Think for a moment about your favorite stories. What makes them unique? What pulls at your heart? How do you feel when you experience the story?
Now think about your brand and your business. In today’s world, it’s not enough to just have a company slogan and a logo. The most powerful form of communication is storytelling, and the world is longing to hear your brand story.
But how do you begin crafting a powerful narrative that articulates not just your company story, but the feelings and emotions behind it? It is a journey that involves digging deep and uncovering your brand history, values, and the needs of your customers.
What is a Brand Story?
The most successful companies have mastered the art of brand storytelling. What do you think of when you hear the name “Apple” or “Starbucks”? Or, more accurately, how do those brand names make you feel? There’s something that transcends words when you hear those brand names, you just know the brand, no words required.
Put simply, a brand story is how a brand is experienced and felt.
A brand story encompasses not just your company’s history, but also the role your customers play. It should elegantly weave the details of your company in the fabric of an overarching timeline of events that impacts the market as well as your customers. It should also tell the story of why you do what you do.
Sharing Your Why
In days gone by, advertising and marketing were focused on the “What”: what you sell. In today’s market, and with customer loyalty being more important than ever, marketing should focus on the “Why”.
Simon Sinek describes this phenomenon as “The Golden Circle”. Most companies focus on what they do, and some can articulate how they do it, but very few can pinpoint why they do what they do. Telling your brand story begins with the “Why”.
The best brand stories speak from their why. Starbucks, for example, began their “Meet Me at Starbucks” campaign to build an ongoing brand narrative about their company. Suddenly, Starbucks was no longer a just place to buy coffee, it was an experience. It became a place to have meetings, have a laugh with friends, and relax… that also just happened to sell coffee.
People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. ~ Simon Sinek
Developing Your Brand Story
If developing a brand story was an easy process, every company would have one. But the truth is, as with every good story, it requires thoughtful development of every element. A brand story should encompass all the important highlights of your company’s past, as well as your vision for the future.
Not only should your company’s past, vision, and values be communicated, but your story should also reflect the desires, goals, and needs of your customers. Your brand story serves as an illustration to your customers that you exist because of them. They are the main character in your story, and highlighting how you are helping them solve their life’s problems will turn your customers into lifelong advocates.
Pin Down Your Company Values
The values of a company set the stage for your company’s story. Often, these values are so ingrained in your culture that they might go unnoticed. Take the time to harvest these values from your history, your team, your customers, and anyone else that has experienced your brand.
It’s important to take in everything: the good, the bad, and the ugly. As you’re doing this research and uncovering your brand values, you may find that some of the values don’t align with your vision, which can give you insight on where to make adjustments.
A brand story is more than just a dry recollection of events in your company’s history. You’re weaving the customers into the story, adding in grand scheme industry details.
Recently, a client of ours asked to develop a strategic narrative for their company. We took our time to interview employees and company leaders to gather as much as we could about who this company was. With this narrative, we were able to develop the tone of voice and articulate how this company was playing a part in the larger picture of their industry.
Ultimately, a strategic narrative articulates who you are as a company, not just what you do. Think of it as the character development aspect of your overall brand story.
Discover Your Tone of Voice
Think of your company’s tone of voice as the personality of the narrator that tells your brand story to the masses. A tone of voice is more than just what you say, it’s how you say it. A tone of voice for your brand should include everything from grammar and word usage to writing style.
There are many guides on how to develop a tone of voice for your brand, but ultimately it comes down to how you want your brand to be heard and understood (this guide from MailChimp is an excellent example). The way you write for your brand is often the first interaction your customers have with you, so it’s important to take the time to iron out these details.
Be The Guide
One last note on developing your brand story… it’s not about you. That sounds harsh, but if you want your brand story to resonate with your customers it’s important to take a guiding role. It’s important to make your customers the hero of the story.
Donald Miller, founder of StoryBrand and speaker at this year’s Leadercast event, stated, “We subconsciously choose guides.” If you want your story to make a lasting impact on your customers and build their trust, play the guide.
“Never play the hero, play the guide.” ~ Donald Miller
Telling Your Brand Story
Ok, now that you’ve taken the time to develop an intriguing, guiding, and impactful brand story, it’s time to think about how you’re going to share it with the world. If you’ve developed a guide for your tone of voice and your strategic narrative, you’ve done most of the hard work already.
Telling your brand story is about evoking that feeling that your customers will experience when they think of your brand.
The design of your brand is more than just your logo. While your logo is an important aspect of your visual brand, the entire visual experience and usability of your website also communicate your brand story.
Again, this process should be customer-centric. Before you begin your design process, it’s important to research your buyer personas and discover what their motivations are when they interact with your brand. This research will help to guide your design decisions and help make your website user-friendly and engaging, as well as evoke that brand feeling.
Content is the most obvious way to communicate your brand story. Everything you write should come from a customer-centric perspective while also being “the guide”. The content on your website, social media, and anywhere else the written word appears should reflect your business’s tone of voice and values.
Not only that, but any content you write serves as an extension of your strategic narrative. Think about how you can communicate your brand story while also providing valuable and insightful information that your customers want to know.
Believe it or not, your customer service team members are the narrators of your brand story. With every interaction with your customers, they are exhibiting the values of your company and evoking the “feeling” of your brand, for better or for worse.
Customer experience is your brand, and getting that right will not only develop a positive experience for that customer, but build brand loyalty, longevity, and turn your customers into your brand ambassadors.
Part of telling your brand story is realizing that it is a two-way conversation between you and your customers. Social media is a great platform for business who are looking to engage their customers on a deeper level.
Aside from sharing branded content, images, videos, and other valuable content, your customers have the opportunity to respond. Engaging those customers who reach out to your business on social media builds your brand identity and voice, and shows customers that you truly care. Social media has a number of benefits for business, this is just one of them.
The photography of your business has more storytelling power than you may think. You wouldn’t want the same photography for a grocery store than you would for a jewelry store. The placement of the photo subjects, the backgrounds, the styling of the shot, and other factors go into how your photography translates your brand.
The importance of photography cannot be understated, and selecting a photographer that takes the time to really get to know your company before they shoot is essential.
Your Brand Story Begins…
The most important thing remember about your brand story is that it transcends the written word and helps your company stand out from the rest of the businesses in your industry.
The brands that really stand out are the ones that make a difference in the lives of their customers: they make us feel like we belong, make us feel like we are a part of their story and they are a part of ours. What makes your brand story unique is that no one else can tell it but you, and the world can’t wait to read it.
“If you want to build a successful, sustainable business, a brand that will garner loyalty and, if you’re lucky, become loved, you have to start with your story.” – The Fortune Cookie Principle