the brand recently published a piece discussing how Zoom enables educators to have a flexible work environment — which can reduce the high rate of burnout among educators since COVID-19. The blog also focuses on large teams, offering a workspace reservation solution to ensure employees can seamlessly adopt hybrid work schedules.
Why it works
Zoom gives its brand a human element through emphasizing employee culture on its blog and highlighting real-world success stories.
While talking about positive workplace culture and success seems like a “no-brainer” for most brands when crafting a messaging strategy, Zoom uses those points in direct correlation to its brand storytelling by showing how its product accomplishes its mission.
The majority of American adults work or go to school — and Zoom capitalizes on the far reach and functionality of its product to carry unique stories that resonate across the board.
Soon after COVID-19 made video conferencing a mainstay of work routines, Zoom didn’t only describe drab work meetings; it became the vehicle for pregnancy announcements to family, a way to livestream a wedding to far-off loved ones, the new after-work happy hour, and more during shutdowns. In a time of isolation and fear, Zoom brought (and continues to bring) happiness back to meetings.
Three tips for authentic brand storytelling
Most can spot a brand’s narrative or theme from their About page, but companies can follow three simple tips from master brand storytellers to infuse their narratives into every piece of content and communication.
Related article: How to Develop Your Thought Leadership Platform
Understand your audience
Before crafting a nuanced content marketing strategy hinged on brand storytelling, a business must know its audience inside and out — demographics aren’t enough.
Brand storytelling that resonates with its audience understands the wants and needs of the target market — and how the brand’s product or service directly satisfies those. In the above examples of storytelling in content marketing, each brand knew its audience, their problem, and how to solve that issue with its offerings.
The Walt Disney Company
- Audience: Families with children.
- Audience’s problem: Not creating enough family moments.
- Brand solution: Experience a magical trip together where you’ll create unforgettable memories.
- Audience: Photographers and artists.
- Audience’s problem: The ability to be creative without self-conscious data analysis.
- Brand solution: A social platform for artists without the ability to like, comment, or see the number of followers a profile has.
The Girlfriend Collective
- Audience: Ethically-conscious fashion lovers.
- Audience’s problem: Finding a fashionable brand that cares about the environment.
- Brand solution: An active- and loungewear product line with simple, stylish pieces made from recycled materials.
- Audience: People who need to meet virtually to accomplish a task.
- Audience’s problem: Boring, inaccessible meetings.
- Brand solution: A secure, HD live video experience that closes distance and offers accessibility to whoever sits on the other side of a call.
Psychographics remain essential to defining and understanding an audience for brand storytelling creation. In addition, businesses should understand where the target audience congregates so when the unique content is ready to share, it meets the audience where they are.
Stand out from the crowd
Creating unique content is another important consideration for writing authentic brand storytelling.
Brand storytelling fails when a business can swap a competitor’s name into its content and everything sounds the same. Instead, brand storytelling that focuses on unique customer experiences and why a business’s solution remains better than their competitors has a much larger chance of success in the marketplace.
A business’s industry will dictate what “standing out from the crowd” looks like. Maybe it’s a niche market with only two or three competitors — or businesses may face fierce competition from ten or more brands vying for the same audience. In each case, first understand the target audience, then discover how the competition talks to them, and finally differentiate the content marketing strategy to work in unique brand storytelling as it satisfies the audience’s need.
Develop your brand voice
Throughout the company, developing a consistent and unique brand voice that reflects core values and gets full team buy-in. If the larger team doesn’t agree with or support the brand voice and story, it will ultimately fail.
This is the space to marry a product or service’s value and functionality with what makes it intrinsically yours — give the concrete reasons why it is better for the target market than any other brand’s solution. Infuse a personality into it and spotlight real clients to humanize the brand and give potential customers something to resonate with.
Once a business establishes its brand voice and narrative, it should be in every piece of content created.
Brand storytelling in content marketing is a complex formula of nuanced narrative, data-driven talking points, and business goals in the form of relatable stories. Content marketing agencies can help businesses bridge the gap between establishing a brand voice, infusing the voice into content marketing, and connecting with audiences on a deeper level.
Lightning Media Partners’ team of researchers, outliners, writers, editors, and project managers take the time to understand client’s needs so each piece of content we create serves a specific purpose and generates a valuable action. For an in-depth exploration of how we can level-up your brand storytelling through content marketing, book a discovery call today.