Storytelling time

Harish Bhat | Updated on June 28, 2021

IMAGE: ISTOCK.COM   -  Getty Images/iStockphoto

In the age of social media and content marketing, telling captivating brand stories is an essential art

My new book, #Tata Stories, has just been published. The book narrates 40 little known stories from the Tata Group, which can inspire and provoke us. The book has been well received. I have been particularly gratified with feedback that some parents have begun reading out these stories to their children, and some others have gifted this book to their elderly parents. When brand stories are read by grandparents and children alike, then they become part of our folklore.

The process of writing this book, and the early reader response, set me thinking about brands and the art of storytelling. Here are a few storytelling lessons.

Stories are all around us

Every brand has its stories. Brands which have been around for a long time, such as Tata or Unilever or Amul, have wonderful tales embedded in their heritage. In addition, all brands have their product stories, and also backstories of how their products have been carefully designed and produced. Then, there are consumer stories of sheer brand love or outstanding customer service. There are stories of the people who work for the brand, and the communities that are served. Marketers who wish to excel in the art of storytelling have to work hard at researching these real-life stories, and build a bank of all these invaluable tales. In my view, this is the foundation for authentic brand storytelling.

Stories of the human spirit

Corporates and brands usually tell their stories in a very business-like manner, often with strategy frameworks and lots of impressive sounding jargon. That’s fine for board rooms, but it just does not work with millions of consumers and readers. What works are simple stories that celebrate human beings who love the brand and its products, or live its values. Stories of the human spirit, that celebrate love and loss, success and failure, passion and purpose — these are the tales that make a truly deep impact on us. Look at all the great movies or timeless books. At their essence, they narrate tales of the human spirit. That’s what brand storytellers have to focus on.

Keep it short

Modern attention spans are short. Very few people have the time to read a thick book. This is true not just of Gen-Zers and millennials, but perhaps of all of us. What however works are simple, short stories, ideally told through evocative pictures, with brief interactive voice or text. So, whether you are telling a brand story through a podcast or a blog post, a video clip or a website, keep the narration brief. Based on my understanding of reader habits on social media, my objective has been that every story I write (including this article) should be readable within six minutes. This “six minute” rule has served me well. However, it is quite challenging to abide by this rule, because it requires the brand storyteller to capture the essence of the tale in very few words.

Stay true to the brand purpose

If marketers wish to use storytelling to build their brands, then it is important that every tale reflects what the brand really stands for. The consumer proposition, and, even better, the purpose of the brand, have to come out loud and shining through each narration. For instance, the core of the Tata brand is all about nation building and pioneering, hence the Tata stories that I write need to speak this powerful language. Every brand that has been thoughtfully developed possesses such a core, and their storytellers need to understand and internalise this very well. Unless this is done, there is a risk that the stories you tell may well be entertaining and informative, but may not help to consistently build the brand.

Reflect a life truth

People who view or read a brand story are constantly asking themselves — what can I take away from this story? Stories become interesting to you and me when they add some real value to our lives. This value can range from sheer entertainment and pleasure, to enriching information, to good lessons that may well inspire or provoke us. The most enduring stories always hold meaningful lessons that reflect life truths. This is why stories from Mahabharata or the Bible, or, indeed, Shakespeare’s plays, have stood the test of time.

Brand storytelling is an art form, and a very important one, too. Because, at the end of the day, people remember and cherish stories, more than anything else.



The writer is Brand Custodian, Tata Sons. These are his personal views.

Published on June 27, 2021

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