Have you heard of the most recent “shiny marketing tactic” that everyone needs? Telling stories in your branding. It may be essential, but it might also be challenging for those of us who are not naturally gifted at storytelling.
Perhaps you are fantastic with concocting BIG ideas and solving BIG problems, but you’re not so hot at telling entertaining stories that are rich with details and overflowing with imagery. Oh, and how about the reality that there are thousands of stories that you can tell, and how do you decide which stories do your clients actually want to hear?
As the marketplace and cultures evolve, consumers care more and more about the products they buy. Therefore, telling the right story is an essential tool to emotionally connect with your ideal clients.
People genuinely love stories. Humans have always bonded over mutual experiences and enjoy sharing those experiences with the people around them. We love hearing stories, reading stories, and telling stories. We simply love stories, which explains the multi-billion dollar Hollywood movie industry. Good triumphs over evil. The hero valiantly overcomes impossible obstacles. A boy and girl fall madly in love. We observe the strangers on the screen growing up, making mistakes, falling in love, saving the day, and succeeding in life, most of which we can totally relate to. We love stories!
The human brain is wired to respond to stories. Paul J. Zak wrote an engaging and informative article about “Why Your Brain Loves A Good Story.” It’s fascinating how his team studied the neurochemical oxytocin. This is produced when “we are trusted or shown kindness, and it motivates cooperation with others. It does this by enhancing the sense of empathy, our ability to experience others’ emotions.” Typically oxytocin levels rise when people have face-to-face conversations.
How did they discover all of that about oxytocin? In the study, they observed participants as they watched narrative videos and measured if their oxytocin levels rose, which happens when people interact with one another. Spoiler alert: it did! Character-driven narrative stories raise the production of oxytocin in the brain, just like face-to-face interactions.
How does that impact your branding? Telling stories about your brand is a great way to connect with your audience on a psychological level!
2 Key Elements in A Good Story
Andrew Stanton gives a fantastic TED talk called “The Clues to a Great Story.” This short presentation is worth watching, but here are some highlights about how storytelling relates to branding.
First, make a promise. Andrew shares that a great story always makes a promise to the audience that the story is progressing toward something. Think back to your middle school English class - your teacher probably defined this as foreshadowing. Now think back to your high school English class - your teacher probably called this a spoiler.
Here’s the key: your audience knows there is a point to your story, but they need to work for it. From the beginning, they may understand what you’re talking about or what moral you hope to convey, but they cannot predict your entire story. This sustains their interest.
Second, use what you know. Gain inspiration from what you know and believe, or from who you are. Although it sounds obvious, most people forget this valuable piece of advice.
You want to paint the perfect picture, describe all of the details, and craft the perfect rendition of your story; this leads you to the never-ending cycle of brainstorming. If you pull from your strongest values and construct a story about what truly resonates with you, you’re writing gold! That’s what is foundational for your brand and what your audience really wants to hear.
Why Your Audience Wants to Hear Your Story
Before we jump into the stories your brand should be telling, let’s fully understand all of the reasons why your audience wants to hear your stories.
- To escape from their reality. Getting stuck in the minutiae of daily life is easy. Give your audience a break from their reality through your stories! The things you share can help them escape from boring tasks (like the infinite cycle of laundry) and better understand your brand, origins, process or beliefs.
- To meet the people behind the brand. With the progression of technology, consumers want to know the person behind the brand. They desire to understand that you are about more than just profits. They hope your brand has genuine meaning with real, ethical people running it.
- To share common ground and struggles. Everyone wants to be included in a group instead of stranded alone in this crazy world; it's human nature, and it's especially true about people’s fears and obstacles. Connect with your audience by sharing your struggles and how you overcame them.
- To gain motivation. Everyone hopes to get past their fears & obstacles! Your ideal audience wants to be more motivated to ditch sugar or draw out their inner strength or take steps towards their dreams.
- To learn something new. Almost all childhood stories are made to be entertaining yet also teach a lesson. Usually, the kiddos don’t even realize they are learning! Telling a story about a process/technique that your brand uses could be an opportunity to take your mundane and make it interesting to your audience.
The Stories Your Brand Needs To Be Telling
Story #1: The Brand Value Story
Before you can write this kind of story, you need to identify the top values of your brand. What are the core values of your business that build the framework for everything you do? Write about how those pillars drive your brand. Tell your audience how this framework is incorporated into all of the decisions your business makes. Stuck? Go to the “About” page on any website for some inspiration; often you’ll find things like sustainability, simplicity, technology, providing jobs, gives back philanthropically, etc.
Write your own Brand Value Story:
- Identify the central 3-5 pillars of your brand.
- Explain the importance of these values.
- Inform your audience how this framework is applied consistently throughout your business.
Story #2: The Low-to-High Origin Story
You’ve probably seen this story told more than any other. It explains a low point in the business or your personal life and describes how your brand overcame the challenge. These stories gradually build up the journey of a business and describe the difficulties, lessons, and strengths discovered along the ride. The best part: the brand gets time to talk themselves up! Use these stories to celebrate your brand’s successes and to inspire your audience with how hard work and dedication can move mountains!
Write your own Low-to-High Origin Story:
- Where did you come from?
- What was the low point of your journey (career or personal)?
- What was the fork in the road or turning point?
- How does that make you credible to help others?
Story #3: The Client/Customer Story
Never underestimate the power of customer reviews, testimonials, and case studies. Feel the freedom to brag about how amazing your products are, or how outstanding your services are, or how awesome your staff members are. Sharing stories about your client’s results are more productive than basic statistics or numbers. Personal stories feel more concrete compared to the number of clients you’ve had as a copywriter or the amount of logos you’ve created as a designer. People relate to other people’s stories, so allow your brand to take advantage of that!
Write your own Client/Customer Story:
- Describe your typical client and why they want your product/service.
- Share examples of what went wrong with clients, and how you resolved the issues.
- What did you do/what problem did you solve through your product/service?
- How did your product/service improve your client’s life?
- How did your client feel before and after?
Story #4: The Why Story
This type of story is exponentially growing in popularity. Remember how I said that modern consumers want to learn more about the brands they purchase? There needs to be a deeper force driving your brand beyond earning profits. Perhaps that’s freedom, improving how we treat the environment, motivating others to be healthier, helping people become happier, etc. Whatever the reason, share with your audience why you built your brand. Your passion and foundational platform is strong and can’t be ignored!
Write your own Why Story:
- Why did you start doing what you do?
- Why are you passionate about it?
- Why did you choose to work with this specific population of people?
- What motivates you to get up every morning? What drives you to work every day?
- Was there a time when you needed the work that you currently do?
Story #5: Question and Answer
Rather than share the story in a traditional way, host a Q&A session (via video or writing). Topics are endless, like your recent travels, products you love, or a crazy experience that you just have to share. The questions can be ones commonly asked by your audience or the basics that you want to convey; just be sure the progression of questions allows you to share the entire story. Answer each question with rich details and the flair of your personality. This helps your audience feel connected with you like you’re chatting over a coffee date.
Write your own Q&A:
- What are the most common questions that your audience asks you?
- Where did you travel recently?
- What products/services are you loving?
- Who story/experience have you been telling everyone about lately?
- Is there something that you have wanted to share with your audience for a long time?
Story #6: The Human Element Story
Want to deepen your connection with your target audience? Tell the human element story. It doesn’t have to be directly related to your brand or business; it just needs to reveal that you are human. You officially have permission to write about something other than your brand; remove some of the pressure to constantly be selling things. Remind your audience that there are real people behind your brand! Sprinkle these relatable stories into your regular communications to add some depth and flavor to your identity.
Write your own Human Element Story:
- What are your favorite things to do (hobbies)?
- Talk about your family.
- Discuss your favorite television show, podcast, blog, etc.
- What are you unreasonably and unashamedly passionate about?
- Admit something that you are really bad at.
- Where have you traveled?
- What is something new that you are learning?
Story #7: The Teaching Story
Teaching your audience how to do something they should be doing but aren’t. That’s not fun for anyone! Using your own story to get the point across hides the instructional elements while still sharing a relatable moral. For example, if I want to teach how to be your most authentic self, I can tell a story about a time when I felt inauthentic. Talking about how I pretended to be someone else to fit in fits the genre without me having to preach, “Be yourself!”
Write your own Teaching Story:
- Share a lesson you learned.
- Talk about advice someone gave you.
- Discuss a celebrity that lives out the values you’re modeling.
- Give a parable or metaphor to illustrate your moral.
- Teach a lesson from history.
The Storytelling Shift from Bland to Flavorful
These are only seven ways to incorporate stories into your branding, but the options are infinite! It doesn’t matter what product you sell, what service you provide, how large or small your audience is, what industry you’re in; stories boost your brand’s strength and create solid relationships with your audience!
Take some time to brainstorm storm ideas in each of the 7 categories. Come up with inspiration for each kind of story, because there’s power in giving your audience a sneak peek into your background, passion, and expertise; plus, sharing multiple stories will help your clients feel like they know you as a human instead of just as a business. Invite your teammates or business partners into the process too. But don’t delay - your audience loves stories, so take advantage right away! Building your brand now will save you time and money on your future marketing efforts.
Share your behind-the-scene branding details, highlight your strengths, model your values, and show off your unique quirks. The impact of storytelling will shift you from standard and bland to flavorful and spicy!
Inspired by http://kayeputnam.com/6-brand-stories/