Imagine a time when it was possible to put an ad in your local newspaper and know that people were reading it between spoonfuls of their breakfast cereal.
This seems like a distant memory because now billions of people begin their days by scrolling through a digital realm, bombarded by photos, products, opportunities and news.
In early 2018, there were more than four billion internet users swarming the virtual marketplace and 1.24 billion websites trying to communicate with them. For startups entering the marketplace, the idea of standing out in this blizzard can be overwhelming.
It's essential for these new brands on the block to tell their story as if they're going to sway customers' attention. And it can't be just any story. Internet users have high expectations for brand narratives now. They know the difference between advertising and authentic storytelling – only the latter will truly turn heads and drive sales.
What happens when you tell the right (and wrong) brand story
Consumers gravitate toward brands with compelling stories, and they balk at narratives that seem fake or self-congratulatory.
One brand that manages to tell its story authentically is T1V, a visual collaboration software company based in Charlotte, North Carolina. Rather than boast about tech specs, T1V focuses on its customers, telling the story of how people use its software to achieve their goals.
When brand storytelling fails, it's probably because the story drifts into the inauthentic realm. Take Theranos, for example. The health tech company made its fortune through its elaborate autobiographical narrative. The founder, Elizabeth Holmes, was painted as a young genius, and her technology was considered a miracle. The story of Theranos, however, overshadowed the product, so much so that the technology went untested and was eventually deemed fraudulent.
If you can root your brand's story in engaging authenticity, the benefits are endless. However, if you cut corners and fabricate a too-good-to-be-true plotline, you could face consequences that impact your bottom line, from attracting the wrong customers to throwing away marketing dollars on dead-end messages.
How to effectively tell your brand's story
Here are three tips to help you identify and start sharing the right story about your brand.
1. Define your purpose.
Before you start telling your story to others, you have to tell it to yourself.
Take the time to define the purpose of your brand. If your brand were a novel, what would it be about? Once you define this core driving purpose, the other facets of your story – like language, tone, and form – should fall into place.
Tip: Get your employees involved in defining your purpose. They're the ones who will help tell your story, so they must to be on the same page. This collaboration is greatly needed, as a 2017 study by Deloitte showed that only 23 percent of businesses believed their employees shared their company's purpose.
Turn this storytelling initiative into a party. Get together with your whole team and share the words and ideas that resonate with you. Start with the basics and go from there. Why does your company exist? What problem are you solving for people? How did your company come about? Where do you hope to go from here?
2. Get a fresh perspective.
When you're in the weeds of your business every day, it can be tough to see your brand with objective eyes. You probably have a fixed idea of what your brand means because you talk about it with colleagues and partners. But this idea might not be the best story for your customers to hear.
When crafting your unique brand story, work with individuals outside your brand who can offer you a fresh perspective. If possible, collaborate with a brand expert. He or she can ask the right questions to get to the heart of your story and help you align it with your audience.
Now, if you're a startup and can't afford to hire a brand expert right now, not all is lost. Instead, gain a fresh perspective by talking to friends, testers and other brand outsiders. Ask them how they see your business and how they would describe it in five words.
3. Identify the right audience and the best medium.
When you write a letter (or, let's face it, an email) to a friend, you don't start with "To whom this may concern." You tailor the message to the recipient, using his or her nickname, peppering the prose with inside jokes and signing off with a special note. The same care is required when crafting your brand story. After all, you want customers to feel drawn to your business as if they're friends.
Accomplish this by getting to know your intended audience so you can choose the perfect channels for your story bites. Studies show that websites are the most effective messaging site for marketers, with 63 percent of marketing professionals choosing them as their core strategy, closely followed by email and social media.
With this in mind, consider which websites and social media channels your particular audience gravitates to. Then edit your story so it caters to those channels and effectively perks up the ears of your intended customers.
The value of a great story cannot be quantified. Yes, it impacts your bottom line, but it's so much more than a profit tool. When people are moved, inspired or just made curious by a story, they'll keep giving you their attention and want to be a part of your story, too. Remember, your story doesn't have to be heroic or hilarious; it just has to be yours.