Stories. They just stick with us. In fact, our brains are wired to love stories and remember their fact claims. Brands that are able to craft their story turn their marketing from noise to melody. As you develop your brand’s story, it’s essential to ensure your customer or champion (donors and volunteers) is the hero of your story. We’ll explore what this means below.
Storytelling and the brain
The relationship between storytelling and our brains is quite remarkable. We’re all born storytellers. In the earliest civilizations, storytelling was the way information, values and beliefs were passed from generation to generation. Sharing stories is the natural way we cognitively process information. One cognitive scientist explains that the brain understands information primarily by discarding all the unnecessary information it’s bombarded with.
Our brains have the unique ability to pick out the minute data points that are relevant in the moment and discard the rest. What stories do is allow us to build a simplified, usable model of information. This is what our brains crave.
We’re engines of storytelling. In fact, humans spend about one third of our waking hours in fantasy. The neocortex is devoted to trying to predict the future. What will traffic be like? What if my son gets rejected from his dream college? What if UNC wins the national championship next year?
We’re lost in fantasy. However, when listening to a story, we stop daydreaming and become fully immersed and engaged in the story. The story becomes real, and we graft ourselves into it. We imagine ourselves in the particular experiences of that story. And this is powerful.
Have you ever cried watching a movie or reading a book? Your mind was so captured by the story you were actually experiencing emotions on behalf of a character that may not even exist. This is the power of story.
In contrast, when you give someone a set of statements and a lot of information, they feel like they are being coaxed. We have an instinctual distrust of persuasion. When you tell a story, the listener begins to put themselves in the shoes of the protagonist.
When you infuse your stories with your brand’s mission, values, and problem-solving abilities, the listener begins to experience these through their own cognitive experience. There’s a resonate stickiness now, not through information but story.
Elements of story
Author and marketing guru, Donald Miller, has created a useful framework to create clarity in communications. His company “Story Brand” helps good people tell the best stories to positively affect culture.
Story Brand identifies this basic journey and defines the steps a compelling narrative must take. The goal – to clarify and simplify your message.
Here are the key story elements:
- Character – protagonist of the story.
- Problem – protagonist wants something but can’t get it.
- Guide – understands the character and the problem and can present a solution, usually from personal experience in overcoming said problem.
- Plan – something simple (philosophy and strategy), established by guide to enable protagonist to overcome challenge.
- Call character to action – the protagonist acts with clarity, specificity, and focus.
- Success – protagonist overcomes and is hero.
- Tragedy – protagonist fails.
So as you craft your brand story, here’s the most essential element to keep front of mind:
Make your champions the hero of your brand story.
Stories are centered around the protagonist. But herein lies the major shift for you. Your brand story isn’t about you. Your story is about your champions.
Crafting Your Brand Story
So here’s what has to happen.
- Character: You have to know your audience, your champions. Study them and hear their stories. What do they care about? Why is your cause important to them? How do they want to engage with you?
- Problem: Make the problem clear. If there wasn’t a problem, you wouldn’t exist. So what’s the key issue? Is it child abuse, trauma, suffering, poverty, suicide, homelessness?
- Guide: In all your experience and knowledge, you’re the guide. You come alongside your champions to provide a solution to the insurmountable personal or societal problem they’re facing.
- Plan: Provide a clear, actionable, accessible plan for your donors to be the hero of your story. Take them on the journey and make it so apparent what it would look like for them to overcome the problem. The plan should be simple and defined.
- Call to Action: Your champion now has to make the choice: will they take action or not? The future is in their hands. The path is before them. Will they have the courage to take the next step?
- Success: Your champions are the hero. They give their time, talent or treasure. That gift applied in the specific ways laid out through “The Plan” is critical to solving the problem at hand. Champions’ lives are transformed as they help solve serious problems that face our communities.
- Tragedy: Usually, for nonprofits, this looks like your champion failing to take the step. The problem remains. The champion’s life remains unchanged. But the beauty in your ongoing story is that there’s no end. This tragedy can be made right!
Let me be clear, this is a framework for storytelling with your donors as the target audience. But it isn’t the only lens through which to view your story. I strongly believe that the most effective nonprofits craft their services in a way that position their clients as the heroes of their own stories.
So, what does this look like for your nonprofit? We’ll share some examples in the weeks ahead. If you’d like to start the journey towards developing your story brand, Angel Oak would love to guide you. We believe missions for good can transform communities, and it’s our goal and purpose to advance the positive transformation of our community through guiding one nonprofit at a time.
Nonprofits – you’re the hero of our story. And we want to celebrate you. Check out our People Matter Series for insights and tips to help you maximize your impact on the community!
– Cate McLeane, Director of Client Relations