How to use the power of storytelling to build brand advocacy

Rachel Jamail

“You don’t look like you’re from around here.”

The commercial cuts to Adolphus Busch as he embarks on his journey from Germany to America in the middle of the 19th century. He’s there to pursue his dream—to brew beer. Throughout a 60-second spot, we see the treacherous voyage he endured, the tension he felt between cultures, and one life-changing encounter. We’re captivated as we watch the minute play out, hoping that the new character we’ve met on TV will be successful along his journey.

It’s not until the final cut that we realize Adolphus is showing us those first founding days of Anheuser-Busch.

I wasn’t the only one captivated by this advertisement. The commercial won the most online attention of all 2017 Super Bowl advertisers. Surpassing Clydesdales and puppies, the nearly 30 million views of “Born the Hard Way” demonstrate the power of a story—even one told in 60 seconds.

Anheuser-Busch received such accolades and generated such buzz precisely because they followed a winning formula for how to use story: after finding your brand's particular story, tell it in a way that allows you to connect with your audience and build trust with them.

The result? Powerful brand advocacy.

Read on to learn how to mirror Anheuser-Busch's success by building brand advocacy through storytelling.

What is brand advocacy?

Simply put, brand advocacy happens when customers who love your brand promote your product or service to people they know. These people are your brand advocates, and their promotion of your brand is extremely valuable.

Online reviews have long been a part of many brands’ digital strategies, but they aren’t as powerful as they once were. Anonymous, third-party reviews have come under scrutiny in recent years due to how easily and heavily they can be manipulated. This has caused consumers to now take rave anonymous reviews with a grain of salt.

However, a recommendation from a trusted source is a much different story. According to a study done by Nielsen, 92% of polled consumers indicated that they trust recommendations from within their social circles. This means that a potential customer is much more likely to convert if given the green light from someone they trust.

The rise of influencer marketing is proof of this. But while influencer marketing’s use of user-generated content is a great way to build brand advocacy, it is by no means the only way.

What is brand storytelling?

Brands can also build advocacy through storytelling. Brand storytelling involves using a narrative to connect with customers. Through storytelling, brands are able to show customers who they really are and what they stand for. This allows brands to differentiate themselves from competitors and connect and build trust with customers who share the same values.

How to build brand advocacy using brand storytelling

As demonstrated by Anheuser-Busch, a powerful story can build a lot of social buzz around a brand and can work to strengthen it in the eyes of consumers. These are the three steps you need to take in order to effectively use brand storytelling to build brand advocacy.

Step 1: Find your story

Stories are not limited to hundred-plus-year old companies or companies that sell inherently flashy products. All brands have a story to tell. Did your brand overcome a recent challenge? Stand up for a value that is important to its core? Celebrate a recent customer win? These are all possible stories that brand marketers can tell through a variety of channels—social, digital, or TV. As we learned from Anheuser-Busch, the more authentic and transparent, the more compelling.

It’s a common myth that in a highly regulated industry, such as FinServ, opportunities for content around captivating stories are few and far between. Think again. Take the 700,000+ following of the Transportation Security Administration on Instagram. While staying true to its serious value of transportation safety, TSA uses its Instagram account to uncover appealing stories.

How did TSA find this simple, yet compelling story to tell? They made a story out of an issue that they came across and shared it in a unique way to help their followers learn their guidelines. How else can regulated brands like TSA continue to capitalize on the power of storytelling to push their brand to the next level?

  • Execute thoughtfully. Airport security is a touchy subject—but TSA finds stories and shares posts with rhetoric that simultaneously maintains the seriousness of what they do while also providing a bit of levity. Thoughtfully implementing your brand voice and working in your brand values make for a great story.
  • Start off with a bang. Grabbing the audience’s attention from the beginning is especially important when it comes to visual stories. With the autoplay feature on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, consumers will quickly lose interest if those first seconds don’t reel them in.
  • Don’t try to be someone you're not. A brand’s ability to be authentic and true to their core is crucial. To tell a compelling story, don’t stray away from your brand’s values.

For more tips on creating your brand story see our blog, Three key steps to telling your brand story.

Step 2: Use your stories to connect with your audience

From our earliest days, people relied on storytelling as a primary form of connection, communication, and sharing. From community to community, tribe to tribe, person to person, word-of-mouth communication, often told in a compelling narrative structure, allowed for a deeper connection between humans—and that hasn’t changed. Knowing this, enterprise marketers need to prioritize a deep understanding of narrative in order to foster the connections that matter to them—no matter how the channels through which their stories are delivered have changed.

Word-of-mouth communication told in a compelling narrative structure has historically allowed for deeper connection.

Dr. Pamela B. Rutledge said it best in a Psychology Today article when she wrote, “Stories are about collaboration and connection. They transcend generations, they engage us through emotions, and they connect us to others. Stories are the common ground that allows people to communicate, overcoming our defenses and our differences.”

With the advent of social media, brands have not only had to translate their stories from traditional media channels to new media channels, but they’ve also had to consider the impact of two-way communication that social provides. No longer are consumers just on the receiving end of a megaphone. Now, consumers have the opportunity to partake in the storytelling through back-and-forth conversation. Social opens up the opportunity for brands to tell their meaningful stories to a large audience and connect with people on a deeper, more engaged level. Not only are both brands and consumers telling one another stories, but consumers, via social media, are often helping to shape the story of who exactly a brand is and what they stand for.

Proctor & Gamble’s Pampers consistently creates content that uses authentic, simple stories to connect to its intended audience. Engaging with their core audience of new parents, Pampers recently called their 158K followers to nominate exceptional nurses so that the brand could give them the recognition they deserve. The critical reason this story cultivates a genuine customer connection? Collaboration. New parents’ gratefulness for their nurses has shaped a story that Pampers wants to be a part of and, more importantly, foster.

Step 3: Build trust through your stories

Why do we feel so engaged and connected to other people through ideas formed into a written, spoken, or visual narrative? It all boils down to neurochemicals. Oxytocin, often dubbed “the love hormone”, is a powerful neurochemical that is emitted “when we are trusted or shown a kindness, and it motivates cooperation with others,” according to neuroeconomist Paul Zak.

Zak also found a connection between character-driven stories and oxytocin synthesis—that the more oxytocin is produced, the “amount of oxytocin released by the brain predicted how much people were willing to help others.” One of the best ways a brand can build trust and, in turn, produce oxytocin release is through transparency on social. Transparency creates trust and trust creates brand advocates.

One of the best ways a brand can build trust is through transparency on social.

Charity: water, a nonprofit dedicated to providing clean water to those in need, is a masterful storyteller. They tell stories every day across their social channels to elicit an impact. In 140 characters or less, the nonprofit humanizes the work that they do and shows incredible transparency by allowing people to see the tangible effect of their donations.

Social media strategist for charity:water Cubby Graham explained that while "there will always be new mediums, the principles of what makes a great story stay the same." Although a story looks different in 140 characters or a 60-second commercial or through a VR headset, a memorable, poignant message can always be conveyed, no matter the channel.

The benefits of storytelling are multifaceted. Stories help you connect with your consumers on a deepened level and build lasting trust with them—both of which help foster advocates for your brand. Having customers who not only keep coming back but continually support and champion on your behalf is critical for both brand growth and a best-in-class reputation. So whether it’s a 60-second commercial, 140 characters, or a picture worth a thousand words, keep in mind the power of storytelling as you build your upcoming brand marketing campaigns.

How Khoros can help tell your brand’s story

If you’re ready to take your brand to the next level, learn how our care, online brand communities, and social media marketing and listing solutions can help you connect with your audience on a deeper level. With our powerful suite of products, you’ll get insider insights that can help you better tell your brand’s story.

For the latest brand marketing insights and tips, visit our blog.

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