A good story can capture your attention, make you emotional, teach you something new, change your mind and stay with you for life. You might not have realized it before, but if you want to sell a product or market your services, you need to be a good storyteller to do so effectively.
What is brand storytelling?
Brand storytelling is what it sounds like. Michelle Gamble, marketing and PR specialist at 3L Publishing and PR, said that it's not about making lists of features or pushing an idea.
"You're creating an entire world around the concept and then putting it into a story that everyone can relate to," Gamble said. "People would much rather hear a story than a bullet point."
Brand storytelling can also be the simple act of having a company mission and narrative that resonates with your audience, according to Grant Aldrich, CEO and founder of OnlineDegree.com.
"Brand storytelling is important for any company, but specifically, it is critical for startups," Aldrich said. "Infinite sums can be sent down the drain on failed marketing, and it can crush a small company's finances. People become advocates for you because they share or genuinely love your ideology, philosophy or mission. That's where your brand storytelling comes into play. Is your mission relatable? Does it connect your company to your audience? The better mission you have and the more authentic you are, the more your customers will want to speak about your company and help you on your journey."
How to improve your storytelling
1. Talk about the struggles as much as the triumphs.
An important part of being a good storyteller is to always be authentic. You'll never gain your audience's trust if you aren't being true to yourself. People will be able to see right through the lies you tell or exaggerations you make, and losing the trust of your customers can spell disaster for your business.
In fact, admitting to your failures, talking about your hardships and explaining how your company overcame those failures promotes transparency within your brand, and customers appreciate authentic marketing. Sharing your hardships helps people relate to you and shows that your company has great qualities such as perseverance. People want to get to know the real you, so make sure the stories you tell are personal and honest.
2. Use customer testimonials.
When you're telling a story with the goal of trying to sell your product or service, you can't just tell people how great it is, you have to show them. No one will be convinced if you make claims about how awesome you are and don't have anything to back it up, plus that comes across like bragging. Illustrate to your audience the great aspects of your company instead of just listing reasons.
You can show, not tell, by giving real-life instances of how people have benefitted from your product. Instead of saying, "Our product is the best," say something like, "Our customers have shared with us that our product has drastically improved their lives," and give examples of how. Show your value in stories by giving detailed examples; Don't just tell people how they should feel. This makes you a much more effective storyteller.
3. Determine a customer need, and have your story solve it.
Humans seek out stories for many reasons, but they often connect to a story because it resolves something. We know good products fulfill needs; the same goes for telling a good story.
Business-to-consumer companies have long been telling stories that solve their customers' needs, and business-to-business companies can do it too. Identify the needs of your audience, and think about how you can fulfill them. Craft your stories around those findings. Everyone thinks about how a product will make their lives better before they decide to buy, so make them aware of this through your storytelling.
4. Stay focused on the important details by removing fluff.
A good storyteller never wants to bore their audience, so don't bog your story down with needless details. Get to the point quickly so you won't lose your audience's attention. When telling the story about the history of your company, for example, no one needs to know what time of day it was when you thought up your great idea or how many times you changed the business's name. If it's not important or relevant to the point of your story, leave it out.
Another trick is to start your story in the middle. Many times when people tell a story, they tell it in chronological order, but when you do it this way, you'll have way too many unnecessary details. Plus, all the exciting stuff happens in the middle, so start there and you won't put your audience to sleep.
5. Use meaningful language to spark emotions from your audience.
Nobody likes a dry, play-by-play account of events; you need to inject emotion into the stories you tell. Provoking feelings in your audience will make them more likely to form a strong connection with your brand and remember you for a long time. Think about how you feel when you watch a good movie: Whether you cry or laugh, you're immersed in the story because it's making you feel something.
Think about what emotions you want your audience to feel when they listen to your story. Do you want them to become inspired, sympathetic or empowered? Include details, information and scenarios in your storytelling that will encourage your audience to feel the way you want them to.
6. Test your brand's story for honest feedback.
There's no harm in writing a few different stories and testing them to see which one people respond to the best. Businesses hold focus groups, do A/B testing of email subject lines and create headline variations to gauge what their audience actually wants.
It's important to get input from real people, real potential customers, and not just business experts who might be thinking a little differently than someone contemplating whether or not they want to spend money on your product or service.
7. Incorporate your brand story in other areas of your website.
There's no hard-and-fast rule that says your brand story has to be a written narrative. There are so many other places you can tell your brand's story, such as through your logo, website design and email design.
Part of brand storytelling is making sure that your branding is consistent across multiple platforms. That reinforces the same idea to your audience over and over again.
8. Ask questions to understand your audience, then act on the answers.
"As a storyteller by trade, I know that developing a brand story starts with understanding your customer avatar," said Amy Suto, CEO of Kingdom of Ink. "Who are they? What are their values? From there, it's about creating the stance of your brand on relevant topics, such as how you source your sustainable materials."
From there, according to Suto, the storytelling really kicks in. What tone of voice do you use in your copy? How dramatic are your new product launches? Do you casually drop a whole clothing line, or do you build hype for months through artistic Instagram posts? Your brand story should be cohesive, and the more you look at the big picture, the better you can define your narrative.
Why is brand storytelling important?
Consumers don't want to listen to you talk about the details of your product endlessly. That's boring and lifeless. They want to hear a story. They want to know why you care, how you can help them or how you've gotten to be where you are. Telling good stories can have endless benefits for your business. Not only can it capture attention, but telling stories can help you truly connect with customers, drive more growth and boost your sales. Start telling stories that captivate people, and they'll become engaged with your business.
Content marketing vs. brand storytelling
One thing that brand storytelling is not is content marketing. Content marketing is for social media and other online platforms, said Megan Brown Bennett, CEO and president of Light Years Ahead Public Relations.
Brand storytelling is more of a tool used to help create other marketing materials; it's almost the backbone of marketing. Any other advertising or marketing efforts are usually derived from the brand story and used in intriguing ways.
"Content marketing is the act of creating content relevant to your brand to spread the word about your product," Suto said. "Brand storytelling is the overarching strategy that imbues every aspect of your business, down to the copy on your 404 page to the style of the newsletters you send to customers. It informs every decision your brand makes, as every piece of content or decision made by the brand plays a role in the large brand story."
Elements of a compelling brand story
Writing a brand story should be done in a strategic way to get the most out of the story. A company's storytelling should include key factors, such as the following:
- Simple and meaningful language: Potential customers should be able to easily read and understand your brand story, in any form it takes on. You never want to ostracize your audience by using wording, phrases or jargon that isn't common language. Meaningful language includes words that evoke some kind of emotion from your audience. Don't just use buzzwords, though. Make it genuine.
- A mission statement: Your brand's story should state the mission of your company. You want people to love your company and what it stands for, not just the products you sell. Make sure your company's mission statement is somewhere on your website that is easily accessible.
- Specifics: General language won't get your brand's story very far. If relying on customer reviews to show how much your brand is loved, avoid saying "many people;" instead, use the name and key language from a particular review. Instead of using general language to describe any charities or social responsibility projects your business is a part of, say exactly what they are and what your brand does for them.
Examples of powerful brand storytelling
Warby Parker states in its brand story that every idea starts with a problem, which is one of the main pillars of good storytelling. Identify a problem or need, and try to solve it. The issue Warby Parker sought to fix was that glasses are too expensive. A main aspect of its business model is cheaper but still well-made frames, with free try-ons.
Hitting on another pillar of brand storytelling, Nike has taken a clear stance on social justice issues. Its EQUALITY campaign aims to use people's love of sports to motivate them to take action on such issues as racism and pay inequality in sports. Through donating money and encouraging people to become mentors in their community, Nike is able to impact thousands, creating a powerful brand story.
Burt's Bees not only makes it clear what its mission is and how it champions all-natural products, but has also hit on the emotional part by introducing Burt to the audience in a series of videos. This footage features words of wisdom, fondly dubbed "Burtisms." These communications help consumers connect with the brand as a whole, not just individual products.
We've all been consuming stories for as long as we can remember, whether they are films, books, newspapers or tales told around a campfire. Your company's story can be just as moving and memorable as any of those media if you use these tips to become a better storyteller.
Syed Balkhi contributed to the writing and research in this article.