How I learned to turn multiple brand messages into a coherent brand story by watching television
Who’d have thought watching my favorite sitcom would one day benefit a client?
There are only two television programs I would set my calendar to. One of them is How I Met Your Mother. Not only is it entertaining, it has made me an awesome content marketer.
Okay, slight overstatement. I was channeling Barney Stinson for a minute there. But, there is one element to the program that did help me crack the code on a content marketing challenge I have been working on with a client. Simplifying their brand story.
When it debuted in 2005, How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM) broke new ground in storytelling with its use of flashbacks and flashforwards. They have been a clever devise for developing a nonlinear narrative that creates stories within the main story.
The premise of the main story is simple. It is a dad telling his kids the story of how he met their mother. The series is in its ninth and final season this year. It has earned nine Emmy awards and a loyal fan following. One reason for this is its creative use of recurring story arcs within its main premise.
Some of those story arcs have spanned multiple seasons. Here are just a few that have generated fan buzz across social media.
Let’s go to the Mall video by Robin Sparkle. This story began with an episode that revealed an embarrassing secret in Robin Scherbatsky’s past. In her teen years she had a short lived career as a video star in Canada. The plot was so popular it became a recurring story in other episodes.
The Pineapple Incident. One morning Ted Mosby, the main character woke from a night of revelry to find a whole pineapple on his nightstand. Nobody, including Ted, could figure out how it got there. It has become a mystery and steady reference throughout the series. It has also generated a lot of fan speculation.
The Slap Bet. This has been a long running story arc that began with a bet between Barney and Marshall. Marshall won the opportunity to slap Barney five times whenever he chooses. The slaps have been worked into several stories throughout the series. And there is one more slap remaining, which is sure to happen before the series finale.
The yellow umbrella has been used as a visual icon representing the meeting of the mother. Many episodes show a woman walking on a rainy street with the one yellow umbrella standing out from a sea of black ones. It is both a symbol of hope and a foreshadowing device to keep the narrative anchored to the main premise.
How the writers use recurring story arcs in context with the main storyline gave me an idea for the content marketing strategy I am developing for a client.
A strategy for building your brand story: case study
Dunrovin Retreat Center came to me for help with a rebrand and relaunch of its website. Over the years it had become a hodgepodge of pages without a clear focus or message. It needed a content strategy to reflect its mission and to engage the audience that will help to expand it.
Dunrovin is a faith-based nonprofit whose mission is to build hope and confidence in youths through summer camp, spiritual retreats and leadership development programs. Besides its youth outreach programs, it is also a destination for adult group meetings. Rentals from group meetings help fund the youth programs.
The website needs to serve the needs of several discrete audiences and their content needs: students, parents, youth leaders, meeting planners and benefactors. This slide deck outlines the branding and content strategy for the website and all marketing communications going forward. It lays the foundation for the brand story.
How brand themes simplify your content marketing
The strategic planning process produced some brand themes for Dunrovin that act like the story arcs in HIMYM. Some of the recurring themes that make up the Dunrovin brand story are:
- The natural beauty of its grounds on 50 acres of national forest
- It’s a serene setting for group meetings and getaways
- It’s a place for middle school campers to develop confidence and life skills
- It’s a place for youth to develop leadership and influence skills
- It’s a place for youth and adults to find spiritual renewal.
Like many organizations, Dunrovin has many parts to its brand story. The challenge is in how to tell it. You can’t tell the whole story in every piece of content. That’s where the themes help to simplify it.
Going forward, they will be story arcs that make up bits of micro-content on social media, on the blog, in email and in print. Together they make up the brand story.
In many ways the Dunrovin content marketing story is just beginning. Like the nonlinear narrative of HIMYM, we will be building the brand message over time with stories within the main story.
How does it end? Hopefully it doesn’t. This series doesn’t have a finale.
But if you’re looking for inspiration for telling an awesome long-running brand story, you just might find it by doing a little channel surfing!