Do you always buy the cheapest available product or service, regardless of the brand behind it? Even if you are guaranteed the same level of quality from both, it’s likely you’ll still favor a certain brand.
Part of the reason customers are loyal to a brand is its brand story. An emotional or inspirational brand story helps customers connect with a brand on a human level and makes them feel good about their purchase.
Consider your own brand story: Does it make your brand stand out? How is it told? Does it show personality?
If you think it’s lacking in any of these areas, don’t worry. This article is a thorough review of all the necessary elements that go into building a successful brand story.
Let’s make sure you tell the brand story that customers want to hear.
What is a brand story?
A brand story is an informative anecdote about a brand’s creation and history. It extends beyond the basic facts and figures to offer unique insights about a brand’s founders and the odds they overcame (and continue to overcome).
Be careful not to confuse a brand story with a recount of what a brand is (what it sells, what it stands for, etc.). This information is also important but a brand story is not the place for it. Instead, think of connecting with your customer through the brand story, bringing out their emotions in some way and inspiring them to use your products and services.
So, what makes a brand story so valuable?
The importance of brand stories
“The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. The storyteller sets the vision, values and agenda of an entire generation that is to come.” – Steve Jobs
First and foremost, storytelling is an effective way of communicating that has stood the test of time. Told the right way, a story has a huge effect on other people, helping them see a new perspective.
A story not only provides important background information, but it also indicates that your brand is more than just a company trying to make a sale. It drives customers to do business with your brand, not only because they need the service or product, but because they care about what you stand for.
The brand loyalty a good story can bring is undeniably valuable. The relationships your story forms are the difference between a lifelong customer and a one-time purchase.
What kind of things need to go into a story in order to make it effective? Here are five important elements.
5 things to consider when creating your brand story
A brand story takes care and creativity, as well as honesty. It also requires a bit of technical know-how. Luckily, I’ve put together five easy tips that will boost your story.
1. Perfection is your enemy
When considering how brands advertise their products to the public, it’s clear that they present themselves as perfect (at least most of the time). Ads are filled with words like, ‘Best’, ‘Amazing’, ‘Futuristic’, ‘Guaranteed’ and more. This might be reassuring for customers looking for a product or service, but it won’t work when it comes to brand story.
Perfection in a brand story removes all elements that drive a story forward, leaving it shallow and ineffective. Customers need to see your struggles, imperfections and climb to the top. They need to understand your specific obstacles and how you overcame them.
The best brand stories understand that it would be a big mistake to pretend the main character was perfect from the beginning.
2. It’s not a novel
A brand story should be short and sweet. They need to appeal to everyone, not just people with a PhD in literature. Even the customers who enjoy reading about brands won’t want to read a brand story that is too long.
Structure your story in a way that is informative, inspiring and creative, but without making it overly complex. The elements of storytelling still apply, but the story you’re telling follows them at their very core and doesn’t need to go in-depth at each station.
If customers can’t learn your brand story in a few minutes, they probably won’t bother.
3. Remember your audience
We often forget that our brand story isn’t just a rundown of the history behind the brand. It is supposed to be a way to inspire your customers into believing in you.
Therefore, the story needs to be constructed with your target audience in mind. If you were making a movie that only people who love to knit sweaters could watch, it probably wouldn’t make sense to make an action movie (unless the hero used needlepoint to battle enemies).
Think of how your story can best connect to the types of people who buy or might buy your services and products. What kind of details can you include that will make them take up your cause and be a part of the brand? Be sure that whatever it is, your story lays it out in some unique way.
4. Use it as a catalyst for your purpose
“Stories are not indicators, they ARE the organization.” – David M. Boje
The brand story you create should demonstrate why a customer should stick with you, because it should highlight your purpose.
For example, a car company’s purpose isn’t to sell cars or make money, it’s to give its customers a safe way to get from point A to point B.
Remember that if you can’t give customers a reason to buy your products beyond the features and aspects of the product alone, it’s likely the customer will look elsewhere. Use the story to show why you do what you do.
5. Incorporate products and services
The final element to consider when building a brand story is the concept of products and services. It’s a mistake to think that selling detracts from a brand story. In fact, part of what makes a brand story so great is the fact that the customer can be inspired to buy your product in order to contribute to and honor the story.
For example, if someone reads a brand story about a vegan food brand and is inspired to join the movement, these products offer them an entry point. A brand story should incorporate the product or service it sells within every story. It’s not deceptive or slimy, it is helpful and awesome.
Now that you have some crucial hints for building an effective story, let’s take a look at some brands that got it right.
Examples of effective brand stories
The following examples are a great way for you to see how a brand story can influence and inspire customers.
Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, working with what little means they had, were able to build a computer they hoped would be the next big thing in computing. Unfortunately, resources were tight.
To overcome their limited resources, they stored many of their equipment tools in a garage, then sold some of their important belongings to finish their projects.
Apple was up against it, entering an industry which had a powerful competitor, Microsoft. However, through perseverance, hard work and creativity, they thrived, becoming the tech-leading brand they are today.
Takeaways: Notice how the story doesn’t begin with an idea that immediately translates to success. The Apple founders had to overcome limited resources and more, giving the story a more intriguing aspect.
MailChimp began as a way for its founders to deliver powerful web design to large enterprises. Eventually, they realized that their biggest skills and passions involved working with small businesses.
These beginnings made it easier for MailChimp to be successful, pushing the creativity of their teams in order to make their products work for everyone who uses them.
Now, MailChimp is still working to deliver effective services to small businesses, but they do so with more than just email tools.
Takeaways: MailChimp’s story connects with anyone who works with small businesses. This makes it easier for customers to buy into the idea that supporting MailChimp is valuable for things other than just products and services.
The problem, as the founders of Warby Parker saw it, was that eyewear was so overpriced it was an inconvenience to simply exist if you had eyesight issues and needed glasses. Fueling this problem was a large industry-leader that no one was willing to go up against.
That’s where Warby Parker entered, giving their competition a run for their money while making glasses much more affordable.
To further dedicate themselves to this cause, they now partner with other groups that help locate eyewear for the needy across the globe.
Takeaways: Taking on the big guys is part of what makes this story so great. We like to see people overcoming tough odds in stories, so it’s important for this to be part of Warby Parker’s story.
These examples give us a foundation for which to adhere to when building our own story. It’s also important to know some of the main themes that accompany powerful brand stories.
Common themes of effective brand stories
Let’s take a look at a few recurring themes we notice in brand stories attached to the most successful brands.
The story doesn’t begin from the top of the mountain
Even giant brands weren’t always giants. Starting out, they had to muddle through uncertainty or go up against an industry-leader. Fortunately, people love to read about these journeys, so make sure to include it in your story.
One thing I’ve noticed from all different types of brands is their story begins mostly in a manner that presents them as a longshot. It then takes the opportunity to show how and why they succeeded. This makes the story interesting and helps the reader see certain characteristics of your brand they can identify with.
The best stories have some type of praiseworthy, virtuous aspect
Even though it’s important to show our imperfections in a brand story, that doesn’t mean we can’t show the times we show ourselves to be honest, kind and helpful. Most of the best brand stories incorporate these moments.
Sprinkling in the times when your brand was socially mindful makes a story more positive and gives readers a chance to better connect with your brand. Of course, no one is perfect, but highlighting our best attributes is always a good idea.
Other story considerations
While you can’t go back in time and rewrite history, your brand’s story will evolve as you add new chapters.
For example, Apple’s brand story will always star Steve Jobs and the company’s early days in the garage. However, Apple’s progression in the post-Jobs era will become a new part of the story too.
Think of your brand story not as a book that’s already been printed, but as a living document you’re constantly adding to. The key is to think about how each new chapter contributes to the type of story you want to tell.
Final thoughts on brand stories
What is the secret sauce that’s going to drive customers to your brand over its competitors? If you have a unique brand story that they want to be a part of, it becomes obvious.
Don’t let things like price, quality and customer service be the only weapons driving customers to you. Expand your options with a powerful brand story.
To discover more about branding, check out our complete branding guide and watch our video about brand stories below.