Everybody loves a good story. Stories compel us. They inspire us. They move us. They can prompt us to take action.
In the communications industry, we spend a lot of time talking about branding, a broad term that encompasses everything from the look of an organization to its mission and philosophy. I like to think of branding as an organization’s story. Through advertising, promotional pieces, earned media placements, social media, and other means, communications professionals build that story.
Many things contribute to our story, including some we do not intend, such as negative news items, public controversies, and the like. My previous post on crisis communications addresses how to keep those things from defining our story. In this post, I’ll focus on how to use storytelling to build that narrative for our constituents.
Let’s consider Subaru as a good example of a brand that has used storytelling to effectively build its image. We interact with Subaru primarily through its national advertising. Subaru’s tagline speaks not to quality, but love, and the company’s television advertising strings together a series of small narratives, often told in first-person, that explain how love implies attributes like quality, safety, and reliability.
My favorite of these, “Making Memories,” depicts a father cleaning out his Subaru and removing items from under the seats that evoke memories of his young daughter riding in the car over the years. At the end of the commercial, we discover he is cleaning it to pass it along to the daughter—an act of love, made possible by Subaru’s reliability and longevity.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Subaru has also donated millions of meals for the needy. While this act has nothing to do with cars, the company has publicized it because it builds that broader story about the company philosophy and lends credibility to the rest of the Subaru’s marketing narrative.
In our own organizations, as we craft taglines and marketing strategies, we should think comprehensively about what story they tell, and on the PR side we need to seek out real stories that build up that narrative. In short, reinforcing our story with organic content affords all-important authenticity. Conversely, we can spend all the money and creative energy we want to on flashy taglines and marketing assets, but if that story is contradicted by negative exposure and our constituents’ personal experiences, it will quickly backfire.
In a well-executed marketing and PR strategy, organic stories that reinforce our marketing messages find a home on our websites (and hopefully also get picked up by media outlets). They also drive your social media posts, which expands the audience for that content and pushes traffic back to your website, building search engine optimization (which basically means that when people search for us or our category online, they see our content first or close to the top).
Over time, visitors to your website’s news page should see in the stack of releases there a consistent representation of the story you are trying to tell with your marketing assets. More importantly, if your marketing and PR strategy is working well together, that story will be in your constituents’ heads, too.