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Andrea Serventi
1 September 2016
Reading time: 5 min

Telling the brand: 5 corporate storytelling mistakes to avoid

Product-focused brochures, guides, commercials and information on services are now no longer enough. In a world teeming with news and stimuli where the attention threshold is increasingly fragile, the challenge for brands is to strike a chord with their audience and to appeal and captivate them. In other words, it means knowing how to engage them when telling a story – the story of your brand.

The average consumer processes more than 100,000 words every day. With this frantic traffic of information, the brand has to choose the right words and put them together to construct a consistent and recognizable narrative. Most purchases are the result of an emotional impulse rather than rational behavior.

We have so much media constantly interacting: videos, blog posts, infographics and images, which you can maneuver on your website as well as through e-mail or social networks. Just imagine that every single newsletter, post, tweet and video-pill is a new chapter of your overall storytelling mission. For this strategy to take off, you need both consistency and cohesion in your images as well as text. The goal? To create an ongoing day-to-day dialogue that conveys the story of a brand that is constantly advancing.

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In today’s flood of communications, brands must employ effective corporate storytelling techniques. In this blog we take you through the five deadly sins of a corporate storytelling strategy.

1. Being complex and enigmatic

Being long-winded and verbose doesn’t do anyone any favors. It actually creates more distance between the brand and your audience. A high level of complexity is particularly common with those who work in more technical sectors (high-tech and financial fields or pharmaceuticals for example), based on the thinking that this will provide substance and authority, or that there are no simpler ways to talk about such specific topics. This is a misbelief: there are always ways to communicate with simplicity and immediacy, even on the most difficult of subjects.

Other obstacles to good storytelling might be the use of sector-specific jargon. When a reader comes across content, they usually want to get an idea of the product first, and only then, once they are engaged, will they decide whether to stay on your text or video. Complexity is the first obstacle that gets in the way of your story and emotional engagement, which most often depends on the immediacy of the meaning.

If you want your story to be genuine and immediate, opt for simplicity and always remember that every communication process has interferences between the sender and receiver of the message – just like the telephone game. So avoid further complicating your message.

2. Portraying yourself as the best

Storytelling lets you forge bonds and relationships, and create an emotional affinity between the consumer and the brand. Presenting yourself as the best player on the market serves no purpose, besides making you appear arrogant and unreliable. Yet, there are still too many companies that self-style themselves as the king of the world for no apparent reason.

Similarly, creating a legend and portraying yourself as a hero who has reached the summit using superpowers only creates an aura of fiction and superficiality – an approach that will only alienate your audience, and not just the most suspicious among them.

Glossy marketing, which was in vogue until recently, is no longer effective. Consumers are now increasingly discerning and aware of marketing tools – they are well-aware when the message is full of exaggeration and boasting. Putting yourself in their shoes is the first step toward creating an engaging and effective narrative: you need sincerity to build a human story, with spontaneous elements that relate to the real word with all its banalities and difficulties. Seeking admiration and reverence is not only extremely difficult – it creates a distancing effect.

3. Playing it safe

Building a great story means taking risks: the risk that the narrative might not work or might veer away from your original intentions. The most classic risk of corporate storytelling is to write a narrative that revolves around your core business.

To achieve an emotional connection with your audience, you need to tell the story of your company in an open and frank way, without neglecting the details, but ensuring not to dwell too much on aspects that might be unnecessary for the reader. This is what it means to take risks: to build a story that leaves out some aspects of your work that you feel are fundamental but can be sacrificed for the sake of engaging those watching and listening to you.

Whether you call it minimalism or “less is more”, in storytelling we could call “pruning” – getting to the heart of it. Ultimately the real risk is not exposing yourself through your story but betraying your message by watering it down with streams of superfluous narrative. In every story, including that of a brand, there are protagonists, supporting characters and extras: each one does their part.

4. Closing with a happy ending

Savings, convenience, product warranty. If this is the happy ending to your story, you’re ruining all your hard work. The economic benefit for your customer, such as a discount or savings reduces and demeans the full depth of your narrative.

Once you have hooked in the audience and led them to your finale, your potential customer will look at your brand in a more emotional light. Closing with merely economic savings will bring them back to earth and destroy the emotional bond created by your narrative. In fact, your user does not want to know what they will save, but how it will change their life if they choose you in particular. Needs are almost never purely material, but based on much deeper desires that deserve equally profound answers.

Your product or service must help customers achieve their needs. Once again, there can be no superheroes or pipe dream promises, but only open endings, where the customers themselves might be called into question: ask them to tell you how they have benefited from your product or service. There is no better engagement than creating conversation.

5. Hiding behind your brand

Behind a company there is a whole universe made up of different people and skills. Overlooking this universe is, in our opinion, a fatal error of corporate storytelling. Using the brand to conceal the world that has contributed and is still contributing to its development will lead to your brand having a one-dimensional image. Whereas, involving (directly or indirectly) the people who make your brand a success is a key tool to give your narrative depth and draw in your audience.

Often corporate storytelling is not effective precisely because of this mistake: if consumers are not aware of who is behind the brand, they will perceive the company as something far away from their own daily lives. But every company is made up of people, with needs and expectations that are identical to those of the customer. This brings us back to the key point: to engage an audience, every company story must go hand in hand with a human story. This is the only way to share the experience that makes your business great.

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Andrea Serventi

I was born in 1986 in Milan, where I graduated in Modern Literature and started writing for online newspapers, magazines and TV news programs. Having now converted to marketing and the digital world, I am a Content Editor at MailUp: I read, listen, collect ideas, and write about what email marketing is and how to use it strategically.

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