In the eight articles from my For Storytellers series, we’ve seen how some of the most successful athletic and lifestyle brands—from Patagonia to Nike, with a couple of tech milestones for context—have built their identity around a solution to a challenge that was unique to their business. And if there is one thing they’ve all proven, it’s that they’re not as basic as the underlying plot points might be. To wrap up the series, here are eight more types of stories—one for each post in the series—that can inject a personality into even the most faceless organization.
Kicking us off was Tesla, a startup that has since found enormous success in an electric car brand that was once too ambitious for its size. By letting more people in on its ideas, however, it took the company on a ride that would ensure the end product was well received. Good storytellers are inclined to “hold things close to the vest,” in the words of CEO Elon Musk, so they can make a bigger thud when revealed. But, like Tesla, your followers often need more overt supporting details before they’re ready to hear what happens next.
Our first stop in the fitness biz was STACK, a publication founded on a very modern feature of the athletic community: poor training methods. Because most media builds its material on the success of the best, it left a critical door open for this brand to ensure less-inclined users get the same coaching, scaled for their ability. So, in story form, don’t always expect big struggles to benefit from heavyweight solutions. Celebrity-level achievements may be fun, but they don’t have nearly the same resonance as an ending directed to the average Joe.
Not every woman longed for a new approach to tailored running clothes, but that didn’t matter to Oiselle. This newly viral brand made a name for itself by solving stylistic problems in female apparel that its core customers didn’t realize they faced until the company showed them. Stories thrive on this opportunity. Rather than wait for an audience to express their demands, create a character that represents a cause you care about if you’re certain they will too.
Patagonia is every hiker’s favorite jacket, so much so that the brand told them not to wear it (unless you’re as interested in conservation as they are). “We ask our customers to think twice before you buy a jacket from us,” founder Yvon Chouinard said. “Do you need it, or are you just bored?”
This company’s odd anti-promotions are exactly what make it so appealing, and it’s something every storyteller should have: sincerity. Stories are only as good as the motivation behind them, which means even the most inspirational content can flop if it doesn’t offer something genuine. Show your readers they can trust you, and they’ll invest in what you have to say.
Just because your story fixates on one setting doesn’t mean it presents an opportunity to just one audience. And as someone who falls outside that audience, I learned that firsthand at Penny Arcade Expo‘s (PAX) famous gaming convention. This monument of technology proves not only that big organizations can attract different levels of interest, but that those people can all contribute to the same culture. With this in mind, be wary of boxing your protagonist into too small a niche. Including characteristics with which multiple demographics identify can give an already powerful story an enormous range of influence.
Writer, producer, and lecturer Robert McKee told us during a workshop here at Skyword that all stories lose their effect the more often you tell them. You know it as the law of diminishing returns. Nike knows it all too well, evident in its still-young initiative to market each new shoe with an eye toward sustainability—a quality that was nonexistent in earlier versions of the brand. Content creation needs these updates not just because strategies diminish in value, but because the industry never stays the same. By telling something new for a change, you can create an even larger story arch that shows your readers the brand is growing alongside them.
Brands are passionate, but according to Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI), they aren’t passionate about the right thing. It’s good to love the product you sell; it’s better to love the lifestyle it’s made for.
This specialty sports retailer carries dozens of beloved outdoor items that compete with its own, yet the brand still sees tremendous loyalty because its messaging is built on compatibility, rather than conversion. The same principle applies to storytelling: When readers can already see themselves in the story, without you having to nudge them in that direction, you’ve done something right.
As a distance runner, I like to remind myself I’m on the road I’m on because of the stretch of hill behind me. Corporations have to acknowledge their roots too, but for reasons beyond personal satisfaction. Even though Vans isn’t just for skateboarders anymore, this brand realized it would do well by its new customers to stay true to the scene where it got its start. The point is, a hero’s most moving triumphs are those that came from a smaller place. Remembering where you began is your best chance at selling a new crowd on a “cool” story, while holding onto the faithful companion who’s been there since day one.
At the beginning of this series, I referenced an issue former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney once raised about corporations being people. While it certanly generated conversations around corporate wealth, it also kindled a conversation about the importance of authenticity in marketing. Although sincerity and personality are no less relevant in things like politics, it’s a quality that brands—both startups and corporations—are in a crucial position to develop.
So, like I said—who are you?
If you want to help shape leading brands’ identities with great content creation, join Skyword’s community of storytellers.