Storytelling at SXSW 2017

SXSW Interactive is an overwhelming mashup of content, creativity and pure chaos. At an event with seventeen separate tracks, and thousands of sessions and speakers, just setting your schedule can you take you the better part of the day. But this year, no matter what track you’d chosen, or which session you found yourself in, you were almost sure to hear the word “storytelling” – not always marketing, not branding, not even web design or UX – storytelling.

In a session entitled “Startup Master Class: Lessons in Brand Building” Jen Rubio, co-founder and president of Away, and Andrew Perietti, president of Outdoor Voices, spoke about the importance of storytelling to building an authentic brand from the ground up – emphasizing the importance of nailing down your brand story from the start and sticking to it. Amy Balliet, CEO of Killer Visual Strategies, told audiences how to tell your company story visually, how to unify your message with images and infographics, and Donnie Osmond (yes, that Donnie Osmond), mostly just told stories about being Donnie Osmond.

But from the many different narratives about storytelling, a few essential lessons could be drawn for those working to build a successful brand, or helping clients build theirs: first, build your brand narrative, second, speak directly to your audience, and third, keep your story tight, unified and cohesive.

Building a brand narrative

The first step to building your brand story is asking the right questions. Before you can tell other people what your brand is all about you need to work it out for yourself. Think about what defines you, what differentiates you, and what, beside your product or service, you are ultimately selling. Then write it all down and keep it close.

Next, create a visual language that will connect with your target audience. Set colors, fonts, graphics, and images that reflect who you are as a brand and speak to the interests of your customers. Ninety-four percent of first impressions are based on visual design, so setting these elements in place will go along way in building your brand recognition.

Telling your brand story

Once you’ve nailed down the structural and visual elements of your story, identify every potential channel where you can tell that story directly to your audience. Whether that’s Twitter, Instagram, or a billboard on the side of a bus, make smart choices about placement that will maximize your content’s impact. In addition, make sure your content speaks visually to your audience, gets your point across, and reinforces your brand quickly and succinctly.

Keep your story tight

As you continue to expand your reach and create more content you risk losing track of your brand narrative; your story gets looser and your brand becomes a little harder for a customer to define. Ensuring that all your content is united by a consistent visual language will help reinforce your storyline. If you have limited time to create new on-brand content, identify ways to reuse branded visual content; break down a video into visual micro-narratives, or parse out the elements of a larger infographic slowly over time.

Finally, always keep your brand story close to heart, making sure to unify your content around your single product or service.