SEPT. 28, 2020
Ian Schneider / Unsplash
Once upon a time, a startup owner needed to advertise her brand effectively but had exhausted all the organic possibilities — or so she thought.
Little did the startup owner know that there was one avenue that she hadn’t yet tried. It was effective, and it didn’t require a massive investment of time or skill. Best of all, it was free.
That avenue was brand storytelling.
Storytelling sounds like a pleasant, fun, creative way to spend some time. Storytelling in terms of branding and advertising can be a great way to make more connections with your clients and customers, and it can, likewise, be pleasant, fun, and creative.
With more focus on startups and homegrown, grassroots small businesses these days, storytelling for brand development has hit the roof, and it’s effective. One study found that, across the board, people spent more on products that were paired with a story.
Especially in these times, we tend to crave connections with everything that comes our way, including the brands we buy from and the products they sell. How do you craft a compelling, catchy brand story? Here are six important steps to take.
1. Know Your History
To tell a good brand story, you can follow one popular piece of writing advice from Lewis Carroll: Begin at the beginning, go on to the end, and then stop. Begin at the beginning. For a brand, that isn’t just the launch or the first time that a curious browser turned into an avid consumer. Brands usually start well before the time that they reach the public eye.
Whether you’re crafting the story on behalf of someone else or you’re writing from your own past history, it’s important to get at the root of what inspired the brand. We all love an inspirational tale. It gives us something to connect with. Even if that original root was, “Do something to make a living,” that’s still a connective link with your audience. Entrepreneurship for the sake of paying the bills is not shameful; your audience will understand it.
But go deeper than that. If you started your company because you were out of a job and wanted to do something different, “do something different” is the key to unlock your audience’s sympathies. Go deep. Write down the facts of how the brand first got started and the values that it’s based on. That’s your story’s foundation.
2. Know Your Audience
A key aspect to successful storytelling, whether it’s an advertisement for a company or a stand-up comedian on a stage, is knowing who is listening. That’s important. Not so you can change your history to appeal to the audience or so you can make up parts that don’t seem to fit. No, it’s important because you want to communicate on a level that they will understand.
That doesn’t mean restricting your vocabulary, although you might have to do that at times. It means knowing what details from your brand story they are already aware of. What do they value about the brand? What should you highlight? How likely are they to respond to a story that highlights emotion versus one that stresses practicality?
Again, this doesn’t mean that you change the details to give the audience what you think they want. It’s actually a great opportunity to surprise them, to throw in details that they may not have been expecting. You’re like a good cook who knows that his guests love blueberries and chooses to use them in their salad as an unusual ingredient. Use your knowledge of your audience to enhance the story.
3. Find the Details That Resonate
The entire purpose of telling your brand story is to create a connection with your audience. That connection leads to deeper engagement and involvement, which leads to investment and often to brand loyalty. It all adds up to a heightened brand reputation with those who matter the most.
The key here lies in the details you include in the brand story. Don’t just include details at random — that’s a quick way to turn a great brand story into a major sleeper. Cherry-pick your details to appeal to the audience, the ones that will draw them in.
What details should you include? Again, it depends on the story and on the audience you’re writing for. Details such as the exact moment of inspiration, when the brand was born in the creator’s mind, are very effective for setting the mood. Details of challenges that were overcome build up sympathy in the audience, too. Everyone loves an underdog, and it’s a rare company that doesn’t have to fight to survive at some point in its timeline.
Connecting with your audience on an emotional level is a great way to sell the brand to them without resorting to traditional marketing techniques.
4. Be True to the Brand Personality
“Authenticity” is a buzzword that gets a lot of air time in branding these days. Your potential clients and customers can tell if you’re not being authentic. It’s easy to get caught up in mismatched branding. If your brand personality says “quirky and grassroots” but your marketing says “cold, sleek, and corporate,” it’s inevitable that the juxtaposition will be pointed out, and you’ll lose potential interest because of it.
Authenticity is especially important when it comes to telling the brand story because a lack of authenticity is easy to see. The brand story is a larger chunk of information, and it needs to harmonize with other branding and the personality that the public sees. Otherwise, it loses all its impact.
5. Don’t Be Long-Winded
Telling a good brand story means knowing what to include and what to leave out. Keep your story simple. Remember, cherry-pick your details. Everything that is included in the story should all work toward a common goal: building your brand by making connections.
Examples differ, but remember that your basic brand story should be a few-minutes read at the most. Consider working up a few variations. You can include one on a dedicated “About Us” or “Our Story” page on your website, have shorter and more concise versions to share on social media, and go into more depth on specific details in blog posts if necessary. Just remember not to over complicate your story.
6. Share Your Story
Once you’ve written all your content down and edited, spell-checked, and asked for feedback, it’s time to take the next important step in using your brand story for effective online advertising: sharing it with others. Your website is the first obvious place to post your brand story, but it should go further than that in order to be most effective.
Use shorter variations or quotes from your story and wrap them into visual content to post on your social media platforms. Choose quotes or passages that are intriguing, perhaps something that highlights the challenges you went through in creating your company. Include a link to the full story along with the quotes. In the process make sure you are branding your company’s story with effective visual designs that will help elicit emotions from your target audience.
A valuable part of branding includes positioning yourself as an expert, and depending on your experience, portions of your brand story could actually serve that same function. Say, for example, you had a big challenge finding investment for your startup. Detailing your experience in a blog post, including “been there, done that” advice from the front lines, makes the post more shareable, makes your brand more appealing, and makes the most of your own history.
Your brand has a story — we all have a story. Our stories are what connect us to others, and your brand can make those same connections. Leveraging your brand story is one of the most effective ways of stealth advertising, and it can be true in your case, too!
Written by Zaheer Dodhia