Brand storytelling can pack a huge punch for small businesses. “A story that's unique to your brand creates an emotional connection for customers,” says Phoebe Netto, founder of Sydney-based Pure Public Relations, a company specialising in advising SMEs (small- and medium-size enterprises) on communication strategies. Here, Phoebe offers expert advice on creating a powerful brand story, from where to start and what to avoid to how to evolve your brand story over time.
What Is Brand Storytelling?
Brand storytelling goes beyond promoting the facts, features and benefits of your product or service and brings emotion to your business. Rather than selling, you share the story behind your business and its values – why it exists and why what you offer matters – to capture people’s interest and make a connection. Your brand story can be a narrative or a simple anecdote about how you started your business. Sometimes it’s about the customer. It shows your audience you understand the problem they’re experiencing and are able to solve it in a unique way.
Why is a Brand Story Important?
No-one can compete with your brand story because it’s yours, and stories evoke an emotional response that compels people to feel, think and act. SMEs can’t beat bigger businesses on price, and they can’t saturate the market with sales messages, but creating connections with their customers might be more challenging for bigger competitors. Small businesses should take full advantage of this.
How Do I Create My Brand Story?
Identify what your business stands for right from the start. Brand values – a company’s core beliefs – define how a business operates and how it appears to the outside world. The biggest mistake is not defining your brand values or simply not having any at all.
You also need to understand your customers to tailor your brand story to them. Go deeper than standard demographics and generalisations like “soccer mums who shop online”. What issues do they care about? What gets them out of bed? What brands do they buy again and again? What language do they use? Get deep insights using multiple forms of research: social media analysis, most frequent web searches, customer feedback and so on. Learn what people are searching for and asking with Google Trends and Answer The Public, and comb through question-and-answer forums Quora, Reddit and Whirlpool. It can be surprising to learn what you thought mattered is not your ideal customer’s primary motivator.
Using those insights, ask yourself: what do you do well that would matter to this customer? What do you do that others don’t? That’s your brand story.
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What Are the Components of a Successful Brand Story?
You need to tell your brand story wherever your customers are, plus you should tell the same story in different ways because people need to hear it more than once. After all, you're asking them to spend money with you for the first time or again, or to change their buying habits to choose you over someone they've gone to previously. And that’s a big ask. Outdoor clothing brand Patagonia repeats the same story multiple ways throughout the entire customer journey, from the marketing and website copy through to labels. Its customers wouldn't be able to describe the latest range, but they could tell you the irreverent, even polarising, brand story. It’s consistent and clear, and elicits a loyalty no amount of ad spend could conjure.
Do I Tell Different Brand Stories to Different Customers?
It helps to use sentence-starters when you’re thinking about brand storytelling. Things like: “Imagine if…" and “Have you ever…?" to “Every day, thousands of Australians…” and “We know you care about XYZ and so do we” or “Ten years ago we…”. Those messages stay the same for every audience because people, regardless of their particular journey, connect to them. Even if your business is B2B (business to business), there’s still the relatable story of the problem and how you’ve gone about solving it.
How Do I Market My Brand Story?
People love to go behind the scenes of anything being done well and they connect with a person more than a product. Think of those people who are front and centre of their brand and a big part of the bottom line, like Zoë Foster Blake at Go-To skincare. This brand story marketing also worked well for fashion label sass & bide, but when the founders left, the business suffered because [the founders and their story] were the only aspect of the brand story being told.
Telling a founder story has become quite popular and can have the tendency to just become a lot of noise in a crowded market. The exception is the few that do it very well in a way that has a really distinct style and connects deeply with its audience. When the customer feels they have direct access to somebody of note on the brand, such as Mia Freedman and her colleagues at Mamamia, they form a fanbase. That sense of belonging means customers are much more likely to spread the word.
Empowering others to tell the story is a great move for small businesses. Rug brand Miss Amara successfully increased its online following and created loyalty by sharing photos customers submitted of the company’s rugs in their homes. Now customers want to be the next to have their photo chosen. And don’t forget that your staff, too, are walking billboards and often the first meaningful connection for customers.
How Can My Brand Story Stand Out?
The author Zig Ziglar said, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” For long-term engagement, make your brand story all about the customer, not what you want from them. Think of surfwear and D2C (direct to consumer) bed linen companies where you see appealing customers using the product. There’s an aspirational quality to the experience customers have had and what new customers can hope to have.
How Do I Know if My Brand Story is Working?
This is where constant measurement comes in to discover which parts of the brand story people most connect with. I recommend social listening tool Brandwatch, plus Sprout Social and Meltwater are good options too. At Pure, we also ask people making business enquiries how they heard about us and note whether things they say match what we think is important to our brand story. Check if customers’ questions change over time, because they should. Then there are media-coverage metrics – if the story is compelling and executed well, people will retell it.
What Should I Avoid When Brand Storytelling?
A brand story should be evergreen and true to pre-existing values. Tokenism (shifting to suit what’s topical) repels people. Remember the ad of Kendall Jenner offering Pepsi to a police officer during a protest? Avoid, too, the bait and switch of luring in customers with a beautiful story that finishes with a link to click and spend. Focus on connection and memorability rather than a quick sale. But the biggest pitfall is creating messaging that sounds desperate: book now, buy now. Speaking to the customer about what they want will bring more sales in the long term.
How Do I Maintain Brand Storytelling as My Business Grows?
Your story could shift from being about the company founders to being about how the product was created, or to where you’re now exporting, or to a customer story where you use case studies or put a client forward to share their experience. The brand story evolves, but the values and tone stay the same.