Every brand has a story – what’s yours?

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Brand storytelling is a phrase we hear a lot in the marketing community but it’s something many businesses struggle to achieve. From difficulties in creating a brand image to the challenges of building a narrative around it, crafting a compelling story is no easy task.

Regardless, every brand has a story. Telling yours in the right way allows you to shape the relationship you have with your target audiences, existing customers, employees and everyone else who engages with your brand. In this article, we’re looking at why brand storytelling is so important and how to unlock the compelling backstory of any business.

Why does brand storytelling matter?

Without storytelling, you’re simply left with sales pitches. You’re essentially shoving a product or service in someone’s face and leaving them with a yes/no decision to make. Craft a compelling story though, and you’re creating a narrative that people can buy into and align their own interests with the core values of your brand. It’s this narrative that builds a sense in people that “this is the kind of business I want to buy from” or “this brand can really solve my problem”.

clothing brand Pact's statement about building a guilt-free fashion brand
Clothing brand Pact builds a story around “guilt-free” purchasing for ethical consumers.

If you craft a compelling brand story, this is what the majority of your customers will be buying into. It’s the same thing that keeps Adidas fans buying shoes with the same three stripes on them and people drinking coffee from Starbucks.

It’s not the product or service consumers are buying into here; it’s the brand.

Photo of Starbucks
“We still write your name and order on your cup and toss it to your barista for filling.” – Starbucks

A crucial point about brand storytelling that many businesses overlook is that it’s not only geared towards attracting customers. The right brand story will also attract and retain the best employees who will steer your business to bigger and better things. A compelling story will also make your brand something people want to talk about and something publishers want to write about.

What makes a great brand story?

Brand Intersection Group’s Charlie Jones knows a thing or two about brand storytelling, quoted here by Emily Gaudette, writing for Contently:

“People will say, ‘we need branding work,’ and then they begin the conversation talking about colour schemes. That’s a mistake. Your logo, your slug-line, your colour scheme, your graphic standards, those are vestiges of your brand. They’re outward facing articulations of your brand, but they’re far from brand architecture.”

Jones, who helped Contently with its own rebranding efforts, points out that the biggest mistake most brands make is failing to communicate their story. The thing is, every brand has a story and where the likes of Starbucks excel is by making this narrative the heart of its brand image.

What started out as a modest Seattle coffee house has become the most famous name in its industry. And, while the megabrand that Starbucks is today looks very different from the one that first opened its doors in 1971, people continue to buy into the same story.

As HubSpot’s Clifford Chi explains:

“A brand story recounts the series of events that sparked your company’s inception and expresses how that narrative still drives your mission today. Just like your favourite books and movies’ characters, if you can craft a compelling brand story, your audience will remember who you are, develop empathy for you, and, ultimately, care about you.”

Now, that all sounds good but what’s actually happening when people engage with your brand story? What makes them effective?

The psychology of brand storytelling – and why it works

Jonathan Gabay is a brand psychologist who has worked with brands including Dell and Everlast. Writing for Smart Insights, he describes both brands and consumers as “stories in progress” and these stories as something that “unite everyone in a commonly recognised purpose”.

When people engage with a brand story, the brand places itself as a key character in the narrative and this is what people associate with. As the story progresses, people find common attributes between themselves and the brand or characteristics they aspire to have, in the same way they do with characters in a book or film.

So the ethical consumer aligns themselves with a brand like Pact, which represents their own identity.

Brands can take on a variety of personas in these stories too. In his Smart Insights article, Johnathan Gabay explains how brands can be the hero, the rebel, the underdog and a sleuth of tried-and-tested character types that people have been engaging with for thousands of years.

While it may be hard to imagine the likes of Apple and Google as scruffy startups, this is where it all began for the tech giants. And this raises an important point about brand storytelling – your story will change and evolve over time. Today, Apple is a premium consumer brand but it has genuine roots in its story.

More importantly, the central characters and their journey are relatable to anyone who has ever worked as part of a busy team that dreams of bigger things.

Even as one of the biggest brands on the planet, Apple can leverage the underdog story with great effectiveness because of its own history. However, the tech giant doesn’t position itself as the underdog in the ad above. Instead, it positions itself as the former underdog, whose tools help today’s underdogs follow in the footsteps of the iconic brand’s roots.

How to craft an effective brand story

For many businesses, the biggest challenge of brand storytelling is that their story simply doesn’t feel all that inspiring or they may not have an ethical standpoint to rely on. Perhaps you simply do what you do because it seemed like a good business opportunity at the time and, in all honesty, you’re in this for the money.

That’s fine. Let’s not pretend Coca-Cola is pumping out liquid sugar because it wants to make the world a better place.

As Entrepreneur’s Org explains for Inc.com, you need to keep things simple. Take out a notepad and jot down the story of how your business started:

“Spare no detail, and write this story from the beginning as a historical account. Include anecdotes, interesting facts, and a testimony of what has brought the organization to this point. Every great brand story considers the purpose and dream that birthed the company, and understanding what has brought you to this point and where the company is going is a strong place to start. Highlight the parts that reveal the purpose of your organization.”

Don’t worry if your story doesn’t sound too exciting at this stage. People engage with brands that were born from humble beginnings and you can add the storytelling elements to make your narrative engaging later.

This is part one of your story.

Next, define a single statement that explains precisely why your business exists and what makes it different from your competitors. This is part two of your story that will drive the narrative of your brand as it continues to evolve.

For us, this statement positions us as an agency that uses technology to “supercharge” our search marketing efforts and achieve 4X the results of our competitors. And, from here, we can build a wider narrative around the Vertical Leap brand and position ourselves in the relationship we want to have with our customers.

Vertical Leap's mission statement

In our story, we’re not interested in being the central character. Instead, we prefer the role of the guardian who’s always there for the main protagonist (our clients) to rely on. So, if we’re talking about The Matrix, for example, we would be Morpheous helping our Neos realise their digital potential.

The guardian or mentor is a classic character role that dates back to ancient Homeric literature. It evokes a sense of trust, reliability, knowledge and safety – the kind of associations we want to create about our brand. When times are tough, protagonists turn to their mentors for solutions and this is how we want both prospective and existing clients to see us.

If you’re struggling to build your own brand story, ask yourself what kind of relationship you want to create with your target audiences. Do you want people to look at you as the hero, the rebel, the guardian or another character type altogether in your brand story?

Need help finding your story?

Our content marketing experts have lots of experience in helping customers unearth their stories and creating exciting content around them. To learn how we can help you, call us on 02392 830281 or send us your details and we’ll call you.

Liz Parsons profile picture
Liz Parsons

Liz has more than ten years’ experience creating marketing content. She began her content creation experience at NHS Direct (now NHS Choices), reviewing and writing user-focused content for the website and digital TV service. After a move to Cornwall, Liz joined Eight Wire, an upcoming web design and marketing agency, and worked to manage and deliver marketing campaigns for a range of multi-sector clients, several within the hospitality industry. This led to a move into marketing management for Best Western Falmouth Beach Hotel - at the time the largest hotel in Cornwall – then to the award-winning five-star resort Gwel an Mor in Portreath, on behalf of whom she wrote a monthly column in Cornwall Today magazine. A short stint at Truro and London-based PR company Wild Card, working for Kelly’s Cornish Ice-Cream and Dickinson & Morris Pork Pies, among others, preceded a move back to the South East. Liz became part of the Vertical Leap team in April 2017

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