Deconstructing Storytelling: Why Your Brand Story is Boring

In Best Practices, Marketing, Sales by Marita Peterson

It’s a problem plaguing companies all around the world: how to write a compelling brand story.

There are articles upon articles about it, giving the same tips on how to make a story better, but they don’t really go into why they are making the suggestions they are.

That’s where we come in. Let’s explore in Part 2 in our Deconstructing Storytelling series.

Why do so many stories feel empty and bland?

Have you ever read a story and felt like it was going nowhere? Have you ever finished a book and thought, “Wow, that was so boring, what a waste of my time”?

Have you ever wondered why those stories were so boring?

Let’s discuss it.

The difference between a great story, a good story, and a bad story – and this goes for brand storytelling just as well as it does for novels and movie scripts – has to do, in large part, with the story structure.

Let’s take a moment to define that.

The story structure is, simply put, the way the different parts of the story are organized. When people think of story structure, a lot of the time they’re thinking about the plot, or the facts of events that happen in the story.

This is only one part.

In total, there are three different parts to creating a great story, and the difference between great, good, and bad is whether or not all three parts are present and how closely they parallel each other.

Does this mean you need to have three entirely different stories happening at the same time, or two different adventures?

Nah, this isn’t Lord of the Rings. We’re writing brand stories here.

The structure is this:

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Narrative Arc

The narrative arc is the path your overall brand story follows. This underlies everything else and is the main driver behind your story. Without the narrative arc, your story is just a jumble of facts and emotions with no real destination.

Character Arc

The character arc is the path a specific character takes. It runs parallel to the narrative arc. Your “character” here is your brand, so the character arc describes the transformation of your brand from where it started to where it is now.

Plot

The plot consists of the facts that sit on top of everything. While the narrative arc describes the path – your company being founded, making your first sale, losing your first deal, and so on – the plot consists of things like the name of your company, when it was founded, how much your first sale was for and when it was, and so on.

So what happens if your story is missing one of these?

A few things can happen. Your story can be confusing, it can be boring, or it can be boring and confusing. We don’t want that, so we have to make sure our brand story contains all three elements.

You need all the elements for a good story.

These missing elements are responsible for many of the sad, boring, flat stories you’ve read.

How does this all tie in to brand storytelling?

Remember that “make it human” and “be authentic” advice we covered in the article before? What we just went over above is what that advice is talking about.

Yeah, you can tell the history of your company, but who is going to care if they can’t see the impact that history has had and how it relates to them?

Your Narrative Arc

Start by setting up your narrative arc. We’ll talk about this in more depth later, but the structure should follow (more or less) the following story beats:

  1. Status quo – what things were like before your company
  2. Catalyst – why you started your company (this is also called the ‘inciting incident’)
  3. Rising action – the history leading up to the story’s big conflict
  4. Conflict/Climax – the big hurdle, the thing blocking your way, and how you triumphed over it
  5. Resolution – how that conflict has turned your company into what it is today and what that means for the customer

This is the simplified version of the narrative arc or structure underlying almost all stories in the Western world ever written.

Your Plot

All right, the easy part is done. Now we fill it in with the plot and character arc. First up: plot. We’re going to gather all the facts we think might be relevant and later we will throw out the ones we don’t need. For now, gather all your facts.

Not sure where to start? Here are some ideas of what to include:

  • When and where your company was founded
  • Who founded the company
  • The “origin story” – as an example, for BDPros, part of our origin story is that the company was founded out of the owner’s garage and grew from there
  • Why the company was founded – what problem you are trying to solve
  • Pivotal moments in the company’s growth
  • Specific things your company does that make it unique

When you put all those facts together alone, it reads a bit boring. Why does your audience care about when, why, how, and by whom you were founded?

Your Character Arc

This is where the character arc comes in – how the events of our plot have affected the employees, the community, and (most importantly) the customers. We are defining who you were before, who you were during, and who you are now.

We have to get emotional here, so to start, think about the human emotions behind starting your company, behind facing challenges, behind the pivotal moments that led to triumph and company milestones. Think about the emotions behind your customer when faced with the problem your company solves, the emotions they feel when that problem is solved, or consider the emotions related to:

  • Noticing the gap in the market and founding the company
  • The first major challenge
  • The first major triumph
  • The first hiring decision
  • A moment where you almost lost hope
  • When you started finally picking up traction
  • Key successes for your company
  • Key successes you helped facilitate for customers

Work through these, reflect on those changes, and put them all together like you did with your facts – the plot. If you look at all this character development and the fundamental changes on their own, it’s confusing because there is no structure to them. Our next step, therefore, is matching up plot point (cause) with character development (effect).

Once you’ve matched them up, you can drop them in your story structure in chronological order.

Now What?

You’ve got your character arc, your narrative arc, and your plot, and all of that together has become… a long, rambling, disorganized story.

Remember earlier when we talked about how we’re going to throw away some of what we’ve gathered?

It is now time to take out the trash and organize!

Our goals:

  1. Identify the audience and the purpose – the effect we want our story to have on the audience
  2. Align the story we just put together with that goal and the company mission and values
  3. Remove any parts of the story that are unnecessary and do not serve that goal
  4. (Optional) Create and define characters to help drive the story
  5. Put on the finishing touches

Now, this might seem like a lot of work and somewhat backwards.

Shouldn’t we identify the audience and purpose first?

We could.

Or we could put together all these story beats so that when we want to build a new story with a different purpose for a different audience, we don’t have to start over.

Work smarter, not harder.

So, understanding that, the next part is identifying our audience, the purpose of our story, and aligning that with the company mission and values.

If you need help defining the audience and the company mission and matching that up, fear not! That’s what our next article will cover.

If you already know the audience you want to target and the effect you want the story to have on them, and if you already have your company mission and values defined, then here’s some homework for you:

  1. Take the story you’ve created and compare it to the audience. Mark anything that audience would not care about but don’t throw it away just yet.
  2. Take what you have and compare it to the goal and mark anything that doesn’t drive your audience to where you want them to go.
  3. Take that and now make sure it aligns with your company values and mission. We want story and brand cohesion. Mark anything that does not match your company values and mission.

We’ll go through how to identify if what you’ve marked is really irrelevant and if you missed anything a bit later – after we help everyone else define that target audience and their company mission.

Up Next

The next article is going to cover identifying and clarifying company mission statements and values, how to define what your target audience would care about, and finally, how to assess which parts of our overall jumbled story we can get rid of and which parts we should keep.

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