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Brand StrategyAugust 13, 2021

Brand Stories — Do You Need One to Succeed?

August 13, 2021
Cory Profile Picture
Cory Schröder
Senior Content Marketing Manager

What is a brand story? Is it the tale that chronicles your brand’s journey to success? A narrative that highlights your brand values and stellar employees?

Well… yes — but it’s so much more than that.

According to Bernadette Jiwa, author of The Fortune Cookie Principle, a brand story is more than a simple narrative:

“The story goes beyond the copy on your website, the text in a brochure, or the presentation used to pitch to investors. Your story isn’t just what you tell people. It’s what they believe about you based on the signals your brand sends. The story is a complete picture made up of facts, feelings, and interpretations, which means that part of your story isn’t even told by you.”

Keeping this definition in mind, it’s clear that your brand story is an integral part of your brand’s success — and it’s not totally under your control. Why is that? Because part of your story is based on consumer perceptions.

So you need to work on expressing your brand story via avenues you can control. Jiwa expands, saying:

“(e)verything you do, from the colours and texture of your packaging to the staff you hire, is part of your brand story, and every element of it should reflect the truth about your brand back to your audience.”

While you can do your very best to create the most on-brand packaging and hire top-quality employees, you can’t control everything. And if part of your brand story is dependent on consumers’ interpretations — you need to make sure you’re able to accurately track such thoughts and feelings.

Therefore, as Jiwa so eloquently states, if “you want to build a successful, sustainable business, a brand that will garner loyalty, and, if you’re lucky, become loved, you have to start with your story.”

This article will take a look at what elements are key to building your brand story and provide some examples of companies that are already succeeding in this realm. Finally, we’ll explore how brand tracking software plays an integral role in creating and supporting a successful brand story.

What Are the Most Important Elements of a Strong Brand Story?

Source: Unsplash

Gone are the days of creating a catchy tagline or logo and calling it a day. Modern consumers require much more from brands if they are expected to give them their money, trust, and loyalty.

Therefore, as a brand manager and the keeper of your brand story, you’re the person responsible for creating, sharing, and pushing it towards consumers.

While many elements can be helpful when defining a brand story, we’re going to focus on the top five most important ones here.

1. Truth & Purpose

At the core of your brand story, there needs to be truth and purpose. Without either of these elements, your story will be hollow and meaningless.

First, truth. You have to be honest with your customers about the core of your brand — why you exist, what you hope to accomplish, and who you are. Modern-day consumers can sniff out insincerity in a heartbeat, so make sure that your brand story is truthful.

Second, purpose. Your brand needs to have a purpose. That’s not to say that every brand needs to be dedicated to eradicating world hunger or saving the planet. But, you need to be clear about what it is your brand hopes to achieve — your purpose for existing.

Once you’re clear on your purpose and the truth surrounding your existence as a brand, you can move on to the next elements.

2. Vision & Values

Vision goes hand in hand with purpose. In essence, your vision is your purpose expanded into the future. When you define your brand’s vision, you’re taking your purpose and giving it wings.

Ideally, your vision should be unique to your brand and explain to consumers what you want to accomplish — your road map for the future. It should be guided by the ideas that inspire you and should provide a clear direction.

Next, you have your brand values, which, in many ways, support your vision. Many brands choose a handful of values that they feel best encapsulate their company’s culture and goals. For example, some common brand values are authenticity, reliability, community, innovation, or simplicity.

Your brand values will depend heavily on your products and/or services, as well as your purpose and vision.

3. Consistent Brand Image: Design, Content, Logo, etc.

The next piece of your brand story has to be a consistent brand image. While you’ve laid the foundation of your brand story by defining your purpose, vision, and values, it’s all for naught if your brand isn’t easily recognizable across touchpoints.

Therefore, you need to come up with detailed brand image guidelines — from your logo to your tone of voice to your design aesthetic, it all needs to be consistent.

Your brand image plays a huge role in your brand story, as it’s one of the first things consumers see when they encounter your brand. So, make sure your brand image matches up with your values and vision, otherwise, you’re likely to confuse potential customers.

4. Value of Products & Services

Once you’ve established the previous aspects of your brand story, you need to turn to the value that your products and services provide.

You can have a groundbreaking brand vision with true purpose and an amazing brand image, but if your products or services are lacking in real value, you’re not going to make it.

Take some time to define what kind of value you want customers to get from your product or service, and then make sure your company architecture is set up to support said values.

Let’s say you want customers to view your brand as an expert in your industry — even before they purchase your products or services. In this case, you’ll need to invest in a great deal of content creation and marketing, meaning you’ll need to hire an extensive Content Marketing team.

Whatever value your brand wants to provide customers with, you need to make sure you’re set up to be successful.

5. Reputation & Customer Experience

The final piece of your brand story that we’ll discuss is your reputation, which you gain from customer experience.

You can have the best intentions — a stirring vision, amazing values, and phenomenal designs — and still fail if you’re unaware of your brand’s reputation. How your customers perceive you is incredibly important to your brand story’s overall success.

Therefore, you need to be able to keep track of how consumers perceive your brand. What’s your reputation like? Does it mesh with the brand story you’ve been building?

As a brand manager, there’s only so much you can do on your own to ensure consumers are interpreting your brand story the way you want. Thus, it can be incredibly helpful to use a tool like brand monitoring software to keep your finger on the pulse of your brand’s perception and performance.

To be fair, there are other aspects of your brand story that you can focus on once you’ve got it off the ground — as there’s always room for improvement.

From your locations to your reach to your prices, you can further refine your brand story as you grow.

What Are Some Companies With Strong Brand Stories?

In an effort to provide you with tangible examples, let’s take a look at two companies that have really nailed the whole “brand story” thing — along with some tips to help you master your own.

1. Airbnb

Airbnb is a great example of a brand that excels at storytelling. Their own brand story focuses almost exclusively on their customers — both hosts and guests. And their brand values put the emphasis on ensuring all customers and employees have a singularly great experience with Airbnb.

Airbnb’s “Belong Anywhere” slogan is so much more than just a slogan — it embodies their brand story. From their purpose to their vision to their offered value, this goal rings true. Hosts, guests, and employees alike should feel like they belong with Airbnb.

According to Douglas John Atkin, the branding expert who helped Airbnb define its story, they approached this situation in a novel way. He remembers saying to Airbnb founder Brian Chesky:

“I think that instead of the Brand, we should figure out the Purpose of Airbnb and its community. There clearly is a huge and vital community of Hosts, Guests, and Employees. Let’s figure out what role Airbnb plays in their lives and why they are committed to it. If we can do that, then it will be much easier to figure out what Airbnb’s Brand is.”

When it came to finding Airbnb’s purpose, Atkin suggested they “ground the purpose in an experienced truth” of its users — a method that lines up well with our previously discussed brand story elements.

Atkins expands, by saying:

“Airbnb’s Purpose, like any organizations’, must be grounded in something that’s universally experienced so that it’s recognized to be true. Done this way, it will resonate, be ‘bought’ into, and not rejected as corporate or brand overreach. And if the Purpose is derived from an experienced truth, then it increases the chances that you land on something that is yours and yours alone. It’s differentiating and true to you.”

In many ways, that is what lies at the core of a good brand story — something unique and true that resonates with your audience. Airbnb knows its story and has done a phenomenal job of sharing that brand story with consumers.

The Takeaway?

Focus on your purpose before you define your vision or value, and make sure your purpose is grounded in experienced truth. While it’s okay to have some aspirational elements in your story, it still needs to ring true for consumers.

Find what makes your story unique and hone in on it. The rest will follow.

2. Toms

Source: All Sole

When you think of Toms, what comes to mind? A brand that cares, a brand that lives its values every day, a brand with integrity?

Yes to all of the above. But most importantly, it’s a brand with an incredibly strong story.

Established in 2006, Toms was born out of a desire to make an impact. When founder Blake Mycoskie visited Argentina in the early 2000s, he was struck by the real and dangerous shortage of shoes for children.

In an effort to make a difference, Mycoskie created Toms — a company where for every pair of shoes sold, a pair was donated to a child in need. Their “one for one” model has seen them donate hundreds of thousands of shoes over the last decade and a half — and their brand story has evolved along the way.

While this brand’s purpose, vision, and values have been consistent from day one — their focus on corporate social responsibility and philanthropy means their brand story has only gotten stronger.

In 2019, Toms moved away from the “one for one” business model in favor of expansion into impact grants. This way, they would be able to “evolve a little bit” and “do more than just (their) one-for-one giving.”

However, because Toms has such a strong brand story, this change in operations didn’t negatively impact the way customers see them. And how do they know that?

Well, Toms used consumer insights to “ensure that the issues it focuse(d) on align(ed) with the ones its customers (were) passionate about”. They launched a “Pick your style, pick your stand” campaign, which asked customers to select a specific issue toward which a percentage of their purchase would go.

According to Toms' Chief Giving Officer Amy Smith:

“All that information informed the three areas that we'll be focused on giving to going forward and that is: physical safety, mental health, and equal access to opportunity”.

By communicating directly with their customers, Toms was able to maintain its brand story while evolving.

The Takeaway?

Listen to your audience — their likes, dislikes, and the causes that matter most to them. And remember, their needs and wants change, so you need to keep up with these evolutions.

Bottom line? With this kind of data on consumer insights, you can make informed decisions about your brand story without losing their trust or going off-topic.

How Would Brand Tracking Software Improve My Brand Story?

When it comes to your brand story, we’ve already established that there are a handful of crucial elements that you need to address to be successful. So, where does brand tracking software come in?

Let’s say you’ve taken all the right steps — you’ve identified your purpose and honed in on your truth, you’ve defined your vision and values, you’ve established a consistent brand image, and you’ve identified the value of your products and services. What now?

Well, the next step is to get a feel for your brand reputation and how customers perceive their experience with your brand. While you can use DIY surveys or focus groups, brand tracking software provides the most accurate and reliable insights.

With the ability to track the perceptions and brand associations that consumers have for your brand, you’ll be able to see if they match up with your brand story. If they do, that’s a great sign — it means your brand story is strong and resonates well with your audience.

If not, it means you need to brainstorm a bit more and see where your brand story is falling short. Do consumers enjoy your product’s value but disagree with your vision? So they feel that your brand image doesn’t mesh well with your purpose?

This kind of data is invaluable and will help you refine your brand story to ensure it’s as strong as possible.

Final Thoughts

Though it requires a great deal more time, money, and effort from brands, establishing a strong, truthful brand story is a requirement to brand success in 2021.

Modern-day consumers want to be heard, understood, entertained, and informed. A large part of successfully checking all those boxes is to build, foster, and share your brand story.

We hope that this article has helped you understand not only how to build a brand story, but also why it’s so important. And if you already have a good brand story but want to take it to the next level, we suggest looking into brand tracking to access the consumer data you’ll need.

Brand Strategy
Brand Marketing

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