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A Brand Storytelling Lesson from the NFL

By Michael Neelsen

StoryFirst Media was founded in Wisconsin, and as such, we are Green Bay Packers fans (another clue would be our 2012 award-winning documentary Last Day at Lambeau).

This past Sunday, the Packers completed the biggest comeback for a win in their illustrious 94 year history.

The game was against the Dallas Cowboys, and the Packers’ season was on the line. In all likelihood, the team would have to win all of their remaining games in order to make the playoffs.

The problems: their all pro quarterback was out with an injury, their defense was a sieve, and the Cowboys had their playoff future to play for as well.

At halftime, the Cowboys led 26-3.

The stakes were incredibly high. In the locker room, head coach Mike McCarthy told the team that they were facing “the biggest adversity situation that we’ve been in in our time together” and that “our season’s on the line.”

To keep a long story short, the Packers came back out in the second half and rallied to a magical 37-36 victory.

Needless to say, my dad and I were jumping up and down and high-fiving like mad. It was an incredible amount of emotion, and despite all the problems we saw in our favorite team in the first half, some small part of us actually started to believe they could go on a playoff run.

Why was this game so emotional for us? Because we knew how hard/unlikely it was for the team to come back and win!

So where is the brand storytelling lesson? Here it is:

In the story of your brand/product/service, showing how you went down 26-3 in the first half is every bit as important as showing how you rallied for the second half comeback.

The amount of positive emotion we feel is directly proportional to the amount of negative emotion we feel. To face overwhelming adversity and succeed in the end inspires us to believe that any hardship can be overcome.

In football, when your favorite team destroys opposing teams without much of a struggle, it can actually be kind of boring. There’s no jumping up and down, there’s no sitting on the edge of your seat, and there’s no yelling at the top of your lungs. Those games have no stakes, no suspense, and they go down easy by the fourth quarter.

If you’re selling a product, your amazing new feature means nothing until you show me the problem the world faces without that feature (even better – show me the hardships your R&D department faced while developing the feature. If you struggled and had to invest a lot of time and resources into the project, it means it must be pretty important).

Showing your audience how hard it was for you to accomplish your goal, build your product or develop your service teaches them that you have the drive and ability to overcome any challenge. Dramatically speaking, the steeper you can make that mountain you had to climb, the better.

All stories are metaphors. Stories say “life is like this.” Stories live in our hearts forever because they allow us to make sense of our challenges, to feel we are not alone, and to believe that anything is possible.

But you’re only telling a story when you invite your audience to traverse your challenges with you and feel a part of the struggle to bring your product/service to the world.

Because after all, if it wasn’t hard to achieve, it must not be worth much. Show us how hard it was to achieve your goals and you will become a better storyteller for your brand and your life.