If you’re new to marketing, you might think that storytelling is just another buzzword, but there’s a good reason for its newfound popularity among brands, businesses, and entrepreneurs. It’s the one thing everyone has in common – we all have a story.
But unlike most people, businesses have the advantage of perfecting their brand story and using it as a marketing tool to communicate their vision and purpose to the world.
Why brand stories are so effective
When we receive information in a business setting such as a report or hear someone listing off stats, two parts of the brain are activated, the Broca and Wernicke areas. These two parts of the brain are where a majority of our language processing is performed. Besides being able to understand words, not much else is happening in these two parts of the brain.
But something fascinating happens when we hear a story. While the Broca and Wernicke areas are activated, a wide variety of other areas, such as our sensory and motor cortex, are activated as well. In fact, when we read a story, the events in the story activate the same parts of the brain as if the experience was real.
This synchronizing of our mind and story is known as neural coupling. When our brain sees or hears an interesting story, our neurons fire in the same patterns as the storyteller’s, allowing brands to connect with their audience in a dynamic and interactive way.
A good story can trigger the release of oxytocin (aka the feel-good chemical) or cortisol (the stress chemical). This explains the adrenalin you feel watching an action film and the feeling of joy when two lovers finally get their happy ever after at the end of a good book.
And different mediums can affect how we perceive stories in different ways. For example, a video can trigger emotional contagion, which is when our emotions mirror what we see on the screen. Similarly, listening to a podcast or TedTalk could trigger neural coupling, where our brain activity mirrors what the speaker is saying.
But it isn’t just about pretty pictures and a nice voice. At its core, the story itself is all that matters. When you can create a compelling brand story, people naturally connect with your brand, whether it’s a story about how your company was founded or the story of how your product/service improves customer’s lives.
Finding your brand’s voice and crafting a unique brand story is one of the most effective ways to attract, engage, and encourage your audience to build a relationship with your brand.
What is a brand story?
A brand story summarizes the series of events that led up to your company’s founding and signifies how that narrative still drives your brand’s mission today.
A brand story is not:
- A super long, five-page essay about your company
- A fragmented view into your business
- A PR stunt or tool reserved for the marketing team
- A tactic to manipulate people and customers
What is a brand story? It’s who you want to be – it’s who you’ve been, who you are, and who you will become. It is much more than just a souped-up version of the “about us” section of your website. Rather, it’s a creative way to communicate your brand identity and get buy-in.
Your stories shape and define your brand’s relationship with every major stakeholder and customer – providing an opportunity to connect with them on a deeper level.
Why your brand needs a story
1. Brand storytelling makes you stand out.
What makes you better than the rest? There’s a reason why your product or service is unique, and people want to know about it.
You might see it as boasting, but it’s a vital part of your brand’s story. How your brand came about, grew, learned, and chose to stand for – are more attractive to your audience than you think.
2. It humanizes your brand.
Everyone loves an underdog. Sharing your personal story provides your audience with a chance to connect with you in a whole new way.
Unfortunately, most brands focus their storytelling on features and miss the opportunity to make a personal impact on their customers. Making your brand story a little more transparent is a great way to build more authentic relationships with your audience.
3. It helps you attract the right people.
Brand storytelling allows you to communicate more than just what you do. It helps you simplify your values and makes it easier for people to connect with you – not only for your customers but potential employees too.
4. It helps you communicate your value.
The most iconic brands use story-branding to ingrain their beliefs, core values, and emotions into your psyche. Story-branding is a brand strategy that is slightly different than your brand story – with businesses putting their brand’s beliefs and deeper meaning before their customer to evoke strong emotions. A great example of this is Nike, “Just do it.” While this a “value first” tactic, the meaning and beliefs behind it are the same as their brand story, just amplified.
Questions to ask before crafting your brand’s story
1. Who are you?
Your business isn’t some faceless drone. A real person (you) or some people created it – they work in your office, provide your service, and run your marketing. Put a face to your brand to give it some more personality (ideally, your customer).
2. What do you do?
Think beyond your product or service page. Ask yourself, are there any unique features that would drive the most value for my customer? Are there any hidden benefitting that customers have found? Are there any creative ways I can showcase my main feature/benefit?
3. Who do you do it for?
Think about why you want to help your ideal customer. Why do you care about them? How do you want to help them? Think of your brand story as a fairytale – they are the hero, and you are their guide/sidekick.
4. Why do you do it?
Whether you’re a startup or been in business for a hundred years, there’s a reason why your company exists. Think about all the ways to share your “brand heart,” which is made up of your brand’s vision, mission, purpose, values, and the causes you care about.
5. How do you do it?
Do you use some form of new technology? Are your materials eco-friendly? Is there some form of innovation in your process?
Much like your mission statement, people want to know what you do, who you serve, and most importantly – how you do it. Creating this type of content is a great way to both educate and provide the transparency that many users crave.
6. What does your future look like?
Think of all the ways to show how your brand is evolving. What you’re working on next or towards, and how you plan to assist your users in the future. Creating this kind of content generates excitement and invites people to build a long-term relationship with your brand.
How to write this story using the five-act structure
Your brand story can positively influence the way consumers feel about your business better than any other method or marketing strategy.
If you can make your audience feel how you intended, their behavior will follow. A person buying your product is a natural response to how your messaging makes them feel about your brand.
One thing that 90% of the world’s most successful brands have in common is that they know how to tell a compelling story. They know how to transport an audience into a narrative that is bigger than them and connects with them on a personal level.
Personality drives the story, but your story shouldn’t be about a specific individual. It should be based upon an evolution of an entity told with personality.
People trust people – it’s the main reason why your story should be personality-driven, so your audience has someone to trust and relate to.
The five act structure
While you may not dream of becoming the next Shakespeare, your brand story should share a similar outline to one of his classics.
Most of the modern classics share the same dramatic structure – The Five Act Structure. This framework was invented over 2500 years ago in ancient Greece and is still in use today, playing a key role in most box-office hits.
If you thought you were too old for fairy tales, listen up. Here’s how the Five Act Structure helps you determine how to tell your brand story.
An important aspect of telling your brand’s story involves drawing your audience in and enticing them from the start. Make sure your first few lines are powerful enough to make them feel like it’s something worth sticking around for – make them the hero of your story and set the stage for their quest.
Present the everyday problems your customers might face as the villains.
- If you’re a shipping company, the villain might be stamps and post office hours.
- If you’re a marketing agency, the villain might be a lack of leads and web presence.
It’s time for your hero to face their villains head-on. By making their pain points seem larger than life, you’re able to remind your audience of the frustrations that come with dealing with these obstacles.
You almost want to make it feel like all hope is lost – until their trusty sidekick (you) comes to the rescue.
Now that you gave your hero a solution, things start to go their way. You should always remember that your customer is the hero. You’re their guide, providing them with a plan to conquer their obstacles.
Your solution is Excalibur, the tool your hero will use to bring peace to the land.
With the power of your solution, your hero defeated the villains and was crowned a new customer – a happy ending indeed.
If you act as if you’re writing an epic drama for your next ad or marketing strategy, you’ll be amazed at how much more engaging your content will feel.
That’s it. If we try and pack more into our saga, we might lose momentum, which is integral to a story’s success.
If you’re strapped for time or not feeling particularly creative, remember that every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. This three-part model is a more simplistic solution for how to tell your brand story. Here’s a look at what a three-part model looks like:
- Status Quo: the beginning
- Conflict: the middle
- Resolution: the end
People understand short, simple, and to the point. See for yourself.
Examples (broken up into the 3 stages of a story)
1. How Moz created its brand story
Moz is a SaaS company that offers everything you need for effective SEO strategy and implementation. Their platform covers all the basics like keyword research, link ranking, and competitor analysis to make your inbound marketing more effective.
Status Quo: Brands want their audience’s attention and have focused their efforts on acquiring it for years – often paying for their recognition, instead of earning it.
Conflict: With more ways to reach potential customers than ever, many businesses rely on invasive ads rather than generating compelling content to educate and convert users. But most companies don’t know how to build their online authority and think SEO is some complex magic.
Resolution: Moz believes there’s a better way to do marketing. A more valuable, less invasive way to connect with customers. They focus on search engine optimization (SEO), which is one of the least understood aspects of great marketing. Their mission is to simplify SEO for every marketer through their platform, education, and community.
2. Grado Labs’ story places passion over profit
Grado Labs is a Brooklyn based, family-owned headphone company. They have operated in the same building for over a hundred years, don’t believe in advertising, and make every pair of headphones by hand.
Status Quo: Music plays a massive part in all our lives. Without it, life can seem pretty dull, and we believe quality headphones amplify the emotional experience of listening to music.
Conflict: In a market where brands like Beats by Dre or Boss have massive marketing budgets, and high-tech factories that mass produce headphones, why do we choose to remain the same?
Resolution: We’re passionate about sound. We’re craft-driven, meaning we put producing the best quality product over generating hype. We use what should be our ad spend on better quality material to provide a better experience for our customers.
3. The story of Unthinkable Media
Unthinkable Media is a narrative-driven podcast for B2B brands. Their mission is to create captivating and entertaining shows for their guests that actually retain their audience’s attention – not just acquire it.
Status Quo: As creators and entrepreneurs, we want to be seen, and for years most small businesses have had to pay for their audience’s attention.
Conflict: But today, thanks to the internet and social media, the buyer has endless options and complete control. They choose the experiences they wish to have and what content to consume. It is no longer enough to simply advertise.
Resolution: We need to shift our goals from impressions and clicks to community and subscribers. It’s much easier to convert a person that spends minutes or hours with your content, not seconds. To be successful in today’s market, you don’t need to acquire attention – you need to hold it.
Now that you have the tools to tell your brand story, it’s time to write it. Brand story is one of the top tools for generating brand awareness and word of mouth, so if you use the tips we’ve shared, you’ll reap plenty of rewards.