Great brands rely on great stories to get them to the top. While marketing funnels, going viral and other strategies seem to be the key to success, it’s the brand story that’s being told that draws us in and peaks our interest. How the story is told is just the proverbial icing on the cake. The cake, of course, is your brand story.
Today I’ll be focusing on the key aspects of a great brand story – the absolute essentials to build a story your customers will be attracted to – and show you how to put them together to create a cohesive, engaging and memorable brand experience.
Before We Begin…
I love to bake. I love cooking in general but there’s something about baking that just warms my soul. Part meditation, part act of love, baking brings me immense joy. Perhaps it’s all those afternoons spent watching my Grandma bake scones, make jam and pitter-patter around the kitchen. Perhaps it’s memories of my Mother baking sweet treats for holidays. Wherever my love for baking began, I can say that it is a large part of how I unwind, show love and express myself creatively.
I approach building a brand story in a similar fashion. Before I begin, I collect the necessary tools, ingredients and mindset to create something beautiful. Whether it’s a story or a buttercream cake, setting the stage for the actual creation is just as important as the process itself.
Before you begin, make sure you have your BrandMantra. More than just a tagline, this short sentence is your guiding light for why you’re in business and what gets you out of bed in the morning. Beyond just making money, your BrandMantra gives you perspective, powers your strategies and helps you keep hope when the going gets tough.
The brand story process relies on simple structures with creative bursts when using the elements described below. While there’s no tried-and-true formula for exceptional storytelling, there are some simple rules that set the foundation for telling brilliant stories. If the pressure to create a riveting brand story feels overwhelming, have no fear! It is possible to tell your brand story, even if you are just starting out.
The Key Ingredients to a Brilliant Brand Story
You’ve got the idea. You build the product or service. You create a killer marketing plan. And then? Nada!
Sales may be slow. Funding is non-existent. Or gaining traction seems impossible.
One of the largest mistakes I see well-meaning startups and new entrepreneurs make is the lack of a magnetic brand story to fill the gaps in marketing and sales plans. You may have the best idea in the world, but if you aren’t communicating it through story then you’ll fail miserably. So while I hate to be harsh, it is the truth – and one that can easily be avoided!
Here are the key ingredients I’ve found to create a successful brand story that you can start with today…
Never underestimate the power of emotion in business. Stories can’t help but express some type of emotion and if they don’t then the story won’t be told again. Humans crave emotional experiences and stories help us feel all the feels. Movies are popular because they combine all the senses to quickly activate our emotions. Stories have been told around the campfire for centuries in an attempt to share lessons through the power of emotion. So while some prefer to keep emotion out of their company or marketing, I believe that emotion-driven and story-based marketing is THE way to standout in an ever growing consumer market.
No great story exists without some level of strife. Who are you up against? What cause are you championing? It doesn’t have to be a noble cause or fight on a grand scale, it could be something on a local or micro level that affects you or your community. No matter what the issue, the point is there needs to be one!
Not all heroes are human. Wall-E, one of my favorite and most tear-jerking movies of all time, is a great example of how a hero arises in unconventional ways. So while most of my clients are human-based, the hero’s journey is more important than who stars in the story. At the end of the day, what journey are you taking your customers on?
What does the company or brand stand for? How do they operate? In what ways do they do business? When someone shakes your hand, do they know they can trust you?
Company values shape your brand story and communicate your reason for being (and how you do business). All too often a company’s values will be slapped up on the wall but aren’t lived, as seen in company culture and corporate policies. Your brand story must convey your company values to align and attract your ideal customers, investors and even new hires.
A beginning, middle and end give your customers a sense of flow and purpose. As you lead them on the journey of why you are in business, what’s in it for them and how life is better with whatever it is you’re selling, a simple story structure is the fastest way to move past the brain’s information gatekeepers.
*Note: not all stories need to start at the beginning but they must have one to make sense to the customer.
Ready, Set, Create: Building Your Brand Story
Now that you know which elements create a standout story, it’s now time to layer them in a way that is most successful for your branding goals and vision.
STEP 1 | START WITH STRUCTURE
The skeleton of your story is the structure component. You’ll want to briefly outline the beginning, middle and end to fill in the gaps later. Some questions to help start the process: where did your business begin? Why does it matter? How far have you come? Where do you want to go?
STEP 2 | DOCUMENT THE JOURNEY
Fill in the gaps by sharing your journey. Don’t hold back when it comes to success and failure, the highs and the lows. A great story isn’t a linear process taking the customer from point A to point B seamlessly. There are often many twists and turns in the process, making the story that much more enticing!
STEP 3 | DEFINE THE CONFLICT & VALUES
As you share the brand’s journey, the conflict and values will naturally appear. The key is to articulate them well. One way to do this is through showing versus telling. For example, showing your customer how strongly you feel about your cause through the story you tell (versus simply telling them what you care about) gives greater meaning and lasting impression.
STEP 4 | LET YOUR FEELINGS BE KNOWN
A dry, stale story often means there is no emotion. And what does no emotion equate to? A dead-end brand! Go back and read through your story – better yet have everyone you know read the story – and see where emotion is lacking. Are you holding back somewhere? Can you go deeper in any particular area? What emotion(s) are you conveying and how do you leave the customer feeling?