In an era when people are tired of being talked at and sold to, people crave genuine connections with brands. But how do you cultivate that connection? By telling your brand story. Through story, you can effectively humanize your brand and communicate who you are, what you do, and how you can help people. The better you do this, the better you can stand out and stake your place in the marketplace (among other benefits).
The Value of Your Brand Story
But when it comes to storytelling, just because you create content doesn’t mean you’re effectively telling your story. Unfortunately, many brands are trapped in the quantity over quality mindset, forsaking compelling storytelling for product-centric content that doesn’t really connect.
In fact, according to the Content Marketing Institute’s 2019 B2C Content Marketing Trends, only 52% of marketers frequently use storytelling in their marketing.
This is a huge opportunity missed. Telling your brand story is crucial for marketing, but it can also improve your bottom line. A study by Origin and Hill Holiday found that people spent more on everything from hotel rooms to paintings when products or promos were paired with a story.
If there’s one thing we know from working with hundreds of brands over the last decade, it’s that learning to tell a good brand story is the key to success—regardless of your product or industry. Luckily, in that time, we’ve also learned what works and what doesn’t when it comes to storytelling.
We want everyone to create better content, so today we’re sharing our best tips to help tell a brand story that is impactful. If your content hasn’t been working (or you know it could work better), follow this simple guide to tell a story that is interesting, engaging, and memorable.
But first, let’s dive into what makes a story interesting, and why it’s so damn effective.
The Science of Brand Story
Why is storytelling so powerful? Because it triggers a biological response. A brand story grabs attention, elicits emotion, and engages people—and that goes for storytelling across all mediums. When you’re invested in a good story, your brain physically responds to it.
A good story can trigger your brain to release cortisol (the stress chemical) or oxytocin (the feel-good chemical). This explains why you feel anxious while watching a horror film or happy when the lovers finally get together at the end of a book.
And different mediums and storytelling tools affect us in different ways. For example, video triggers emotional contagion, a phenomenon where our emotions mirror what we see on screen (again, think of the horror film response). Similarly, when we hear someone speaking, such as a narrator in an animated video, it triggers neural coupling, an experience where our brain activity mirrors what a speaker is saying.
Consider the work of Paul Zak, a neuroeconomist and professor at Claremont Graduate University. In a 2015 study, Zak tested the power of story and its effect on charitable giving for a children’s cancer charity. He had participants watch one of two videos, telling two types of stories: an emotional and a neutral.
As Zak explains in Psychology Today, “Both videos feature a father with his four-year-old son. The son is bald from chemotherapy due to his terminal brain cancer. In the emotional video, the father discuss how it feels to know his son is dying. In the neutral video, the father and son are having a day at the zoo, and cancer and death are not mentioned.”
He found that the emotional narrative triggered a 157% spike in oxytocin in viewers’ brains (oxytocin is the chemical related to trust, care, empathy, and connection).
After viewing both videos, the participants were invited to donate money. One-third of participants donated, and those who donated the most had increased oxytocin levels, thus showing that the powerful story had a direct effect on charitable giving.
But storytelling isn’t just about seeing images or hearing a human voice; it’s the core story that matters. When you can tell a compelling brand story, people are naturally captivated. Whether it’s the story of how you built your business or the story of how your product improves people’s lives, finding a unique brand story is one of the most effective ways to entice, engage, and encourage people to build a relationship with your brand.
The Keys to a Great Brand Story
Of course, to do this well, you need to understand what makes a brand story (specifically your brand story) impactful. Ultimately, it comes down to five specific elements. When you tell stories that fall into these categories, you can set your brand up for success from the jump.
- It’s meaningful. Everyone is dealing with content shock. There are a million brands vying for attention, hopping on whatever bandwagon their competitors are on. Thus, too many brands are focused on what they want to create (or what other brands are creating)—and not on what people actually care about. If you want to tell a good story, it has to be interesting and relevant to the people you’re trying to reach.
- It’s personal. You can tell all sorts of stories. They can be entertaining, educational, or inspirational. But people need to feel personally connected to them. This is important not just to pique interest but to draw them into the story. How does your brand improve their life? Why should they take the time to invest in this story? Remember: If there is no place for someone in your story, there’s no reason for them to pay attention to it.
- It’s emotional. A strong brand story is all about stimulating emotion and empathy. It’s not just about what you do but how you affect people. Sure, your software may automate emails, but it’s ultimately making people’s lives easier and stress-free. That’s the emotional hook of the story. If you can trigger that emotion in the first paragraph of a blog or the first few seconds of a video, you will have them hooked.
- It’s simple. One of the most common mistakes in brand storytelling is trying to say too much. It’s far better to tell a very simple story and maximize emotional attachment than bombard people with different stories. You could tell a story about large-scale problems facing the healthcare industry, but showing how these issues affect a real patient gives the story a singular focus and makes it easier to connect to. In short, focus on one person or one problem at a time so you don’t confuse or distract your reader.
- It’s authentic. When you share your brand story, people should know it’s your story. That means being open, honest, and transparent. It means letting your personality shine through. It also means being consistent. When you’re creating a ton of content, it’s important to cultivate consistency so that people can not only identify but trust your content.
How to Tell Your Brand Story
If you’re looking for ways to tell your brand story through content, we can get you started quickly and easily. Here, we’ve outlined the steps to follow to ensure you’re telling stories that accurately reflect your brand—and align to your long-term goals.
Step 1: Know Your Own Story
One of the biggest barriers to telling your brand story is not really understanding your own brand—who you are, what you do, what you care about, and why it matters. Without this clarity, it’s difficult to tell the right stories in the right way. So, before you start brainstorming ideas, it’s important to go back to basics.
- Define your Brand Heart. Use our free guide to identify your core principles (purpose, vision, mission, and values), so that you understand what your brand is really trying to achieve.
- Articulate your brand messaging. Consistent messaging is crucial if you want to tell your brand’s story. Use our brand messaging framework to articulate your tagline, value prop, and brand messaging pillars.
- Know your target demo. If you haven’t done it before, follow our guide to create personas.
Once you have a clear idea of who you are and what you’re trying to do, then you can begin to examine the stories that will help you communicate that.
Step 2: Brainstorm Brand Story Ideas
No matter your product, service, or industry, you have an interesting brand story. (In fact, you have a few.) Sometimes you just need to take a step back and look at your day-to-day business. We find there are often many great stories that are waiting to be told—brands just don’t always know how to uncover them.
When you’re trying to come up with ideas, we find it helpful to brainstorm around specific aspects of your brand. We like to ask ourselves a few questions to help jumpstart these ideas.
1) Who Are You?
You aren’t a faceless corporation. A real person (or people) started your brand. Real people work in your office, make your product, and run your social media. Putting a face to your brand is one of the best ways to cultivate a connection, so consider ways you might peel back the curtain to show people who you are, what your culture is like, and what you care about.
This type of content is especially fun to create because it offers a chance to really inject your brand personality—think of things like behind-the-scenes spotlights, employee showcases, favorite things, etc.
You can also check out our Culture Marketing 101 guide for more ideas to turn your company culture into interesting content.
2) What Do You Do?
Think about the product or service you provide. There are many ways to talk about or showcase these highlights beyond traditional sales materials.
Are there unique features that make your product particularly useful or effective? Are there surprising ways people have benefitted from your service? With a little creativity, you can create interesting content that showcases your brand in exciting ways.
Note: Telling a brand story that starts with a challenge or problem is a smart way to do this, because conflict creates a bit of stress or intrigue. If you can show your product as the “hero” and provide a satisfying resolution, your story can also provide feel-good oxytocin. (For example, you might tell the story of how your security software protected a family’s small business from identity theft.)
Example: This simple explainer video by Stand Up to Cancer explains the work they do and how their service helps women understand their risk of ovarian cancer. By sharing this part of their brand story, they are educating and, most importantly, empowering women to take control of their health.
3) Who Do You Do It For?
Think about the people you want to help. These are the people whose business you’re trying to win. Why do you care about them? How do you want to help them? Think about not only what you do but how it improves people’s lives. For example, if your app helps people book vacations easily, it’s ultimately so that you can help people truly relax and enjoy life.
People want content that educates, entertains, inspires, or even celebrates them. (Remember relevancy!) So think of brand story opportunities that incorporate them into your brand story. For example, you might make your brand the helpful sidekick in a customer’s story (“This brand’s comfy shoes helped me cross the finish line!”). Or you can use things like personal anecdotes as storytelling tools.
Example: We collaborated with Charles Schwab to create a mini-documentary series about female investors. This helped combat the stigma that investing is a men-only game, while encouraging everyday women to “invest like a woman.”
4) Why Do You Do It?
No matter your product or service, whether you’re a tiny startup or an established brand founded a century ago, there’s a reason you exist—and, most likely, a higher purpose. If you’re a home security company, you protect property to give people peace of mind. If you’re a granola bar company, you provide healthy treats to nourish people’s bodies.
Using content to share or fulfill this larger mission is a great way to both promote your brand and show people what you really care about. Think about ways to tell stories about your Brand Heart (purpose, vision, mission, values) or the causes you care about.
Example: At Column Five, our company vision is to create “a world where everyone can live healthy and fulfilled lives.” Hence, we aim to create content that helps improve people’s lives. As part of an initiative to support women’s health, we created the People For Periods, an interactive to help destigmatize menstruation for women.
If you want more examples, here are 10 brands that put their values front and center in their content.
5) How Do You Do It?
Much like your mission, people want to know not just why and what you do but how. Telling a brand story that provides visibility into your product, production, or process can be especially impactful.
Do you use a unique technology? Are your materials sustainably sourced? Do you use an innovative manufacturing technique? This type of content both educates and provides insight into the way you run your business, providing the transparency that people crave.
Example: This Nadaam infographic details how they source wool, how they do it differently than traditional retailers, and how purchases go to help the sheepherders that provide the wool.
6) What Does Your Future Look Like?
Think about ways to talk about how your brand is evolving, what you’re working toward, and how you plan to grow into the future. Sharing these types of stories generates excitement, and invites people into your brand story.
Plus, when people know you’re invested in their future, they’re more likely to build a long-term relationship with you.
Example: In this motion graphic, JetBlue explains the steps they’re taking to offset carbon emissions and adopt fuel-saving technology, demonstrating their commitment to making air travel better for the planet.
One last tip: If you’re not sure what type of brand story might resonate with people, map your buyer’s journey. This helps you see what types of messaging people need to hear at each stage—and can help you identify gaps in your brand storytelling. You can also take a look at these 15 awesome examples of brand storytelling for more inspiration.
Hopefully, having brainstormed around all of these topics, you’ll have a list of story ideas to comb through. If that’s the case, you’re ready to move on to the next step.
Step 3: Vet Your Ideas
It’s easy to get carried away with cool, creative ideas, but if they aren’t really an extension of your brand story, they won’t ultimately help your brand.
Some ideas might seem fun to tell, but they won’t interest the people you’re trying to reach. Conversely, some might be interesting in general but don’t relate to what you do. The goal is to find something in that sweet spot. Hence, once you’ve completed your initial brainstorm, it’s time to vet your ideas by asking:
- Why do I want to tell this story?
- What’s my unique angle?
- What value will this provide to my personas?
- What will they take away from this?
Example: LinkedIn Marketing Solutions is all about mobilizing marketers to achieve their goals. To help them do that, they created an e-book packed with tips, stats, and deep dives into the world of native advertising. This helped educate people about native advertising—knowledge they could then use on the LinkedIn platform. Thus, it was a win-win piece of brand storytelling.
Step 4: Choose the Right Format
The most important goal for every piece of content is to communicate your brand story as efficiently and effectively as possible. Therefore, choosing the right format is vital. You might get caught up in trying to produce the flashiest, trendiest types of content, but this is a disservice if it doesn’t fit your story. (In some cases, it can seriously detract from the story.)
Identify the best format for your story before you dive into content creation, as the format will influence the way you craft copy.
Some of the most popular storytelling formats:
- Case Studies
- Data visualizations
- Explainer videos
- Interactive infographics
- Motion Graphics
- White papers
Example: Warby Parker is known for their tremendously creative annual reports, packed full of personality. Their engaging interactive reports often include hidden surprises, which make the content entertaining to consume while educating people about the brand.
Step 5: Craft a Narrative
Once you have your story idea, you need to hone in on the angle and construct a compelling narrative that captures people’s attention. Research has found that people are particularly attracted to a familiar narrative structure. So let’s go back to English class for a second. Remember Gustav Freytag’s pyramid? A great brand story crafts a narrative that follows that arc—and ends with a resolution (or solution—ideally, your product).
(Interestingly, a 2014 Johns Hopkins study examined popular Super Bowl ads and found that the most popular ads weren’t those that were the silliest, most outrageous, or most hilarious. It was the ones that followed a familiar dramatic arc.)
Regardless of your story, think of ways to take your readers or viewers on a journey. Some of the most popular ways to do that:
- Underdog stories (think of a small mom and pop disrupting an industry)
- Personal stories
For more on crafting a narrative, follow our tips for better storytelling.
Step 6: Add Your Branding
Every piece of content should accurately reflect your brand, from the way it looks to the words you use. And while branded content shouldn’t be overly branded (e.g., a million logos slapped everywhere), people should know who it was created by. Thus, make sure your content reflects your brand story in:
- Personality, Voice, and Tone: Don’t know what your brand voice is? It sounds like your company conversations, Google chats, and water-cooler jokes. Follow our guides to find your voice and personality if you haven’t clearly articulated this before. Also, once you complete a draft of content, give it a second pass for word choice and such. These are the easiest ways to color up your content.
- Visuals: Your visual language is the aesthetic experience of your brand. Everything from your logo to color palettes can affect how your content is interpreted. Whether it’s a brand video, infographic, or interactive, a consistent, on-brand visual language creates a cohesive experience. Follow our step-by-step guide to build a powerful visual identity, and find out how to create easy-to-use brand guidelines.
Step 7: Share Your Brand Story
Once you’ve completed a piece of content, you don’t want to be the only one talking about it. Encourage your people to share your story by making it easy to do so. Publish to your blog or email list, test your social sharing buttons, optimize your content for SEO, etc.
Look for More Ways to Grow and Experiment
Telling your brand story isn’t a one and done thing. Figuring out which stories resonate is an ongoing task, especially if you’re just starting out. As you continue to experiment, focus on setting your team up for success at every stage.
- Build a strong brand strategy to ensure your content aligns to your goals.
- Document your content strategy to keep your team on the same page.
- Find out how to optimize your content production process to produce high-quality content consistently.
- Make sure you’re tracking the right metrics to gauge success.
And, of course, don’t be afraid to bring in support if you need it. Whether you’re stuck on strategy or having trouble getting content out the door, a creative agency can be a huge asset. Follow our tips to find the right creative agency for you, or holler at us. We’d love to help you tell your brand story in any way.