Brand Storytelling: Your Complete Guide to What It Is & Why It Matters
Brand storytelling is all the rage right now and for good reason: Americans consume over 100,000 digital words every day and 92% say they want brands to tell stories amongst all those words (source). Take a look at leading brands like TOMS shoes or SoulCycle and you can see that brand storytelling does more than sell a product, it exemplifies a lifestyle. So why aren’t more startups and entrepreneurs telling brand stories to build loyal followings? Surprisingly, it doesn’t cost a lot to build a brand story but it does take effort to define what your story is. In an attempt to build equity and make money, brands big and small often overlook the very thing that will make them successful from the start: the story.
What Brand Storytelling Is
More than content marketing, brand storytelling sets the foundation for a company or brand’s success. While content marketing is a vital aspect to sharing the brand’s story, it doesn’t define what that story is.
Brand storytelling is the sum of all moving parts - visual, written and emotional - associated with your brand or company. It’s the colors, language, tone, design, and values that bring your brand to life. Your brand story communicates what it is you stand for, and what you want to sell, to the people who care the most: your ideal target market.
At the end of the day your brand story is what you come home to.
And while it may seem easy to overlook the brand story for other, more seemingly important aspects of your business, what many don’t realize is that your sales and marketing funnels rely on a solid brand story to earn market share or lead the way in any particular industry.
No story, no sales.
No sales, no success.
The History & Psychology of Story
So why story? What makes it such a successful strategy for building a brand or business? Turns out there is a science behind storytelling. Our brains are hardwired for stories - especially good ones - and in a world where we are bombarded with more and more messages, a great story stands out above the noise.
Stories are embedded in our DNA. Since the beginning of human civilization stories have been a primary communication tool. From cave paintings to campfires, stories teach us values, cultural norms, history, and allow us to connect with life in a meaningful way. The science behind stories lies in the brain.
In simplest terms, it boils down to cause and effect. Our brains work best when presented with this type of communication model and stories are cause and effect in nature (source). Once we’ve heard (or told) a story, we apply it to our past experiences in an effort to understand future results. We use stories as evidence, to boost our decisions and to position ourselves as authorities.
A more in-depth look at the brain has shown researchers that stories stimulate various aspects of the brain that are directly related to decision-making. Recently, researchers discovered that when we are told a story, our brains often can’t distinguish between the story itself and our actual experience of it (source). From a marketing standpoint, this allows meaningful brands to make a larger impact by sharing stories their customers can place themselves within.
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Why Your Brand Needs A Story
We’ve come to understand just how important stories are to the brand building process, so it makes absolute sense that stories are at the heart of your company’s success. Stories do more than sell; they offer an opportunity to make meaning.
Other ways a brand story influences your success:
Brand stories create a connection between what you are selling and your customer’s emotional core
Brand stories build brand equity
Brand stories help you standout in an overcrowded market or industry
Brand stories communicate your company’s values and mission in a way that can be heard above bullet points and slide decks
Brand stories create empathy
Brand stories raise the market value of your start-up, app or venture
Brand stories secure startup funding faster
Steps to Create A Stand-Out Story
1 | DEFINE YOUR HERO
From a marketing standpoint, your hero is your customer. Nike and TOMS are great examples of this. From a brand building perspective, your hero is what your company stands for - or is up against. When drafting your brand story you’ll want to center the hero as the cause or value that drives your brand’s purpose. (That process is outlined here.)
2 | EXPRESS YOUR PASSION
The best stories drive emotion. Passion for what your company offers or sells is the fuel that puts the brand story into action. Without passion you have a dull, lifeless and weak position within the market. Add passion and people will listen.
3 | SHARE, SHARE, SHARE
In everything you do - from social media to content creation - your brand story (fueled by passion) must take center stage. Share your story across all channels that benefit your brand and reach your ideal target market. Share until you feel you can’t share anymore, then share again. Repeating stories allows your customers to internalize the message, which in marketing terms builds exposure and brand identification.
4 | DON’T BACK DOWN
You will gain critics. Customers, industry peers, your family...there will be individuals who will offer advice on how best NOT to proceed. They will question your sharing and what your company values. They will ask about your story and offer revisions. My advice: nod, smile and move on! Creating a standout brand story means you must have a unique, differentiating, value-driven strategy. It means innovation, creativity and a little bit of guts.
Putting it into practice, brainstorm what your company stands for and craft a short story sharing with your customers why what you sell matters.