For every dollar that has been spent on marketing, no investment has yet surpassed the power of a powerful and compelling brand story.
You can throw solid facts, figures, and charts at people all day long and it won’t keep people interested. If you are not telling your story, you aren’t becoming a memorable brand and you are not selling your product or service as much as you could be.
It’s time to create a brand story!
The reason why is human nature. People are wired for stories. They think in stories, remember in stories, and live in a story of their own making…
A well-told story turns wonky data into relatable information. They connect the dots between your brand’s promise and your customer’s aspirations. They are the heart and soul of brand storytelling and the part people relate to the most. Mastering the art of a powerful brand story can unlock the full potential of your brand and increase engagement with your target audience.
This brand storytelling guide will walk you through each of the steps to writing a compelling story. Whether you’re looking to kick start a brand from the beginning, sell your superiors on the need for brand storytelling, or are just wondering about how to tell your brand story in a new way, you will find this information useful.
Before we begin, however, let’s jump into the science behind the power of storytelling as a mechanism for marketing messages.
What Is a Brand Story?
A brand story is the aspirational identity of your brand. If you’re a one-person company, it can also be your personal brand.
- It’s what your brand stands for
- It is the narrative background that connects to customers on a human level
- It’s not the what of your brand, but it is just as important
- It is the why and the how behind it all
- It’s the personal details of your brand
- It’s the parts of your brand that resonate and dig deeper with your customer
A brand story is the values and emotion behind the brand, communicated using the single most effective method of making information memorable: A compelling company story.
What Is Brand Story Marketing?
Brand story marketing is a combination of content marketing, digital stories, and other communication types used to convey a clear and understandable human identity of your brand.
It is more than what you say, and it’s the complete picture – the how and the why said in an easily understood way – infused into everything the brand says and does.
Brand story marketing speaks to some of the most critical aspects of why your brand exists. Marketing stories related to your brand instead of the brand itself is the core of brand story marketing.
Elements at the heart of a good brand story:
The brand story is the soul of the brand. Brand stories have to live more than on paper. They are more than your about page or your Instagram Stories feed.
– The reason you started this business
– How you are fulfilling your mission
– The connection customers have to you beyond prices and practical benefits
They have to permeate through everything you do, and they have to animate both the people working for you and customers alike.
The Science Of A Compelling Brand Story
Telling stories with the right words is powerful in marketing because they stick in the heads of a potential customer.
In one memorable experiment, a class of college students was given one minute to make a compelling pitch to their classmates on the topic of non-violent crime. Most of the students used statistics to persuade the target audience; only one in ten used a story. Which do you think were more memorable?
Interesting facts: Just 5% of the class remembered any of the statistics, but 63% could recall a story. But let’s take it a step further. Your story can deliver even more because it can also influence behavior.
A good example is a Save the Children experiment conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania.
Researchers created two different marketing leaflets to raise money. One featured stats illustrating the problem. The other included the stats but discussed Rokia, a 7-year-old girl from Mali experiencing the issues directly. Which do you think raised more money?
Donations from the leaflet with the story on it were almost 2x as high as the other, $1.43 vs. $2.38.
It’s clear that stories perform better than numbers, but the reasons why are also based on science.
They Make Sense Naturally
When you hear a narrative, it is natural to place yourself in the center of the story and experience the circumstances. It’s referred to as the “mirroring experience” or “coupling” and can be seen in your brain’s activity while it is listening to a story.
Researchers at Princeton have found that well-told stories light up the parts of our brain that correspond to those that would be used in real life. It’s why you cry in the movies and cringe at other people’s embarrassment. These are the neurons that help us relate and later remember what was said because they carry the weight of lived experience.
When you tell a story, the listener is acting it out in their head. Their brain takes a mental snapshot as if it were lived, and it gets filed away in their memory.
Facts and figures don’t have a corresponding lane leading to the memory section of the brain, called the hippocampus. It’s why you doze off as if you could care less when speakers at otherwise interesting presentations rattle off data, yet you fly through less impactful lectures told in the form of a good story.
They Let Open Minded Moments Happen
An open-minded moment is when you become more receptive to new ideas and arguments. It is created naturally when a story comes together. You see something in a new way and open yourself up to different possibilities than your expectation.
Your mind puts together all the pieces of the story, sees the logic, and says, a-ha! Your brain takes note and remembers these epiphanies, even the small ones.
They Create an Emotional Connection
Emotions are anything from a giggle to a heartfelt quiver and they are a big ingredient in the secret sauce to effective storytelling. Stories connect when they’re written with emotion.
The UK-based Institute of Practitioners in Advertising conducted a study of 1400 ad campaigns and found that ads with emotional content performed almost 2x as well as those with rational content. Telling a story that tugs at the heartstrings will move your customer to take action more than an ad filled with logical facts and figures.
They Break Through the Noise
A compelling, simple story is the quickest and most effective way to drown out everyone else’s marketing messages and get your audience’s attention. Have you ever been to a party where everyone is talking, but soon enough, only one person is talking and everyone else is listening?
The person is usually telling a story interesting enough to overpower the crowd, quieting them one by one until all are listening. That’s what your brand story marketing efforts have to do every time or else you’re just burning money. Telling a story perfectly with emotional connections is one of the most effective ways to cut through the chatter.
Your Brand Without a Brand Story
Stories are so powerful that if you don’t offer your own, others will make one up for you. Learning how to tell your own brand story keeps you on the offense and makes your customers feel loved, seen, and heard.
And after all, isn’t that recognition what we all want deep down inside anyway?
Six Reasons Why You Should Learn How to Write Your Brand Story
1)You will create lifelong customers
A big reason customers stay loyal is because they relate to a brand’s story on a personal level.
2)You will create brand loyalty among your employees
Employees will want to be associated with and advocate for a company’s story that has a deeper meaning.
3) You will attract investment
Stories can be used to show there’s a real person behind the brand and potential customers. These elements can entice like-minded investors to take part in your mission.
4) You will be able to lead your own narrative
Writing your own story lets you lead your customers to the promised land rather than constantly playing catch up with their needs.
5) You'll attract more market share
The most successful brands tell stories. You’ll create the perfect niche for yourself with lifelong loyal fans.
6) Your customer will remember your brand
The key to becoming a household name is being remembered more than anything else.
Content Marketing vs. Storytelling Marketing
Content marketing and brand stories are both content-driven messaging tactics but they are not the same.
But even though these two marketing styles are two distinct things tied to the brand identity, they complement each other. Each makes the other better. But there are significant differences, and posting on Instagram Stories, Reels or other digital channels doesn’t mean you’re actually telling your brand story.
The Difference Between Content Marketing and Storytelling Marketing
Examples of storytelling marketing
- Brand media mentions
- Content marketing
- Core values and mission statement
- Customer experience and reviews
- Customer service
- Employee experience
- Event marketing
- Influencer marketing
- PR Campaigns
- Social Media
- Superbowl ads
Examples of content marketing
- Blog Posts
- Educational Videos
Brand Storytelling is content that speaks to emotion. Stories relate to customers ‘ human instincts instead of talking about the brand in traditional ‘benefits’ and ‘features’ terms.
They involve needs that go deeper than any functional solutions provided by content marketing assets. Brand stories speak to our inner desires and fears, our hopes and dreams, our very identities. A brand’s story can turn a sale, but more so, it turns customers into evangelists.
Content marketing directly helps your target audience solve problems, improve their lives, or answer questions. Instead of media discussing their product’s benefits, the brand becomes a publisher, creating exciting and valuable content the audience wants. By solving the customer’s immediate needs, you gain quite a lot. Trust and credibility on the one hand, and new customers and email addresses on the other.
Content marketing is a part of storytelling marketing and storytelling improves content marketing. Content marketing solves immediate issues. Brand stories help people solve more ingrained spiritual human needs.
A Brand Story Is a Long-Term Messaging Strategy
A brand story is more than posting on social media. It’s a narrative that flows through every aspect of your brand. It’s part of marketing, yes, but it’s also connected to customer service and product design.
How to Write A Brand Story: The Key Elements
A brand story isn’t structured all that differently from books and movies. A brand’s story and regular stories have a few of the same components:
- A beginning, middle, and conclusion
- The main character
- Supporting characters
- A plot and maybe sub-plots
- Humanity and emotion
You can write your own brand story by using many of the same tactics as professional screenwriters. The main difference is that brand stories are exponentially shorter, for instance, a tagline, a 15- or 30-second TikTok video. An anecdote in a presentation. Or they’re woven throughout the brand, such as a yearly event or other marketing campaigns.
Writing a brand story can sound like a lot, and we don’t want to lead you to believe that storytelling is a simple task, so let’s go over a step-by-step guide for writing your brand story.
Your brand story framework has already been lived and your brand story is yours to discover. As mentioned earlier you just have to look for all of the right components and structure it in a way that authentically conveys the ideas you want to highlight and actions you want to take in the future. Get some brainstorming done first.
Here are a few ways to find your brand story:
Not all brand stories are created equal. Always think about how you want your audience to feel or react when they are engaging with your brand.
- What is your brand statement? Why your company exists, its ethos…the origin story, the deeper purpose of the brand.
- What is your brand’s vision? Beyond the function of your product, what changes do you want to make in the world? Think about what your brand stands for.
- What is the brand mission? Consider the overarching benefit of your brand. The quick two-line brand message.
- What are the brand values? The values that motivate you and your employees. What is your core message?
- What makes you different? The unique value proposition of your brand.
- Why do you exist? The purpose of your brand is a great place to start looking for meaning in your brand story.
- Voice and tone. What does your brand say, how does it say it, where does it say it? What is your brand personality? What doesn’t it say?
- Customer insights. Conduct surveys, mine the Internet, live in the same world as your target audience.
- Market understanding. Pay attention to the stories told by other brands in your business world. Is there a subject gap? Room for a response?
- Product design and packaging. Does the product embody the brand values and story?
- Brand name. The name of the brand should evoke the emotion associated with your brand story.
Take your time with this step. It lays the foundation for everything else in your brand story. If you don’t know how to talk about yourself, how do you expect anyone else to understand?
Follow One of the Seven Formulas
Even though there are thousands of movies in the world there are really only seven structures for stories. You can use them as templates for your brand story.
Seven formulas of great stories:
- Rebirth – the hero travels out of their world into the unknown and returns changed (Alice in Wonderland, Finding Nemo)
- Tragedy – the hero does not achieve their goal (Romeo and Juliet, Breaking Bad)
- Comedy -the hero experiences comedic situations (Midsummer Night’s Dream, Parenthood)
- Rags to riches – the hero is exceptional but dismissed at first but something lifts them up and people see how special they are (Aladdin, Superman)
- Quest – the hero goes on a long and perilous journey and overcomes obstacles (Lord of the Rings, Wizard of Oz)
- Overcoming the monster – the hero must slay an evil monster and save the world (Dracula, King Kong)
Every great brand story follows one of these structures. There are also two main characters in every one of these stories.
- The hero – the main character
- The guide – helps the main character achieve their desire or face their obstacle
In each of these stories, the hero, or the main character, faces a problem, goes through an ordeal where they meet someone, or find something that guides them to the resolution of their need.
Map Out the Characters
Your customer is always the hero of your story. The brand is always a helpful guide or solution.
Fight the temptation to make the brand the hero. If you take that approach, the brand story is centered around you, and the customer serves no purpose in the story other than to be helped.
To draw your customer into your world, you need to take the opposite approach.
- Select a hero that your customer can relate to
- Choose a guide that represents your brand
The feeling of empowerment your customer feels from being cast as the hero, and the satisfaction they get from your solution keep them on the journey and coming back.
Develop an Emotional Journey
Emotion is one of the most essential elements to brand messaging with stories. Thanks to the research from Princeton, we know customers place themselves in the shoes of the main character in stories. They’re always mirroring situations in stories.
Connecting emotionally is the best way to make that mirror image stick.
In each template, the characters must undergo an emotional journey. These highs and lows will trigger the chemicals in your audience’s brain to experience an emotional response, which is more likely to be remembered.
The ASPCA’s “Arms of an Angel” commercial or The Dollar Shave Club come to mind as good examples. Both stand in the pantheon of memorable ads not because they sold us a good deal ($18 a month to save dogs or $1 a month for a clean-shaven face, respectively) because there are plenty of ads with good deals. They’re so well known because they elicited a strong emotion.
Come Up with a Great Story Challenge
A challenge is an obstacle your hero has to overcome.
The challenge should transform the hero, giving them the tools they need to get what they want. Base it on your market research and make it personal to your customer. Ask yourself what is at stake? The audience will respond because they face the same challenges.
Household cleaners like the Swiffer always come to mind when it comes to a challenge. In this ad, the hero tells the story of dealing with excessive dog hair, and Swiffer comes to the rescue. The hero stops cleaning and starts ‘swiffering.’ The final scene is an immaculate home.”
Come up with the Ideal Story Solution
Your product or service empowers your hero to find the solution.
The story should end with the puzzle pieces coming together, the a-ha – open-minded moment, and a call to action. The solution is always your service or product.
But when drafting out your ideas, don’t leave the solution to the end. Think about the solution from the very beginning of the project.
Take Amazon. They are well-known for writing press releases for products before they ever go into development, and this helps them think through what they want to say, how they want to say it, and if it is worth making the product at all.”
Common Features of a Powerful Brand Story (Examples)
Telling a story by itself won’t connect with your audience. That’s why people fall asleep in boring movies or change the channel on bad acting.
It has to be captivating, absorbing, and consumable. It has to be a good story on its own. Only the most powerful brand stories breakthrough.
Let’s take a look at the elements you need to focus on.
Stories have to mean something to your audience.
Havas, one of the world’s largest communication groups, studied 1800 brands in 31 countries and found that ‘meaningful brands’ outperform the stock market by 134%. But they also learned that consumers are disappointed by 55% of the content businesses publish. They crave meaning and are looking for brands to provide it.
A great example is Warby Parker, where they donate a pair of glasses to someone in need for every pair you buy. They’re just a company there to make you happy and look good. They exist to give you reasonable prices on a stylish variety of eyewear but have made responsible social action a huge step in the process. Each time you enter their story, you’re not just looking for eyewear, you’re making a difference. It’s easy for you to connect with because they’re not donating a percentage of their profits or some other intangible. Every time you put on a pair of Warby Parker, you think about someone less well off than you who is able to enjoy the same thing thanks to your purchase.
Create content with meaning, spend time talking about things other than your products and you will give customers a reason to come back.
Your brand story has to be authentic and believable to build trust.
Global communications firm, Edelman released research in 2019, finding that 81% of consumers said they want to trust a brand first before buying from them. But this means spouting out the latest data and numbers as proof. Customers trust numbers, right?
The trouble is that no one will remember unless you place those numbers inside of a story, for example, testimonials and case studies.
Jared, the Subway guy, is still one of the best examples of a powerful brand story. Subway had been trying to position itself as a healthy option with a campaign called “7 subs under 6 grams of fat,” representing the 7 sandwiches for under 6 grams of fat. Even though the information was accurate, it wasn’t until Jared, who had lost 245 pounds from the plan, told his story in ads that Subway gained market dominance. The company even attributes up to half of its profits to that ad series during the years it ran.
More and more, consumers want brands to have consistent messaging. Market research conducted in 2019 showed that consistent presentation of a brand led to a 33% increase in revenue. That’s 10% more than in 2016.
This means it’s imperative to keep everything about your brand lined up across all platforms and digital channels.
- Voice and tone
- Scheduled outreach
- Content topics
- Logo placement
To find a powerful brand story showing consistency, look at successful global brands. They need consistency to manage their sheer size.
Everyone around the world knows the Nike story without having to think. A big part of that is because ‘Just Do It’ was used to tell stories as a logo, driving their voice and tone, and it could be translated into every language. They showed up at events consistent with the Just Do It brand message. They enlisted the endorsement of celebrity athletes who live the mantra. It’s consistent across all channels, mediums, and international borders.
The average attention span is 8-seconds. You don’t have much time to get your point across, which is why simplicity is your friend. The best stories are easy to understand.
But simple isn’t the only thing you should think about and simply doesn’t mean basic. Brand storytelling has to capture the core values and emotions of the story and hit your target audience square in the heart. Easily.
Google’s ‘Year in Search’ campaign is a great representation of a compelling brand story that’s easy to understand without being basic. At the end of the year, Google releases a two-minute film that offers perspective on the year’s most searched terms. You know within the first few seconds you’re going to be taken on an entertaining journey involving the words human beings have been searching for over the past year. In the process, they use their own data to tap into the emotions of a wide range of viewers by showing events and topics that have touched us all. In reality, Google is reminding you how much you rely on them as a source of information.
5. Unique & Remain Authentic
In 2021, the average person sees anywhere between 6,000 and 10,000 ads per day.
There’s no question about it. You need to tell a unique brand story to make your brand stand out.
Amazon’s #BeforeAlexa Superbowl ad is a great example of unexpected storytelling. It starts with wives Ellen Degenrous and Portia Derossi turning down the lights with Alexa and then wondering what it must have been like before. We all can remember what it was like, but the story surprises us with flashbacks to several periods in history and shows a comedic perspective on how “Alexa” must have been used in ancient times. Instead of asking Ellen and Portia to talk about how much they love Alexa, the story relates with humor. It then nestles itself into your memory with vignettes of unexpected comedy to drive home the point.
6. Be Customer Focused
A compelling brand story keeps the focus on the customer.
Make the customer your hero. It’s easy for businesses to cast themselves as the hero. After all, the product or service will improve their customers’ lives. But this doesn’t draw the customer into your story. You may get the sale, but you didn’t win the customer.
The Airbnb story can be summed up in two words: You belong. They’re speaking directly to the customer; how could they not be? Without customers, both guests and hosts, there is no Airbnb. The Airbnb brand is the customer. They rarely if ever talk about themselves.
It’s so central to them that they have more information on their website about their customers than they do about themselves! And it makes sense with the product. Users want to know if a stranger’s home is going to be safe. A section on their website, “Stories from the Airbnb Community” helps answer those questions..”
Where Should You Tell Your Brand Story?
There’s no place you can’t tell your brand story but when it comes to marketing the choices can feel overwhelming. Anything from television ads to social media to billboards to speaking events can be used to tell your brand’s story.
If you try to be everywhere all at once it’s like shouting your name in a hurricane. But if you go where your audience wants to hear from you it’ll be like you’re chatting on the telephone.
All things considered, they’re online.
Luckily digital channels like your website and social media are the most cost-effective and direct ways to convey your story consistently.
According to Statistica statistics having an effective digital story strategy reaches customers where they are. And they’re on social media for about 2.5 hours per day!
Find a few channels to start with and master those. Once you’ve got a following and the resources, you can add more, making meaningful contributions to each new storytelling platform you use.
What Does it Take to Tell Your Brand’s Digital Story?
Brand stories are a team effort that requires cooperation among various creatives. Even small companies and those of you bootstrapping sometimes enlist the help of other creatives to improve the quality of their storytelling.
To wield your story to its fullest potential, there may come a time when you want the help of seasoned brand storytelling experts or a creative agency. The combination of talent at an agency can pack serious storytelling power at your fingertips.
Behind the scenes of brand storytelling:
- Graphic designer
- Art director
- Brand strategist
- Project manager
Writers can craft scripts with emotion and comedic timing, in phrases that your audience understands. Art directors, videographers, editors, and designers make the kind of eye-catching creative you need to stand out. Your brand strategist ensures consistency. Producers and project managers make sure the team has what they need and sticks to the plan.
They’ll help you put together a storytelling strategy, turn your ideas into a reality, and make your audience swoon. You may not need all of these team members all of the time, but at an agency, they are never far away.
Getting Started with Your Brand Story
Brand story marketing starts off the same way as any other new initiative. With a strategy.
Know where your brand is going and why. Define success and determine a way to measure it. Set KPIs, conduct market research, explore marketing channels, and assemble a team of storytelling wunderkinds who can breathe life into your products and services and tell better marketing stories than anyone else.