An enthralling story makes for a powerful way for brands to connect with consumers. It's how brands share their values, how they differentiate their product or service, and how they create an emotional bond between themselves and their target audience.
But it's easy to use clichés in brand storytelling.
A smorgasbord of choice for consumers means they're discerning in who they pay attention to, and being the same as everyone else means you'll only be ignored.
So how do you stay creative when you're telling people what your company does? Below, we'll discuss some strategies that'll help you write a brand story that hooks consumers and attracts them to your brand.
What is a Brand Story?
An important part of your brand identity, your brand story is the narrative behind your brand. It's the story you tell when you introduce who you are, and includes your reasons for existing, how you started, and what you're helping people with.
It can be an actual story told in one sitting, or a narrative "universe" like you'd encounter in fictional entertainment.
Why have a compelling brand story? Well, it tells the world how you're different from the competition. It can help you illustrate abstract concepts with real examples.
Most importantly, a good story helps create an emotional bond between your brand and potential customers, by letting them identify with the human side of your business.
How to Tell Your Brand Story in 2022 and Beyond
Predicting the future isn't easy. The only thing you can say for certain is that things aren't slowing down; the next few years will likely bless us with even more social causes, economic volatility, incredible innovations, and nonsensical memes.
Anyone launching or running a brand during the new "roaring twenties" has quite a task on their hands, but it's far from impossible. Classic storytelling methods don't go out of fashion, and following them will make it much easier to cut through the noise.
Any story worth telling has a certain structure, and that's no different for brands. Not just a start, middle, and end, but heroes, side characters, challenges, victories, and drama.
Thankfully you don't need to construct a Marvel Universe of lore for your brand to be a hit. You just need to get the fundamentals right.
Here are the basics of writing a great brand story:
1) Start with the foundation
Your brand needs a clear purpose, and your stories should embody that. It might be how you're powering the future of energy consumption or how you're creating better lives for the people in your community. Now's the time to think back to when it all began and figure out the why.
2) Define the setting and situation
Every story takes place somewhere, so where's yours happening?
The suburbs of London? Beauty salons in Peru? Online forums for lizard owners? Every scene has its inhabitants, with their own unique concerns and desires.
It might be obvious to you as a founder, but faced with multiple stories competing for their attention, consumers need to know they're in familiar territory.
3) Identify the protagonist
This "hero" of the story is the one who takes action and makes things happen. It could be the founder, the employees, the customer, investors, community members, or someone else. The story will center around this main character, so you need to be clear about who they are.
4) First steps on the journey
What prompted the hero to take action in the first place? What was the defining event or revelation that caused them to set out on their journey? For a product-led brand, it might stem from the realization that everything else out there was just no good.
5) When things go wrong
Did anything go wrong along the way? Moments of vulnerability can help you connect with your audience, so remember to share them. Don't shy away from admitting mistakes or unexpected misfortune. Stories that go too well can seem a bit untrustworthy, so the tension of a hiccup can bring it back to reality.
6) The moment of victory
Now it's time to talk up your successes. Describe how you finally figured out the perfect recipe for your product, or the time your website almost crashed from a rush of customers. There had to be a time when you realized the hard work was worth it – it's a moment of joy the whole story leads up to.
7) Setting up for the future
Just like superhero movie franchises, the story is never really done. As a brand, you'll want to give customers a reason to stick with you for the long run, whether that's through reliable service, cool new innovations, or a connection with your cause.
Making Your Brand Story Work For the Future
There are a couple of other important things you'll need to remember when creating, maintaining, and communicating your brand story. Here's how to get the best out of it.
Unify Your Messaging
The framework above is pretty versatile. The most obvious place to use it is on the "About Us" page on your website, where you can go through the whole thing, start to finish.
But that's just the beginning. A truly effective brand story will percolate throughout your brand communication channels. It could be in:
interviews with the press
a feel-good customer case study
a five-day email drip campaign for new sign-ups
a pinned Instagram story about how you started
the micro-copy in your transactional emails
And so on. Like any piece of content, brand stories can and should be chopped up, remixed, repurposed, and told in different ways for different audiences.
There are so many things happening in the world that it's tempting to jump on every trend that comes along. Brand managers are only human, and they feel the FOMO just like the rest of us.
But not every fad is an opportunity, and just like the social causes mentioned above, you're doing your brand a disservice if you try to jump aboard each one.
Your story shouldn't drift too far from its original state just because others are talking about different things.
Focus is what turns short-term wonders into perennial sellers that stand the test of time. Remember your initial vision, and stick to it.
Zig When Others Zag
Just because you shouldn't follow everyone else down the latest path, doesn't mean you shouldn't blaze some new trails yourself. A commitment to sensible creativity and necessary innovation will keep your brand fresh. So you can continue to solve the same problems but in different ways.
Experiment, listen to the data, and see what works.
Brand Storytelling Case Study: Fly by Jing
Source: Fly by Jing
Independent food brands demonstrate some of the most successful brand storytelling out there, which you can learn from no matter what industry you're in.
Food is a global connector of cultures, and anyone can relate to enjoying a delicious meal and connecting with people over the dinner table. From humble beginnings in a family kitchen to widespread popularity, startup food brands usually go through a journey that's ripe for sharing.
It's not always easy to spark desire for food simply through photographs and great ad copy. You need something more – an emotional connection that's built through a great story. Fly by Jing is a superb example of this.
Created by Chengdu-born, LA-based entrepreneur Jing Gao, Fly by Jing is a brand selling hot sauces and seasonings inspired by the Sichuan region of China.
Jing's cross-cultural origin story is told through various different channels. There's the About Us page, which is a snackable summary of the journey so far:
"Hey, I'm Jing. I founded Fly By Jing in 2018, inspired by the amazing flavors of my hometown Chengdu and its famous fly restaurants— soulful hole-in-the-wall eateries so good they attract diners like flies."
It doesn't end there, though. Jing's brand narrative is expanded on in her press interviews where she has the chance to go deeper and explore more of the motivation behind her creations. It's also told in the brand's Instagram stories (both explicitly and weaved into other relevant content), online shop copy, blog posts, product packaging, and pretty much everywhere it exists.
Jing does authentic brand storytelling at its finest, and never sounds insincere or untrustworthy. Fly by Jing is now stocked in over 400 stores around the United States and is starting to go global. With coverage in the New York Times, Esquire, Forbes, and other major publications, it's clearly a story that resonates with people.
Clichés to Avoid in Your Brand Storytelling
Consumers are smarter than marketers give them credit for. They'll remember more than you might think, and if they see a certain phrase, punchline, or idea more than a few times, they'll notice. And that doesn't reflect well on your brand.
Here are a few brand story clichés that you probably want to avoid.
1. Made by x, for x
Lots of brand stories come from founders that want to improve an aspect of their industry. It's rare that industry outsiders start a new venture without at least some relevant experience.
But for some reason, thousands of brands rely on this hackneyed turn of phrase:
Made by gamers, for gamers
Created by surfboarders, for surfboarders
An SEO tool crafted by SEO nerds
While the "by x, for x" structure sounds neat, it's kinda redundant. You wouldn't trust a kitchen knife that was made by accountants, for chefs, would you?
If you really want to show off your credentials as part of your story, there are better ways to do it. The old classic "show, don't tell" applies here – if you tell the story of how your company came together and which problem you're passionate about solving, you won't need to declare that you're qualified.
2. Caring about every trending social cause
While companies doing good is broadly a good thing for society, doing it the wrong way can make for a confusing, ineffective brand story.
Some of today's brand managers read think-pieces celebrating the purpose-led brand and go a little overboard with their social responsibility efforts.
Integrity is a vital asset for any strong brand. If your brand only supports the latest social cause because everyone else is doing it, it's going to be obvious. Consumers will sniff out your insincerity, and if your brand tries too hard to look like it cares about social issues by jumping on every trend, they won't appreciate it.
Even if it's a really great cause, it might not be a great fit for your brand. If you're a coffee brand that wants to publicly support a sanctuary for orphaned llamas, that's great! But...why? Do your customers know? Do you really know?
There's a fine line to walk with this. You probably won't hear a chorus of disparaging comments when you donate to a worthy, but irrelevant, cause. But each time you proclaim your support for something that was never a part of your brand purpose, you undermine it a little bit.
Remember, support comes in many different ways. Donations are effective of course, and so is raising awareness for important issues. But you actually have to do the work behind the scenes, too. This means making sure your corporate practices don't go against what you're saying in public.
If you want consumers to believe that your company is really passionate about changing society for the better, authenticity has to be demonstrated with real, long-term commitments.
Beyoncé found this out after the launch of her Ivy Park fashion brand back in 2016. The collaboration with retailer Topshop hit a major roadblock when it emerged that the mostly female workers making the clothes in Sri Lanka were paid staggeringly low amounts – not a great look for a singer championing the empowerment of women around the world.
It's taken a few years to revamp the brand's operations and earn back the trust it lost during that disastrous time. That's quite an expensive mistake to make.
3. "We make things for humans"
It's a cute phrase that you'll see on any non-mainstream tech-related brand right now. But it's soon going to outstay its welcome.
Tapping into peoples' fears of increasingly powerful technology, the mantra "made for humans" (and its variant, "made by humans") is a rather on-the-nose reminder that we are human after all, and the brand in question is made of actual people with feelings who care about you, the customer. You aren't just a transaction ID to them.
But is it really necessary to shout this from the rooftops? Every digital agency and Shopify store under the sun has it in their website footer these days: "Made by humans in (city name)." Unless you're selling to bots (and in the era of the supply chain squeeze, your next customer may indeed be a bot) it's redundant and a little too common.
You might think this is a little picky. Not all brand messages make sense under the microscope, and that's fine. Abstract ideas and sharp witticisms don't have to be examined in detail to make an impact. But it sends a subtle message that you're not a paragon of originality, which could lead to less trust in your brand.
The solution here is the same as the one for 'made for x by x': show, don't tell. Use natural language in your copy and plenty of non-stock images of real people using your products.
Being truly original is never easy. But you don't have to be completely unique in every dimension to run a likable brand. You just need at least one differentiating factor that elevates you above the competition and tempts a purchase decision to come your way.
Hopefully, the work you do when creating your brand in the first place will put you in a good spot to achieve this; a clearly defined vision and offering is crucial in a noisy world of endless consumer choice.
That said, you really don't want to erode that hard work by drifting into clichéd phrases and ideas throughout your messaging. Your brand story should be a memorable, relatable narrative that your prospects can identify with.
Whatever tone it strikes is down to you, but you have to leave customers with a singular desire: to ally with your brand instead of the others. The best way to make this happen is by using a little creativity and some classic storytelling techniques.
And they all lived happily ever after.