If you’re the new brand on the block, it can be intimidating to jump into the world of big, established brands. But you’ve got a secret weapon: your story.
You may have 100 competitors, but none has your unique story. That story will set your brand apart. We’ll give you pointers and examples of how to cultivate an authentic brand story that garners positive attention and solidifies your brand’s reputation.
What is a brand story?
In simple terms, a brand story is the “why” behind your brand. It answers this question: Why do you do what you do? It requires a deep dive into the vision beyond making sales, hence the need for a story rather than a statement. The most important requirement in your answer to this question is to reach beyond selling a product.
An example of a company with a well-known and successful brand story is Apple, which chose early on to differentiate itself from other tech giants. From the beginning, Apple leaned into its humble beginnings as a company founded by college dropouts to create user-friendly tech for the average family home. Apple helped bring tech to everyone, not just to computer whizzes and professionals. Apple’s brand story humanized the creators as well as the company’s customers. Apple didn’t focus on the “what”: creating computers. Instead, the company concentrated on (and continues to focus on) the “why”: giving the everyday person access to the latest and greatest technology.
Apple’s story is also a great example of how personal branding can intersect with the company’s goals. Steve Jobs’ personal branding was an example of the success someone can have with the right story in place. Of course, not everyone is going to be the next Steve Jobs. Your brand story doesn’t need extravagance; it just has to be authentic.
What happens when you tell the right (and wrong) brand story
Authenticity is one of the keys to telling a great brand story. When audiences sense you’re being truthful with them, they are more likely to engage with your brand. On the other hand, if your story comes off as forced, robotic or inaccessible, your brand is less likely to resonate with consumers – which means it won’t convert potential customers.
Benefits of telling the right brand story
Consumers gravitate toward brands with compelling stories, and they balk at narratives that seem fake or self-congratulatory. On the flip side, authenticity is rewarded with increased trust in a brand.
One brand that succeeds in telling 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 and tells the story of how people use its software to achieve their goals.
Another example of a brand that does a great job of inviting its consumer audience to become part of its story is Tony’s Chocolonely. Without a unique brand story, this chocolate bar brand would become lost in a sea of competition from better-known names such as Hershey. However, the brand’s unique mission to sell ethically sourced, fair-trade chocolate and bring awareness to modern-day slavery gives consumers a meaningful reason to purchase the brand’s products.
Bottom Line: Be authentic. Customers who trust your brand will be more likely to engage with and support your business.
Still unsure of what an authentic brand story may include? Here’s a quick checklist:
- A true, people-focused origin story.
- An answer to this question: Why do you do what you do?
- A space for consumers to become part of the story.
- A story crafted for the consumer audience (not employees or business partners).
Consequences of telling the wrong brand story
When brand storytelling fails, it is often because the story is perceived as fake, false or inauthentic. Take the health tech company Theranos, for example. Theranos made its fortune through its elaborate autobiographical narrative about founder Elizabeth Holmes, who was painted as a prodigy. Her technology was considered a miracle and a testament to her genius. Unfortunately, this story left out a key component of the product: whether the technology actually worked.
Fast forward, and not only was the technology itself proven to be faulty, but the Theranos brand story was exposed as fiction. For any business, brand fraud is the nail in the coffin of reputability and trust.
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 affect your bottom line, such as attracting the wrong customers and throwing away marketing dollars on dead-end messages.
Worried that your current brand story falls flat? Here’s a list of what to avoid:
- Numbers without a story or meaning behind them.
- Exaggeration or hyperbole.
- Claims that cannot be backed up by evidence.
- A story that does not answer the “why” question.
How to effectively tell your brand’s story
Here are four 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.
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?
Tip: Get your employees involved in defining your purpose. They’re the ones who will help tell your story, so everyone should be on the same page.
2. Get a fresh perspective.
When you’re in the weeds of your business every day, it can be tough to see your brand objectively. You probably have a fixed idea of what your brand means, because you talk about it with colleagues and partners. But this might not be the best story for your customers to hear.
When you craft your unique brand story, work with individuals outside your brand who can offer you a fresh perspective. If possible, collaborate with a brand expert. They can ask the right questions to get to the heart of your story and help you align it with your audience.
If your business is a startup and you can’t afford to hire a brand consultant right now, not all is lost. Instead, gain a fresh perspective by talking with 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 an email to a friend, you don’t start with something impersonal, like “To whom this may concern.” Instead, you tailor the message to the recipient, using their nickname, peppering the prose with inside jokes and signing off with a special note. The same care is required when you craft 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. Consider which websites and social media channels your audience prefers, and then edit your story so it caters to those channels and effectively attracts your intended customers. While your brand story relies heavily on written storytelling, it’s also important to consider a design that complements the story.
FYI: Web design that complements a brand and its story well adds authenticity to your efforts.
4. Protect your brand’s reputation.
An excellent brand story can fall flat if your brand’s reputation contradicts your intended message. Regardless of whether a bad reputation is deserved, there are ways to protect yourself and your brand from scrutiny. For example, if your brand prides itself on helping people but your brand’s social media accounts are full of backlash from spam, unhappy customers or a mix of both, this will harm the effectiveness of your brand story.
Here are some ways to protect your brand’s reputation:
- Use an online reputation management service. See our picks for the best online reputation management providers.
- Consider the user experience when you’re designing web layouts and brand logos.
- On social media, respond to comments and answer direct messages promptly and politely.
- Read reviews to monitor public opinion of your brand, and always respond to bad reviews.
- Share positive news about your brand in press releases and on social media.
A great story delivers big value
The value of a great story is immense; it creates longevity for your brand and helps you build trust with customers. With the internet playing a big role in a brand’s reputation and legacy, make sure the story you tell is authentic and compelling. When people are moved, inspired or fascinated by a story, they will keep giving you their attention and will want to be a part of your story, too.
Roy Morejon contributed to the writing and reporting in this article.