Branding. It’s not a new term by a long shot, but what branding means today is very different from what it once meant. There once was a day when a brand was simply thought of as a “look”. By creating a logo, choosing a color scheme and maybe some basic designs for signage, brochures, or other materials, you too could have your own brand.
Today, however, a brand has evolved into something far more powerful than just a look. It is actually your identity and personality. Certainly a “look” is one component of an identity—just watch people walk down the street. You can identify the hipster, the fashion diva, the gym rat, simply by their “looks”.
But their crafted looks are only one part of their respective stories, just as your logo and company colors are only one part of your story.
The Power of the Story
Stories spark emotions. Traditionally books, movies, music and television shows have told us stories to make us laugh, cry, cringe, and ponder. Today, brand building storytelling extends into the world of marketing and advertising for companies big and small in delivery mechanisms both short and long.
One of the most compelling long-form brand storytelling examples comes in the form of The Lego Movie. Through the simple act of literally telling a story in animated form, Lego manages to inspire children everywhere (and maybe even their parents) to believe that they can do anything they set their minds to.
Dove excelled at the short-form brand storytelling with its Real Beauty campaign that tapped into the insecurities in women, empowering them to embrace their true beauty.
GoPro’s video selling its head-mounted video cameras talked not about its products but rather featured the now-famous footage of a firefighter resuscitating a kitten—while wearing a GoPro camera, of course.
So What’s Your Story?
Every business has a story—even yours. That’s because business, no matter the industry, product or service, is truly of the people, by the people, and for the people. People started your business. People run your business. People are the customers or clients of your business. It’s all about people and that there is where you will find your story.
When identifying your message, ask yourself a few questions:
- What do you do?
- Who do you do it for?
- Why do you do it?
Profits aside, think about what motivates you with your business. The founding of your company often offers the golden nugget you are looking for here. What pushed your company’s founder (whether you or someone else) to get started? The more you can connect your message to fundamental needs and emotions, the more your story will resonate. Think love, security, achievement, empowerment, and independence.
While travelling in South America, Blake Mycoskie noticed poor children without shoes and wanted to do something to help them. Boom. TOMS Shoes was born. The story is simple—TOMS helps those less fortunate.
Not only well-known operations can have motivating stories. The dry cleaners down the street may well have been founded by someone who noticed that people smile more when they feel good and confident in their appearance—and clean, pressed clothes can affect that. This business’ story? They empower people.
The story worthy of your brand—and able to build your brand—is the one that touches people’s hearts and the emotions that inspire them. Putting time into developing your story is perhaps the most important thing you can do when it comes to creating your brand. Once you identify and articulate this, you are ready to go…and grow.
Do’s and Don’ts of Brand Storytelling
Armed with your story and the reason for your company’s existence, it is time to start telling your story. This can be—and should be—done in a myriad of ways. For each, there are some basics that should be kept in mind.
Make it a Real Story
Any good story needs a beginning, middle, and an end. This does not mean it must be long, just complete. In fact, the more understated and simple your message, the better.
Keep Them Wanting More
Even though you want to offer a complete story each time you tell it, you want also to inspire people to want more, to keep coming back. Setting up your own continual sequel drives the ongoing engagement you’re looking for.
Yes, this is one of the most important elements of any good brand. You must walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Southwest Airlines says it “luvs” you but they show it with their customer service at every step of your journey with them. Smiling, personable gate and flight staff back up the promises made elsewhere.
Inspire Your Employees
Think of your employees as the best brand ambassadors you’ll ever have. Treasure that and cultivate it. Inspire your employees to be as passionate and proud about your cause and your culture as you are.
Build it Out
Don’t think of brand storytelling as only useful for advertisements or videos, though those are great mediums for it. Any customer-facing aspect of your business should tell your story. That means your website, your blog, your social media platforms, and all marketing materials. Your customer invoices, receipts, and emails are part of this as well. If you have a physical location, consider how it can better reflect what you are all about. When people get a good message once, that’s nice, but when they get a good message consistently, that’s great.
What do you think of when you think of Harley Davidson? Being just that little bit of a rebel, maybe? Enjoying a unique feeling of freedom and exhilaration that enlivens you?
One visit to Zappos.com and you know right away that this is a company with a unique culture both inside and out—and you not only know what it is but you want to be part of it.
Of course there is Nike, the ultimate storyteller and inspirer of others. Wear their gear and you can conquer anything. Need we say more?
Your business may never be as big as Nike, Harley Davidson, or Zappos but that doesn’t matter. Your story, on the other hand, does matter. Start sharing that story as you build your brand—and your business.
Subscribe to SEJ
Get our weekly newsletter from SEJ's Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!