Standout Brand Storytelling: Using the Science of Story to Captivate Customers

November 17, 2021

Nick Westergaard, Brand Driven Digital

Session Recording


Nick Westergaard shares key insights on how to create brand loyalty and captivate customers in his talk, Standout Brand Storytelling: Using the Science of Story to Captivate Customers and Build Brand Loyalty.


It’s Harder Than Ever To Stand Out (00:55)

We’re using all these tools to create 2.5 quintillion bytes of new data every day.

Now, if that seems a little abstract, I’ll flip it to Google’s Eric Schmidt, who notes that every two days we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization, up until 2003. The Internet basically doubles itself every couple of days.

There’s actually been a 21% drop in the people who say that they understand brands; part of that is because of all of the noise. The average person now sees 5,000 ads per day.  Only 14% can name the company, the brand or the product after being asked to recall the last display ad they saw. It’s a phenomenon called banner blindness. 


To Move Forward, We Have To Go Back (2:35)  

If we want to stand out, we have to go back to some more primal tools to help us out to do this work. One of the ways that we’ve grown is specifically in this area of our brain. As neuroscientist Antonio Damasio notes, “Stories are the fundamental way in which the brain organizes information in a practical, memorable manner.”

When your brain is exposed to story, it lights up. The left side loves that there’s new information. The right side loves that there’s a creative, cohesive story.


If Story Is Going To Be A Tool For Brands We Have To Understand How It Works (4:52)

Pixar Animation Studios is one of the greatest mass-market storytellers of our era. Everything from Toy Story all the way up to Luca tells powerful stories, but it all starts with hand-drawn sketches. That is the first draft before they can move a single axle because they can’t spend the time and the money animating before they know exactly where a character’s going to be in the next scene. So we’re going to start our work with a story sketch as well. We’re going to build this together.


Brand Storytelling (8:17)

Storytelling has a beginning, middle and end with an Aristotelian storytelling arc. Brand storytelling has this same “sketch” but we’ll call them context, contrast and call to action.


Context (9:25)

Context (the Beginning): Who’s your main character? What’s their world like? What do they want? Who/What is in their way?

Your protagonist should be your customer, not your brand. “We trust people that are like us.” This works because of neural coupling. We connect to characters in a story that are like us. Where does our brand come in? If your customer is Luke Skywalker, then your brand is Obi-Wan Kenobi. That’s because your brand has to be the mentor in the story, because mentors help customers; they help the main character achieve their goal by providing them with special tools, by teaching them new skills and by revealing truths about themselves. 


Contrast (15:23)

Contrast (the Middle): Contrast is defined by two questions: Where does the conflict come from? And what is the climax of the story?

As marketers, we get this wrong, too, because we’re talking about our protagonist, this main character, and we’re talking about what they’re struggling with. But this struggle is important because there’s tension around those unmet needs. This conflict is key in the brand stories that we’re telling. So we have that empathetic need there. And, when it holds our attention, it is key in establishing that. This is the climax of the story, but you can only get there if there’s a journey – if you start somewhere lower and depict that struggle. So contrast is defined by that conflict. We have to know where it comes from and we have to start somewhere that can actually lead us to a climax in this story as well. This is incredibly important because it is the bulk of our story. It is the arc of it but it also leads us to our final point. 


Call To Action (20:52)

Call to Action (the End): This is where we answer: How will the audience respond to your story? And this is important because it’s a little bit different than the fictional world of storytelling because not a lot happens after that climax in the story.

In Star Wars they blow up the Death Star. There are five minutes left. Dorothy clicks her heels in The Wizard of Oz. There’s only two minutes left. That’s the same amount of time left when Buzz and Woody finally get back to Andy at the end of Toy Story.

But for us as brands, there’s a lot more that happens in these final stages of storytelling.

Story theorist Robert McKee calls brand storytelling, “A purpose told story because it’s designed with a purpose in mind.” We know that even though they end up finding Nemo, at the end of Finding Nemo. We ended up captivated by the drama in that story. 


Stories Provide A Game Plan For Life (24:37)

Stories are sort of like flight simulators; they offer us game plans for life when we see something in a story. It lets us know how we might handle that. This is the closest thing to the scientific reason, a biological function for why we kept storing as part of our biology.

As Joseph Campbell said, “Myth gives life models.” This is powerful for brands because over time, this adds up to long-term loyalty. It’s why customers end up banding themselves with these brands that we’ve discussed. Stories that affirm who we are, reduce anxiety: that’s our call to action in the story.


Your Story Sketch (26: 25)

With that, we plugged in all three sections of our story sketch. We answered the questions that can help give us this framework of knowing what our brand story is.

There’s a reason why we’ve always been drawn to stories. With this sketch that you have, you can frame out your next brand story and connect with your customers. And, with this story sketch, you have a choice: you can either continue to interrupt and hope that you’re louder than everybody else, that no one even louder comes along, or you can use story to stand out, to connect and captivate to build brand loyalty.