When people ask what I do, I tell them I help smaller businesses tell their brand story for business results and brand love. Which usually then leads to the question of what exactly is a brand story?
Sometimes it’s easier to say what a brand story isn’t as a starting point.
A brand story isn’t your advertising campaign
That said, your advertising should be rooted in an element of a brand story. But a brand story has layers that you can’t cover in one print ad or 30 seconds of film.
A brand story isn’t your product or service
Although they had better match up with what you say you are all about. You often see this when businesses talk about being leading edge and innovative, only to find they do the same as 15,000 other businesses. The leading edge tends not to be that crowded.
A brand story isn’t your founder
Apple existed with and without Steve Jobs. The two were intertwined, some would say still are. Did Steve embody Apple or Apple embody Steve? The Apple brand story continues to be a clear one, even if they lose their way occasionally. Your founder’s story is a key element of your brand story, but it’s not the only thing. Sadly, founders are not eternal beings.
For many smaller businesses, those three things are often the first hurdles we work through when we start building a brand story. They panic about not having the first. They obsess over the details of the second. And they can find it difficult not to indulge the third one.
But if it’s not those things, then exactly what is your brand story?
And before I get started, I would urge you to remember it’s not complicated, but it’s valuable.
Remember a leather handbag is just a leather handbag. The only reason Mulberry or Chanel can charge more than some bloke on the market is the story. That’s value.
So, what is the story?
It’s a sum of all your parts
This is why your advertising is not your story. The story is about your vision, your purpose, your values. It covers what you do, how you got started, and why you do it. The people who make up your business are in your story. Where you work from or sell your product might feature.
For example, it’s hard to think of Hiut Denim without the story of its mission to bring 400 jobs back to a small town in west Wales. That and they make damned fine jeans.
It talks about the choices you make in everything from product design to the ingredients you use or the services you offer. The story is your how, what and why. The story is a cake, all of those things are the ingredients that go into it and how you made it, and why.
Your brand story can only be that. Yours. Don’t tell someone else’s, don’t write what you think people want to hear. Don’t do corporate speak. Definitely don’t write it only for Google.
Tell it as you’d tell your granny. Or someone else’s. Or a five-year-old. Kids have excellent built-in bullshit detectors and also for asking awkward questions. Keep it simple, but not simplistic. Your story is always worth telling, just tell it in the right way, so people know it’s come from the truth. It’s like the compass of all that you do.
It makes people feel
To me, the most crucial aspect of a brand story is what it makes people feel about what you do. If it resonates with their own story and values, then two valuable things happen. The first is belief, buy-in, advocacy, fandom, whatever you want to call it. That’s why I say I write stories for brand love. You don’t give those things to brands or things that you just like.
The second thing is that people tell your story for you. They talk about what your brand makes them feel, what it does for them. They tell others, and they probably tell you. Now, if you’re a new brand, then you don’t yet have this, but you will. If you’ve been around for a bit, then you do have this, and that’s why a brand story is never a static thing, why I encourage people to go back and add a new chapter.
If your story doesn’t make people feel something, then it’s time to take another look at it.
There is no one way of telling your brand story. Sometimes you just have to get started, then find some honest people to look at it. Remember those grannies and five-year-olds? Facing the blank page or screen is the hardest part for any writing (I’m a writer, trust me on this one), but getting going is key.
Remember your story is never finished, and you’re not carving this in tablets of stone. You work on it, you refine it, and you add to it. Every legend tends to be even more fascinating when we find out what happens next. Not convinced? Try getting tickets for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child!
Still not sure about the value of a brand story?
Keep an eye out for next week’s post as I’m talking to Barrie Thomson from The High Street Delicatessen. He’s an incredible storyteller himself, but along with JoJo also collects the best tasting products with amazing stories behind them. We’ll be talking about why stories connect people with products, and why that’s an important differentiator.
There again, you might be convinced but not sure where to start, or whether it’s something you want to write yourself. In which case, let’s have a chat.