Storytelling has been a buzzword in the creative industries, in particular advertising and marketing, for some time now. What started as ancient conversations around a campfire turned into bedtime stories in bunk beds, the novel, the film. Soon advertising caught on. All the best TV ads of our generation told a good story. (Think of that VW ad set to the lyrics, “I remember the days of my life…”)
Now we talk about brand story, and for those not in the industry, this leap may be a bit mind-boggling. This is not just your company history or your CV, although that may come into it. It’s bigger than a list of facts or linear timeline. It’s more about the “who” and the “why” behind your business, the “what gets you out of bed in the morning”. Think about how those bedtime stories elicited emotion, inspired imagination, evoked understanding, trust, and sympathy. Now we are a bit closer to telling your brand story.
Let’s look at some of the key ingredients to telling your brand story.
A narrative in storytelling is a sequence of events. A narrative has characters and a setting. A narrative contains truths which are essential to the story. It has details that offer clues about the author’s purpose. There is usually a point: a conclusion or a message. Now switch that to a brand.
What are the truths in your origins and company journey that are integral to your story? Which are the important characters? Where is your story set? What is your message, the point that you want to communicate? Is there a problem you are trying to solve? A passion that you are dedicated to? What sparked your company’s inception? What events have joined the dots to get to where you are now? Where are you going?
Your narrative also lives in how you frame it: just as two witnesses to an event can tell a very different story, so can how you package your story shift the focus. Figure out what’s important to you and see how you can shift the lens onto that angle to hone your narrative.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to writing your brand story but beginning with narrative is a good start.
Speaking of problem-solving, all good stories come together around a point of conflict. At their heart, stories are about overcoming adversity. Conflict adds drama. It lends an emotional hook that pulls people into the story. Overcoming adversity is inspiring. It’s compelling. Sharing stories around the challenges you’ve faced in your business is both humbling and inspiring. It’s sharing a level of honesty and vulnerability that ultimately can help people relate to your brand and respect it. What have you had to overcome in your story? What challenges does your industry face? How are you trying to change the world?
Don’t join the fake news brigade. Because guess what, your audience is smarter than you think. The key to creating great content and developing a convincing brand story is in being authentic. Ask yourself: What is authentic to you? You may need to do some work to get to the source. What is your vision? Why are you doing the work that you do? What’s important to you? If your brand was a person, what would it look like? What would it do? What would its interests be?
Usually a brainstorming session around your values, your business goals, your “why”, is a good beginning point to finding your story. Use what makes you distinctive and unique to differentiate yours from other brands. Use your brand story to find like-minded individuals who share the same ethics and values and who dream similar dreams. These are the people you want to talk to because more than likely, they’re your dream customer and you are their dream brand.
Your voice is tied to various linguistic devices that will determine the way you sound.
Tone is one of them. Are your funny or serious? Formal or casual? Authoritative or friendly?
Diction is another. (That’s word choice, if you’ve forgotten high-school English.) Do you use slang or jargon? Technical terms? French expressions? Do you swear? How about getting poetic? These are all decisions you make when you communicate as your brand that determine your voice and which add on layers of connotation to what you say.
Something else to consider is perspective. Do you say “I”, “we” or speak in the third person when you talk as your brand?
A fun and useful device to help you determine your voice is to look at archetypes. There are a host of brand archetypes that have been developed to guide brand strategy, which can help to guide your voice. Just some of them include the sage, the jester, the ruler, the magician, the outlaw, the lover, the explorer, the hero, the caregiver and the creator. The sage imparts wisdom and seeks truth. The outlaw is a bit of a renegade, a rebel, a revolutionary. The magician magically solves problems and makes dreams come true. The caregiver is a nurturer. The explorer seeks freedom. The creator seeks perfection. Which of these characters speaks to you?
It’s a two-way conversation
News flash: you are not the only author of your brand story. Since the rise of social media, brands and the press are not the only ones telling their story. Your customers have a voice as well. Essentially, anything else out there about your brand – on the internet, in print media, over conversation at a coffee shop – contributes to the story. Gone are the days of traditional advertising where marketing was a one-way message. Now, a brand sits in conversation with those who experience it. Authorship of your brand story doesn’t sit behind your CEO’s desk. It’s also in the hands of your Facebook followers, your customers, your intern, your shop assistant. There’s only so much you can control but you can most certainly guide the sentiment around your brand. Start off by ensuring your product is great, your service impeccable, your messaging clear and consider every touchpoint.
The bigger picture
Crafting your brand story is not about selling things (or shouldn’t be). In the long-term, your brand story is not just for your customer. It’s for your employees, your directors, your shareholders; it’s for you. The more you work on your brand story – through content creation, writing about your business, mapping out your values and your mission, communicating with others about these high-level ideas – the more you will get to the heart and soul of your business. Hey, you may just find it has no heart or soul and decide it’s time to move on. Better that than dedicating your life to something that isn’t true to you.
The other scenario is that you become better empowered to bringing your brand story to life. And you’ll find that maybe your business is not just about creating a better product. Or making more money. It’s about building a bigger dream and creating a better world.