What Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader can teach us about employee engagement

StarwarsHow to attract attention, retain concentration and engage emotions with inspirational brand storytelling.

Every great brand needs a compelling idea if it is to engage our emotions. The original, most effective way, of sharing information is through the art of storytelling. The best stories are inspiring; they strike a chord and stimulate emotions. Film franchises, Soap operas and TV dramas are populated by familiar stereotypes that resonate with the audience because they carry a kernel of truth. The famous stories of folklore and myth are filled with archetypal characters that are universally familiar and embedded in our collective subconscious.

Employee engagement is the combination of job satisfaction and team contribution demonstrated by a love of your job and a willingness to help your organisation achieve its goals. Engaged teams are motivated and feel a strong emotional connection to their employer brand. Inspiring stories can help to strengthen an emotional connection and stimulate a vibrant culture.

True success stories can motivate a group of people toward a common goal eg: The story of an entrepreneur who built a business against the odds and succeeded or the story of an employee who’s dedication to customer service led to promotion.

Archetypes and Psychology

George Lucas, the American film director, screenwriter, and producer, famous for his Star Wars Saga was inspired by Joseph Campbell’s book ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’. This highly influential book, first published in 1949, builds on Jungian Archetypal theory and helped guide Lucas’ style of epic storytelling and film-making.

The word ‘archetype’ is Greek in origin and the Psychologist Carl Gustav Jung was inspired by classic sources in his theory of the human psyche. Jung identified twelve Archetypes that Advertisers, Marketing and Brand Consultants use today as building blocks in the art of storytelling for their clients. We all intuitively understand archetypes and consequently they provide a shortcut to meaning for brands. The archetype provides a benchmark of expectation to live up to and must be authentic or it will fail.

The archetype is a springboard to creating meaning for brands, they provide a broad brush stroke of colour. Brands are not built by choosing an ‘off-the-shelf’ archetype and retrofitting the brand around the character, but their story can be given greater clarity by recognising which character traits they most closely display.

Twelve Brand Archetypes:

  1. Magician: The transformer
  2. Outlaw: The rule breaker
  3. Jester: The fun maker
  4. Lover: The romantic
  5. Citizen / Regular Person: The friend
  6. Nurturer / Care giver: The homemaker
  7. Ruler: The leader
  8. Creator: The craftsman
  9. Innocent: The optimist
  10. Sage: The expert
  11. Champion / Hero: The challenger
  12. Explorer: The adventurer

Can you identify an obvious archetype that fits your favourite brand? There will be an obvious archetype but your personality may come through a second archetype that gives character and dimension that sets the organisation apart from its competitors. For example; A firm of financial advisors may clearly be seen as the Sage (expert) but combined with another archetype like the Explorer (adventurer) an exciting character like Indiana Jones may emerge. This fictional character is both expert archaeologist and adventurer.

The archetype model is a tool for communicating brand meaning and your brand will ideally have many stories to tell. It is important to note that the archetype is not a fait accompli or a substitute for a brand strategy, they merely help to frame your thinking and provide a vehicle for communication. Your brand will exhibit different archetype qualities at different stages in its lifetime. For example: Jamie Oliver is known as the Kitchen Crusader. A Crusader is a Hero archetype but he fits the ‘Nurturer’ archetype too by wearing his heart on his sleeve and championing good food, healthy eating and nutrition. Jamie Oliver also embraces aspects of other archetypes but above all he is the Hero, fighting for the common good.

What story will your brand tell?

A good story begins with a strong premise, something that will capture the hearts and minds of its intended audience and has the potential to grow.  Hollywood Blockbusters are only judged a real success when they are worthy of a sequel and spawn a franchise, like Star Wars and Batman, because big ideas make great stories that can run and run.

Inspiration for writing your story
The art of storytelling can be put to effective use to reach specific audiences:

  • What’s the problem?
    What was the nature of the quest? What problem did your brand solve? What need did it address? What provocation motivated the founders to action?
  • What were the hurdles?
    Adventure makes a story sparkle but an uneventful tale would be very dull. Think about the obstacles that were overcome in order to reach your goal.
  • Who are the Archetypes?
    People connect to people. Introduce the cast of characters and provide a background context to give them depth.
  • A story without end
    Try to leave room for a sequel. A great brand, like any hero, lives to fight another day. A story without end.
  • Who are the audience?
    Brand stories should be inclusive, reflecting the interests of its intended audience and capture the essence of the brand and what it stands for.

It is often said that there are a finite number of story plots and Christopher Booker’s best selling book The Seven Basic Plots’ identifies these premises by building on the work of  Psychologist Carl Gustav Jung.

The Seven Basic Plots examines the symbolism of story and characters and may provide inspiration and direction for brand storytelling. The seven plots are; overcoming the monster; rags to riches; the quest; voyage and return; comedy; tragedy and rebirth.

The greatest storytellers leave endings open, providing an intriguing possibility for more adventures. Make sure your brand is not an open and shut case. 

Considerations for writing your big story:

  • Keep it simple
    Long rambling stories with no direction will not work.
  • Be Credible
    Do not fabricate or fictionalise as the truth will always out.
  • Don’t be afraid of your emotions
    The best stories pull the listener in when they can empathise with the plight of the protagonist.
  • An element of surprise
    Tell the listener something they did not know or would not expect to hear. These are the ingredients that make a story repeatable.
  • Make sense
    Stories are an effective way to demystify complex issues in a simple easy to understand medium.

The best and original method to grow a brand is through personal referral. Storytelling is the oldest form of education and the ability to turn your brand into a story provides avenues of expression for admirers to evangelise the brand and recommend its virtues to their acquaintances. We are most likely to accept a recommendation from a trusted personal source.

A collection of stories can be compiled including:

  • The Founders Story: their personal motives and goals.
  • The Employee Story: notable employees and their brand affirming behaviour.
  • The inside story: the fly on the wall insights.
  • The epiphany story: the stories customers tell their friends that attract new followers.

The parallels between the world’s most successful brands and nations are clear; they have foundation stories, their own ethics, unique words, sense of community, strong leaders, bold traditions and distinctive sensations. Branded organisations can manage their cultural assets to deliver deeper meaning to both employees and customers. 

The oral tradition is the age-old custom of sharing cultural history by word of mouth, from one generation to the next. This narrative approach to community history is just as relevant today. If you can tell a compelling story of how your brand began and the motivations behind its origins, then you will have a better chance of sharing the brand meaning with a wider audience. We are more likely to act on a personal recommendation than react to the words of a copywriter in an advertisement. If you’ve got a cracking story to tell, people will happily retell that story for free. 

How will you tell the story?:

  • What accent does the brand have?
    Does the vocabulary and tone of voice link the brand geographically to a region? The idiosyncratic use of words and their juxtaposition can place a brand in an era as well as a place. If the brand is linked to a renowned region or celebrates a long tradition, a local accent and dialogue could create an authentic voice and enhance the customer relationship.
  • What signature words does the brand use?
    Through repeated use of key words and phrases a brand can build valuable mnemonic devices. For example; Disney is famous for the words ‘Magic Kingdom’ and ‘Magical Moments’, these words bring the brand to life in the consumers mind.
  • What age group is the brand?
    It can help to imagine what age group the brand is and how this relates to its audience.
    a) Teenager: Chatty, cheeky, enthusiastic.
    b)  Young Adult: Proud, strong, independent.
    c)  Middle Age: Concerned, protective, sympathetic.
    d)  Senior: Wise, mentor, methodical. 

The flourishing employer brand

Stories are a great way of grabbing our attention and conveying ideas and important messages in a memorable format. We emotionally connect with the story by empathising with the people at the heart of the plot. A great story makes a deeper impression when we can personally identify with the characters involved. And if you are lucky you may tell a story that will inspire and motivate a team of people to become engaged employees that help build a flourishing employer brand.

©PaulHitchens2015 

Paul Hitchens, the author of this blog, delivers the Core Values Workshop and the Employer Brand Workshop with Symposium. He will also be an official blogger at our Employee Engagement Summit in London on May 14.

About Paul Hitchens

Speaker, author and branding guru, Paul Hitchens, will share his key insights into how your employer brands can be managed and enhanced at this workshop

Paul Hitchens is the Author of ‘Create the Perfect Brand’, a ‘Teach Yourself’ guidebook to branding. He has extensive experience in branding, including manufacturing and service brands. He has created and implemented many brands for new business ventures, start-ups and established organisations. Following a successful agency career that included an award-winning recruitment campaign at the PA Consulting Group and Automotive Branding at Wolf-Olins, he became a founding partner of the Brand Consultancy Verve Interactive Ltd.

Paul is a course director with the Chartered Institute of Marketing and has lectured at The Henley Business School, presenting the brand module for the MSc in Strategic Marketing Leadership. He has contributed articles on branding to business journals including Management Today and Start Your Business Magazine and has been interviewed on both Television and Radio regarding brands.

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