What is a Brand Story?
Your brand story is not a single document but rather a consistent narrative that extends throughout your communicative approach, encompassing written, visual and verbal elements, which collectively and often indirectly, reveal the history, ethics and vision of your business at a human level. It can be used as a guiding principle to inform highly effective marketing campaigns.
As such writing a brand story is achieved through consistency over time, this article explains how written communications can be developed to grow an overall brand story for maximum impact over time.
The formula for brand story content:
(Characteristics + Personality + Honesty) x Consistency = Your brand story
Steps for writing brand story content:
1) Be individual; Define the ‘human’ characteristics of your brand
2) Be relatable; Make people or a person central to each story
3) Have a point; Ensure each has a beginning, middle and conclusion
4) Be you; Tell your stories with a personality that is guided by the ‘human’ characteristics of your brand
5) Be honest with the facts; Every time
6) Be consistent; Repeat 2 – 5
Your brand story is separate to your marketing activity and yet ultimately able to both influence and be affected by it. Like any good tale your brand story can travel from person to person long after your last salesperson has gone home and the last brochure has been plucked from the shelf. That is why it is important to care for and curate your brand story; it’s still out there representing your business when all your employees are tucked up in their beds dreaming of being back at work.
Your role is to help protect it by making it structured, memorable, trustworthy and consistent. You can do this by following these guidelines.
Be individual; the ‘Human’ Characteristics of your brand
Imagine your brand is a person and you are meeting them for the first time. What would their main characteristics be; what are the qualities and values that help define them?
An exercise like this helps you to picture your brand as an individual personality rather that an association of employees.
For example; the defining qualities (and human characteristics) of a jewellery brand might include:
With these in mind you can begin to picture a person who might have these characteristics, once you can do this it becomes easier to write in their tone of voice; this will become the tone of voice and underlying character traits of your brand.
Once you have this in mind you need to find a story to write about in your new voice, it’s time to find your heroes.
Be relatable: finding your heroes
Impact: Why the people of a brand story are important
There is an excellent book called ‘The Writers Journey’ (by Christopher Vogler); itself inspired by ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’ by Joseph Campbell. The Writer’s Journey explores the infinitely flexible yet endlessly reoccurring elements found in the most powerful stories, from the fables of the past to today’s modern blockbusters.
When they are well-written these recurring elements within a tale work a spell of sorts, they move us, compelling us to feel, to empathise, aspire to and root for the hero.
Stories centred on a hero which adhere to this flexible structure keep us glued to page after page and frame after frame. Such stories are remembered, we tell others about them, the story is told anew and the cycle continues.
A well-told story makes storytellers of us all, a well-told brand story turns customers into fans, and fans become brand ambassadors for your company.
The best brand stories focus on the people, and their emotions and experiences, which continue to help define a company. Rarely is it the CEO that receives this kind of attention, though there are exceptions.
People are the ideal hook for a story because it is much easier for all of us to attribute personal importance and meaning to information directly relating to the lives and experience of others.
Every one of us is the hero of our own tale, for people-centric content your brand story’s function is to provide the context for individual employees and customers to take the centre-stage, with your product or service in an indispensable supporting role.
Brand stories can also be very powerful, and whilst each piece of person-centric content that is a part of your brand story may not have blockbuster dramatics or a Hollywood budget, to tell a story that moves your customers and sparks a reaction it does need the absolute basics; a hero and a structure. This structure includes a defined beginning, a middle and conclusion.
Have a point; define your beginning, middle and conclusion
For the purposes of a brand story your hero needs a purpose (a beginning), an obstacle to overcome (a middle), and a hero needs to achieve success (a conclusion).
The obstacle that they need to overcome might be an obstacle your product or service removes for them, or where an employee is featured, something that only they are the very best at.
In the context of the brand, success comes when we see the result of the obstacle overcome:
For customers, success might be:
• An aspiration achieved
• An improved quality of life
• A difficulty overcome
For employees, success might include:
• A legacy that is created
• The creation of a stunning item of product or service
• A product/service defining task which they are the very best at
• Another’s life improved through the work your employee has undertaken
Example, fictitious Cup Cake Company ad – ‘the employee hero’;
‘We’ve no idea’, we say, ‘only Laura, our ever-so-modest baking DaVinci knows for sure’.
We think it has something to do with her steady hands, years of practice, and magic. Definitely magic.”
In the example above we discover people’s reactions to the store’s cupcake decorations (beginning). We are informed by the response to the question as to how the decoration is made that only Laura (our hero) knows how to make them (middle).
In answer to the first question raised in the beginning we are informed that it must be magic which propels Laura to create (conclusion).
Be you; show personality
The key to a memorable brand story is personality. A brand story is not just a record of the facts, where real examples are given there must be truth in the information provided (more on that shortly) however each story must be told in a natural, conversational yet descriptive tone which has a clear beginning, middle and conclusion as defined above.
If this process is followed, and a brand’s human characteristics are adhered to, your brand personality will begin to emerge.
Example, fictitious bookstore ad – ‘the legacy continued’;
‘They move us to feel and to wonder, to lands beyond the horizon. Whole paragraphs can be treacherous places, packed tight with hope and heartache, danger and joy.’
‘Just three words alone can carry incredible power, three words like; ‘I love you’.’
Joseph said, ‘a book is what magic looks like, feels like, smells like. Each is a ticket for departure, and a bookstore is a doorway to a million somewheres’.
The new Chapter & Ink store is now open, and wherever it takes you, if you should see Joseph, tell him everything is just as he left it.”
In this ever so slightly more complex example, we learn that the store has a long history (beginning) and that they are passionate about the written word. we discover that their founder (the hero) had a philosophy about the power of words; a philosophy the store carried forward to this day (middle).
In a dream-like manner we are told about the wondrous yet treacherous nature of words, and the ability of a book to transport the reader.
In the (conclusion) we are informed about the new store opening, and asked that if we see the founder on our literary travels we are to reassure him that his legacy continues undisturbed, further enforcing the sense of longevity and tradition that is valued by the brand.
Bringing it all together
Example, fictitious Bus Company ad – ‘the customer hero’;
27 people ate today because Tony showed up.
Tony relies upon Fairfield Bus Company.
The world relies upon volunteers like Tony, that’s why Tony rides for free.”
In the example above Tony is our hero, our (beginning) tells us that Tony must travel some distance every day so that other people can get food (the obstacle). The obstacle is overcome and people have food because of Tony (success), Tony is enabled because he has a bus service he can count on.
The tone and style of language used is conversational, rather than a straight-forward reporting of the facts.
You may notice that it is made clear in the text of the ad that Tony is the hero, it is through Tony’s efforts that people can eat and not directly because of the Bus Company. The Bus Company exists in the previously mentioned, indispensable supporting role, in this case as an enabler and actively seeks to support Tony’s efforts by relinquishing the limelight; they show they are both modest, and altruistic by showing awareness and interest in their community by providing practical support in the form of free travel to Tony. – I like them already.
It is easy to imagine how the Bus Company might run a series of these ads, each one giving a glimpse into the life of one of its passengers and the people that rely on them.
Be honest with the facts; every time
After those fictitious examples, a little bit about honesty and stories featuring ‘real’ people, facts and events.
Brands rely on trust to build rapport with customers and as such, trust is the foundation upon which a business is built. These foundations are forever under construction and any misplaced brick undermines the structure itself. The ‘real’ stories you tell though your brand should be centred on truth and honesty. Now that sounds like an obvious statement to make, however it is important to ensure that the real events and lives that you choose to portray are reasonable and realistic.
Like every other form of promotion, you must ensure that the claims implied by a story which is presented as truth, whether the claims relate to your hero or your product, are realistically imparted and can be substantiated.
A good way to build trust is by creating stories that showcase the honest experiences of real customers, again these should be told using the characteristics of your brand story, as previously established. Again, this means finding your heroes.
Consistency is of utmost importance, without it the history, ethics and vision of your business are difficult to identify amidst potentially conflicting information.
However, if you use the characteristics of your brand story to ensure that each story or message you deliver has a hero with a purpose, task and conclusion (a beginning, middle and conclusion) and that the narrative is told with personality and honesty, consistency can be maintained.