Once upon a time there was a brass band. It played a variety of musical genres really well. Lots of people danced at the events where they played. The End. If you are still awake after reading that, you know it wasn’t a very compelling story. It wasn’t very informative either nor did it have an ending beyond the words The End (so cliché!). That’s ok, because there was no story to even resolve with an ending.
That story told you very little about the band and what they do. Heck, it didn’t even mention the band’s name (even though you probably could guess by the website you are on). You don’t know their story, you aren’t engaged with their brand, there was not even a remote hint that they know their audience (you) or really care to capture their attention—just a few bland words in black and white.
We’re sure that this so-called “story” did very little if nothing to sell you on their services or their brand—and if you are reading this, you most likely already know why that is a total fail. Hard sells and information blasts are marketing dinosaurs; in terms of branding and marketing, the biggest business skill you can have is storytelling (it’s so hot right now!). This is true whether you are telling the story of your band on paper, in digital land, or at an event (the main focus of our article today).
So how do you plan an event that effectively tells your brand’s story? It’s something vital every company or brand needs to know in this new age of marketing. But before you come up with an event plan that tells the brand story, it’s really important to have a firm grasp on what this means.
What is a brand story?
Well, it’s kind of what it sounds like, the story of your brand. How it came to be (the events that led to its start up), challenges or obstacles faced along the way, how all that has affected and created the brand seen today, and how it affects your brand mission going forward. Oooh, sounds like it will be exciting; we can’t wait to hear it!
How do you make that story exciting? If you just spew out facts about your brand in a robotic manner (such as in the opening of the article), it’s not much different than reading a dictionary or encyclopedia (nobody wants to listen to those e-books). So, what makes a good story?
Well, what does make a story good?
What makes a story good at its core? Pixar filmmaker Andrew Staton weighs in, “The greatest story commandment? Make me care”. And you know what, he absolutely nailed it. Think about it, what are the stories you remember most? Aren’t they the ones that reached you on some emotional level? The stories where the characters became like friends or extensions of yourself? The stories that you relate to (like how you truly felt “The Hunger Games” deep in your soul during your last camping trip or family reunion).
Let’s be honest, most of us thrive on emotional and gripping drama. In fact, neuroscientists have proved that storytelling captures people’s attention like nothing else. As humans, we’re hardwired to respond to things that touch our hearts, and these are the things that become burned into our memories. Besides being memorable, stories also help create relationships because they build connections through commonalities and relatable circumstances or situations (if we had a dime for every time we heard someone’s story and said, “I feel you there”.).
People also love honesty in their stories. Who wants to hear about the perfect princess who never had a problem or challenge in her life and lived annoyingly happily ever after? It’s not relatable nor is it realistic, and it’s probably not even remotely true. It might be tempting for a brand to want to appear as the picture of perfection (no problems here, no siree not ever, we’re 100% amazing!) with the fear that honesty and realness could deter clients and customers (no brand wants to be seen as the “hot mess”). Though you don’t have to lay bare every gritty detail of your brand’s struggles and challenges, showing your humanity and honesty will build trust and create connections with your audience.
But when it comes to stories, people don’t just want a beginning and then a middle full of conflict, they want resolution (we mean like when Jim and Pam from The Office finally got together and we all shared a collective sigh of relief and felt that we could move on with our lives). People’s attention is captured when they are waiting for an emotional payoff, and they will hang on every word you say, searching for it until it is found.
How is this anything like a brand story?
There is one big difference here, and that is reality. Though most of the stories we talked about were fictional, you’ll want to tell the true story of your brand—no alternative facts, no embellishment to make it seem cooler, just the honest truth. But maybe you feel like you don’t have enough of a story to tell (I like cute dogs, I started an online dog sweater business, the end because there isn’t much more to say) or you’re not sure how to dig deep enough to tell it in a compelling way.
Just like in a fictional story, there are several components necessary for telling your brand story. Before we get to designing the event, you might want to sketch out some ideas based on this story structure.
- Theme: It’s what the story/goal is about and it’s something that needs to be carried throughout the presentation. Personal experiences, an emotional journey, a story that strikes a chord with your target audience—all of these things can be included.
- Characters: There’s not much of a story without characters in it, and though you may have founded your brand, certainly you are not the only cast member in its story. There are:
- Protagonist(s)—you, your brand
- Antagonist(s)—Obstacles or challenges you and your brand needed to overcome to get where you are, and this may include other people (ex.—a teacher who said you would never make it).
- Supporting characters—those who have helped you on your journey and may include some in attendance at the event. They might be mentors, angel investors, company staff members (marketing, sales, etc.), other event speakers, vendors/suppliers, venue or onsite staff, and the clients who have helped build your brand through loyalty.
- Setting: In this instance, the space where you hold the event. As far as the audience is concerned, it is the (physical) setting for your story. Use it to your utmost advantage. That means don’t be tempted to go with just any space that’s available or inexpensive, but if possible, give some serious time and thought to a space that will be most effective for telling your story.
- Chapters: These are where the details happen. Like a highly detailed artistic masterpiece, you want to bring your story to life through details, in this instance, personalized details. These are the bits that develop character story, capture your audience, and make them care. People don’t necessarily buy products, but they often buy stories. You want to make yours a good one. Your “chapters” might also include details outside of the actual story as well, such as details in the design of your event (which we will discuss more in just a little bit).
- Resolution/Ending: It’s the last thing that your audience will see or hear, and it can be the most memorable. How do you want to leave your audience feeling (inspired, motivated, etc.)? How do you want them to respond (purchase, brand loyalty, etc.)? More importantly, what is your end goal? Are you looking to gain new clients, leads, increase your sales, strengthen professional relationships, increase brand awareness? Your goals should be reflected in your ending/call to action.
How to make telling your brand story into an event
We talked in length about what it takes to tell a good story, which is all well and good, but it’s just thoughts and ideas. Now what we need is some practical application, real actions that need to go into place to design and make this happen.
- Map out your goals: Your goals will serve as your guide and roadmap for designing your entire event, so you need to know what they are before you can put this thing in drive can go anywhere. Write down your goals (see point #5 above) as a reminder as you plan each phase around them. Also, begin writing down the ideas and stories that you want to get across to your audience.
- Get to know your target audience. Besides knowing what you want to accomplish through telling your brand story, it’s important to consider your audience. Who is your target audience and what is their goal in attending? That might be a little tricky to figure out, but you can find out more about your target audience through email marketing surveys and social media feedback. You can also dig a little deeper with research on past participants in similar events, look at industry trends, and check out what your competitors are doing at their events and the kind of feedback they received.
- Carefully choose your venue: If you remember what we discussed above, it’s the physical setting for your story, so you want it to be good. And not just good, but somewhere that somehow connects with your brand or says something about who your brand is and what you represent (ex—your brand is environmentally conscious so you choose a venue with a green footprint) and gives attendees the fullest brand experience possible.
- Let attendees give input on the details. You’re far more likely to attend and have a great experience at an event that you are invested in, has taken your preferences into consideration, and that you feel has been personalized just for you, don’t you think? Of course, it’s not possible to have 300 different opinions on every detail of your event plan, but come up with some areas where attendees can have input. You can ask opinions, most likely multiple choice so you’re not overwhelmed with tons of conflicting ideas (I need a morning event! I do my best thinking late at night! I only consider buying from a brand between 2:13 and 2:46 pm on Tuesdays!) on things like food and drink, schedule, and activities. Let them help design the event so that it feels more like they are writing their own chapter in your story.
- Create a walk-in wow factor. First impressions and all that. What people see, feel, and do when they walk in can set the stage for how they feel about the rest of the event and generate excitement and enthusiasm for what else you have in store for them. Truth is, in this modern world your competition is also working to wow people. Customers are no any longer pleasantly surprised by wow factors, they expect to be wowed and they expect engagement from brands. So, give the people what they want (and more than they expect).
- Tell your story verbally as well as visually. You want your brand story to come to life and in a way that is easily and completely understood. A verbal presentation of your brand story is important, but won’t those pictures be worth a thousand of your words? Speakers can have visual aids during their presentations, but there is so much more that can be done with visuals. Art, digital signage, white brochures, video clips, and other displays that catch eyes and attention.
- Create a story event that is interactive and engaging. It doesn’t matter how compelling and exciting a story is, it’s hard to just sit and listen to people speak about it all day. You are bound to start losing attention. By interactive and engaging activities, you are bringing your audience into the story (an outstanding example of this is the exhibition held in China to promote the movie Fantastic Beasts) with an immersive experience. There’s a good chance that you don’t have the same budget and resources as a big film studio, but interactive activities like round tables, workshops, and Q&A with speakers can be a great asset in your storytelling event. Aside from visual and verbal interactions, music can play a part in engaging attendees. Music has often been used to tell or accompany stories (when you hear the Imperial March from Star Wars, your mind automatically goes to certain aspects of the story—you’re seeing Darth Vader march down the corridor of the Death Star right now, aren’t you). Live music in particular has a way of energizing a crowd and can go far in getting attendees involved in your story.
- Make the ending unforgettable. The people want resolution! They want a happy ending! Don’t disappoint your fans. Aside from a resolution to your brand story and your call to action (which is the ending that serves your purpose), people want an ending that gives them something (besides story closure) as well. Can you plan for a giveaway? Unveiling of a new product? Promotions or discounts for attendees? Brand promises? Sneak peek/first look into things your brand is developing for the future? Give them something they want and leave them wanting more.
Your brand story should be entertaining, but its sole purpose or worth shouldn’t just be in its entertainment value. In other words, your brand story isn’t just about entertaining your audience. Author Seth Godin, the mastermind behind the best-seller “All Marketers are Liars”, says that “the best stories agree with what the audience already believes and makes the audience feel smart and secure when reminded how right they were in the first place”. Tell your story but make it appeal to your audience, make them feel something about it. Whether you are making them feel smart, secure, or right as Godin mentions or you’re appealing to different emotions, use it in a way that forges strong connections between your brand and your audience and helps you reach the brand goals you’ve laid out.