Brand storytelling is more important than ever. But what is it?
Gather around the business campfire, because we're brand storytelling.
Back in the day, business used to be simple. Let me set the stage: It's 1622. You have a skill, like woodworking or baking, and your village requires your chairs or loaves of bread. You didn't have to have a website, learn SEO, or pay influencers to post pictures of them eating your bread (or chairs) on social media because you were one of, like, two people in your town with your skillset.
Your entire marketing budget went towards a hand-painted wooden sign. Business was booming, life was good, and you'd live to the ripe old age of 32.
Now, unfortunately, people are living way longer, and marketing budgets have increased far beyond one simple handmade easel board. This puts pressure on brands to stand out in new, outlandish, and often questionably-ethical ways.
But one reliable, proven way to stand out is through the power of storytelling.
Two words: the internet.
To expound on that: the worldwide internet.
You're no longer simply competing with Creepy Steve, the Village's Second Worst Baker for customers. You are now competing with the entire world for customers. And that's a lot of Steves.
Here are just a few of the main reasons you need to be a brand that masters the art of storytelling:
No matter your brand, your niche, or your industry, odds are there's somebody out there who's willing to do the same job faster and cheaper. Would it be better? Who cares! They're doing it for less money! You're not just competing with other industry professionals in your ZIP code. You're now competing with the entire world, especially as more industries go entirely online and globalization increases.
This includes multinational corporations and giant conglomerates who have taken creativity and turned it into an art form of mass production. If you are a small business, then you know how difficult it is to convince somebody to spend four times as much on a product or service when they can simply go down to the nearest mass-manufactured store and get the thing almost immediately. (Or why leave the house at all when Amazon Prime exists?)
Emotions are powerful motivators. More than simple rational thought, emotions spur us to action and inform our decisions, likely much more than we even realize. And this is exceptionally true in marketing. Consumers are often compelled to action when a brand campaign elicits some sort of emotional response, be it negative or positive.
Modern digital marketing trends are no different. If you've scrolled for even a few moments on TikTok, you'll see that the platform is overrun with this emotion-based marketing strategy, and businesses adapting a strong brand story as part of that strategy.
Take this example:
Company 1 is a small business soap company. They create small-batch soap with a cute, aesthetic, professional brand identity. They post TikToks in an effort to gain awareness, show some behind-the-scenes soap making, and generally reach out to a potential audience of people who want to support small businesses. They aren't seeing much growth because the market is saturated.
Company 2 is also a soap company. However, they use an emotion-based strategy for their brand storytelling. They post sensationalized "storytimes" about disgruntled and disrespectful customers who demand free products from this poor, simple small business. Company 2 gets to frame itself as both martyr and hero while simultaneously entertaining and differentiating itself from all of the other soap TikTokers (because there are inexplicably thousands of them).
What's the difference? Company 2 is keenly aware that emotion is powerful. And the emotion is less "aww, poor soap store, people are so mean to them" and more "yeah, I'm going to help them stick it to all those idiots that take advantage of people because I'm a good person!" Even if most of their stories are completely fabricated, it doesn't matter. They invoked emotion. This tactic also has the added benefit of increasing engagement through the algorithm, thus increasing their reach.
Churn in business sucks. When someone tries your product or service and is like, "hmm, yeah, I could live without this forever." That's a bad feeling.
Churn is reduced through brand loyalty. We all have that product or service we will ride-or-die with simply because we like it. Is it better than the competition? Does it outperform, make our lives easier, and work as well as other options? Hell no! But, damn it, we like it, it has an adorable logo, and we're already invested.
There's a reason why your brain is so hardwired to resonate with, remember, and enjoy stories. That reason is science. It's fascinating how much of the world is made up of stories, both real and fabricated, but it's not necessarily surprising. Scientists and researchers have studied the effect of storytelling on the brain to determine why stories resonate with us so powerfully.
MRIs have given us an intriguing glimpse into the power of storytelling on the brain. The chemicals dopamine, oxytocin, and cortisol are often released during the storytelling process. These different chemicals affect how we think and behave, how we remember, and how we connect with others.
The science backs up what we innately know: that people simply connect better and stronger to stories than to rote facts. Storytelling, whether it's through podcasts, books, TikToks, feature-length films, or even video games, is the most important vehicle by which we share information. If you really want to build an audience, make a difference, or change a mind--use a story.
It's hard to tell a story when you don't know what that story is. Here are a few questions to ask yourself and your team when identifying your brand story.
Does your brand have inspirational rags-to-riches humble beginnings? A CEO worth showcasing? A team story to tell?
Having a face to your brand is super important for humanizing your message and reminding people, "hey, this company produces a good product, and they're pretty cool people, too!" In reality, people trust people far more than they trust impersonal entities (as evidenced by the rise of influencer marketing in the past few years).
So, who is your brand?
For example, take Prezly. We are a remote SaaS storytelling platform. We want to help our users build relationships with their audiences by doing all the boring technical stuff so they can focus on the meat-and-potatoes relationship stuff that helps their business grow. But who are we?
- A fully remote team comprised of 26 people from 21 countries across four continents
- A little bit silly
- Empathetic. Listening to our customers is super important to us, and we take all suggestions, recommendations, compliments, and criticisms very seriously
Having a clearly-defined brand story is sort of like having a brand style kit: it's essential for consistent messaging across all platforms. Our brand kit (and our graphic designer) absolutely refuses to let me mix Times New Roman and Papyrus on a Prezly graphic, and for good reason: it looks insane. Same with consistent brand storytelling. A consistent message is important to create a loyal fanbase. If you don't know what you stand for, neither will your audience.
So, we know that storytelling in business works. But how do you establish a good brand story? Ask yourself (or yourselves) the following:
Are you a "pull up your bootstraps, boss babe, go get 'em" Etsy candle company?
Are you a "don't quit until you're dead, no pain, no gain" energy drink startup?
Are you a serious, no-nonsense, trustworthy law firm?
Who you are will inform your branding, so having a clearly defined brand identity is critical for direction and consistency when telling your story. Take Toms, for example. They aren't just a shoe company. They branded themselves early as an entrepreneurial powerhouse, donating a pair of shoes for every pair sold. Their mission of "Powered by Purpose" catapulted them from "just another slip-on brand" to the instantly recognizable brand they are today.
Are they good shoes? That's debatable! But because they had a really strong brand story about their philanthropic work, they've sold over 100 million shoes. When your brand stands for something, you allow your potential customers to consider adopting that identity through their purchase. People want to be good, fun, fast, cool, trendy. Can they become those things by purchasing your product?
How do you want your clients to feel when they think of your brand? In what ways do you want to enrich their lives, and what problems is your company aiming to solve?
Think about some of the world's most popular brands and the emotions they invoke.
Apple? Sleek, futuristic.
Nike? Fast, athletic.
Dunkin Donuts? Stomachache City.
See? We often have a snap judgment, almost an unconscious reaction to most things, brands included. Intentionally shaping your brand's messaging means you'll have a better chance of helping create a cool, positive emotional reaction instead of a "bleh, whatever" reaction. Or, worst of all, a "wait, who?" reaction. 😬
If you plan to identify yourself as the best, you better be ready to back it up. We were all raised on the internet and can detect BS a mile away. Having bold claims about your brand is fine, but making bold claims and not backing them up is worse than not making any claims at all. For example, if you boldly state that you're "customer first" but then make it monstrously difficult for your clients to reach out for support, your inauthentic brand story will do far more harm than good.
Or if you claim your CEO built himself from nothing, but it later comes out that he had wildly wealthy parents as angel investors? Yeah, that's going to piss people off. I'm mad just thinking about it.
Authenticity is extremely important in establishing your brand. Better to say nothing than to lie and build false goodwill.
Your story is critical to your message as a brand. Figuring out who you are and what you stand for is a great first step to making potential customers like you. If you'd like to learn more about developing a cohesive brand story, read my colleague's article on the power of storytelling.
For more storytelling goodness, read on for more kick-butt examples of brand storytelling in action.
Published August 2022