You can’t deny that the brand story is all the rage with companies these days. Pop open forbes.com or Inc.com and you’ll likely see at least one article on the homepage with the words “story” or “storytelling” in the title.
And I can’t tell you how many consultants, agencies, and even former literary authors I’ve watched get into the action telling their clients that creating their story is the must-have, silver bullet marketing tactic this year.
I find this recent uptick in brand stories kind of funny. For over 10 years now at Resound, we’ve been preaching (and practicing) the power of story to help brands connect with customers and build lasting relationships. We’ve always thought that we, fundamentally, help companies craft their story and show it to the world.
And then just look at history: from Homer to Tolstoy to George Lucas, great authors, thinkers, and entertainers have been studying and using story to create lasting relationships with readers and followers for thousands of years.
This is certainly not a new concept. You’d think we’d all have this down. Every company on the planet should have a story as good as Apple and Coke, garnering attention, driving lots of revenue, and creating all sorts of brand loyalty, right?
And yet so many brands lack a compelling brand story. Maybe even yours. Why is that?
Here are five reasons you may not have a compelling brand story — one that really cuts through the noise and helps you gain customers.
You’ve Never Written Down Your Brand Story
So when I say “brand story,” what do you think of? Maybe your mind tracks back to some talk you had with your team about the company’s past, where the company’s going now, and all the initiatives you have planned?
Or maybe you did a workshop with a consultant once and everyone was really energized and excited about a new direction for the company, but when you got back to business the following week, no one really changed anything?
And you definitely don’t ever remember writing down your story. Or at least nothing more than some dates and significant (to you) historical bullet points on some obscure page of your website.
But those aren’t really your brand story and you certainly haven’t written that down.
So why haven’t you? Perhaps you’re using one of these excuses:
- I don’t think I need one
- I don’t know how
- I don’t have time
Here’s the problem: whether you like it or not, you already have a brand story. The problem is that if you haven’t put intentional, strategic, thoughtful work into your brand story, it’s just whatever messaging you’ve put out into the universe, amalgamated (and woefully misunderstood) by potential customers.
Think about the messages you’ve put out into the marketplace in the last 18 months — your website, your ads, your social posts, your brochures, even your email signature line and voicemail. Were they consistent? Were they organized under a single unifying thought? Could someone read/watch/hear them and put together the pieces to get a full, complete story?
No? Then it’s time to write your brand story — with care and creativity.
2. The Hero In Your Brand Story Is You
“So who do you think is the hero of your brand story?” this is how I start nearly every brand story workshop with marketing executives, founders, and company leaders. More than half of the time I get some kind of answer to “me” or “my business” or “my brand.”
Then I get to educate my audience on who a hero really is and why my audience’s own brands are definitely NOT the hero of their own brand stories.
Think about any great, entertaining story — like “Lord of the Rings” or “Star Wars” or “The Odyssey.” Who’s the real hero? It’s Frodo or Luke or Oddyseus, right? But what makes them the hero? Is it because they’re so smart, or clever, or strong, or have it all figured out? Nope. It’s because they’re the central figure with an acute, unsolvable (to them) problem, and through the course of the story, their problem gets solved and they become stronger, smarter, better, or at least more like we ourselves want to be.
Luke wants to get off his home planet, travel the stars, and find a larger purpose, but he’s stuck being a farmer boy on his family’s farm. Frodo — just a lowly, insignificant hobbit — finds himself the owner of the (simultaneously) greatest and worst piece of jewelry in all the history of Middle Earth and is called upon to save the world, with no big sword or big muscles. Odysseus — having just fought an exhausting war — finds himself lost at sea for 10 years, facing trial after trial, in a seemingly endless attempt to get back home to his family.
Hero’s are never that super — at least not to begin with. They’re faced with insurmountable circumstances, desires that can’t be attained, and often their own character flaws (or at least weaknesses) that always hold them back. But what makes a great story compelling is how they overcome. And in nearly every great story, the hero overcomes only with the help of a wiser, more experienced guide — think Yoda for Luke, Gandalf for Frodo, or Athena for Oddyseus.
When it comes to brand stories, the formula is no different. There must be a hero who has a problem they want to achieve, but can’t. And there must be an experienced guide to help them overcome and discover their happy ending.
The problem is that so many of us business leaders get so stuck in the business that we confuse the roles of our brand story. The business is NEVER the hero; the customer is! They are the one with the problem. They are the one who wants to overcome (but can’t). They are the one searching for a happy ending. And the business must ALWAYS be the guide.
You’ve been there. You’ve solved the problem. You’ve found the promised land and have experienced its fruits. And now you offer that solution and the accompanying happy ending to your customers. YOU are the guide.
Your CUSTOMER is the hero.
And herein lies the power of a great brand story: when the hero of the story is your customer, they actually want to hear the story.
If you write your brand story as if the business is the hero, no one will listen. Why not? Because it’s not about them. They can’t find their place in the story. It doesn’t help them. It doesn’t point out their problem, show them a solution, and reveal the amazing happy ending they could have. It flat out doesn’t resonate.
But when your brand story has the customer as the hero, now it’s all about them. They recognize themselves in the story. They identify with the problem the hero is encountering. They get excited about a solution. And they’re blown away with the happy ending they now desperately want.
And now they’re ready to hear more.
So, evaluate the story you’re telling. Are you making the brand the hero? Or are you putting the customer at the center of it all?
3. You Never Identify Your Hero’s real problem OR their happy ending.
We touched on this already — about your customer (NOT your brand) being the hero. But this is too crucial to leave as a footnote: you MUST identify the real problem AND the happy ending for your hero.
I cannot tell you how many brands I’ve encountered who only ever talk about the solution they bring to the table. And this is really a symptom of two deeper problems:
- These brands don’t know (or don’t talk about) the problems the hero is facing.
- And they don’t know how their solution really makes the hero’s life better.
Let’s talk for a moment about A: not talking about the problems your hero is facing.
Consider for a moment your customer, before they become one. What’s the main reason they’re searching for you, for your product or service? They have a problem — yeah? They’re feeling some kind of pain or encountering some kind of roadblock.
If you’re like a lot of B2B brands we work with, that pain is often related to your customer’s business. Maybe it’s a lack of growth or shrinking margins or stiffer competition or more specific pains found in the day-to-day of getting new business, getting the work done, and getting paid.
So when you’re crafting a brand story, why would you never mention these pains and challenges? Why would you jump straight to solutions: products, services, and features?
Let’s pretend for just a minute, to help illustrate why this doesn’t work:
Imagine you’re not feeling well — you’ve been having headaches every day for a whole week. They’re getting really annoying — interfering with work, family time, and the rest of life. And they’re not going away, even after you’ve tried a few things. What do you do next? Like most of us, you’d probably start searching Google for articles or websites that talk about the symptoms you’re encountering. And then you’d probably look for a doctor nearby, yeah? Once you’re at the doctor’s office, what’s the first thing they’re going to do? Ask about your symptoms — and probably even multiple times: from intake desk to the nurse to the doctor, they’ll all going to ask and re-ask about what you’re experiencing.
Why? Because they want to make sure — like really sure — that their diagnosis AND their prescription is going to really solve your headaches — your problem. Plus, by following this process, they ensure that you also are convinced that the solution is right. And a patient that’s convinced their doctor is right is far more likely to follow through with the prescription.
When we communicate about our brands we MUST do the exact same thing. We have to start with the hero and their problems. Even if we think we know exactly what they need before they even open their mouth, we need them to also realize that we are the right solution for them.
Don’t miss this: a great brand story must identify the core problems your hero is encountering. You can’t provide a solution otherwise.
Now let’s talk about B: your brand story must show that the hero’s life is going to change.
Just like how we must address the pains and problems the hero experiences, we must show them that their life can get better with our solution.
If you don’t show your customer how your product or service is going to make their life better — no matter how little or much it changes them — then your brand story will fall flat.
We as consumers don’t ultimately care about solutions. We care about change. We care about life being better than it was before. The solution itself is merely a means to an end.
Consider our medical analogy: do you go to the doctor just because you just intrinsically enjoy the process? Because you like waiting in a room full of sick people and then getting poked, prodded, and tested? Probably not. And similarly, you probably don’t go to the doctor because you just love swallowing pills or getting “okayed” for physical therapy or dealing with your insurance company.
You probably simply endure all these things (which really are critical to solving your problem) because you want to be free from your chronic headaches and live a better life: more productive at work, more engaged at home, with sound sleep which leads to more focus, a positive emotional state, and more enjoyment all around.
The hero in your brand story is the exact same. They are not simply looking for a solution. They want the positive outcomes that result from that solution. And ultimately they want their life to change.
Whether it’s growing their business so they can hire a manager (and do less day-to-day work) or improve the morale of their team or feel secure about their future or be more productive and get more done in less time or impress their friends, everyone wants some kind of change in their life from the products and services they buy.
So paint that rosy, wonderful, life-changing picture for them with your brand story. Show them how their world could be better with your guidance.
4. Your brand story is boring and formulaic.
Crafting a brand story at all can be challenging. And I applaud anyone who’s done it. You’ve taken a major step forward with your brand and your marketing.
But don’t stop there: add some creativity and life to it!
More likely than not, the first few iterations of your brand story will feel formulaic or a bit boring. And that’s natural. I mean you’ve probably started with our brand story formula:
- Start with your hero: who are they?
- Then acknowledge their problem(s) and pain(s).
- Now, tell them about the guide (you) and what you can do to help them solve their problem.
- And finally, the happy ending: what’s the life-changing outcome for them?
This is a great template for getting the guts of your story out and onto paper or the screen. And that first version might even work for a bit — I mean it’ll definitely be clear who you serve, what problem they have, how you solve it, and how their life will change with you as their guide!
But it probably won’t get anyone excited.
This is where you can spice things up, get creative, and make your story truly interesting. Here are a few ways you can do just that: Weave the pieces together covertly.
You can mix up the order. You don’t have to follow “the formula” every time. Try starting with the guide first or the happy ending. Weave the pieces together in a way that someone can’t see the formula as easily.
A great example here is Beats:
People Aren’t Hearing All The Music.
Beats by Dr. Dre (Beats) is a leading audio brand which was founded in 2006 by Dr. Dre and Jimmy Lovine. Through its family of premium consumer headphones, earphones and speakers, Beats has introduced an entirely new generation to the possibilities of premium sound entertainment. The brand’s continued success helps bring the energy, emotion and excitement of playback in the recording studio back to the listening experience for music lovers worldwide.
- Infer the hero’s problem from the solution.
Most great stories start where you least expect it. And so can yours. Start with the beautiful, amazing outcome for your hero instead of just talking about them and their problem first.
Take for example the way Virgin Airlines tells their brand story:
Virgin America is a California-based airline that is on a mission to make flying good again with brand new planes, attractive fares, top-notch service, and a host of fun, innovative amenities that are reinventing domestic air travel. The Virgin America experience is unlike any other in the skies, featuring mood-lit cabins with WiFi, custom-designed leather seats, power outlets, and a video touch-screen at every seatback offering guests on-demand menus and countless entertainment options.
They never directly state the negative problem in this story. They talk about their mission of making flying good again (implying it isn’t good right now) and they list a bunch of great experience points and features of their airplanes. All of these things allude to the problem: flying with other airlines sucks. It’s not an enjoyable experience. And they make a subtle nod to an earlier time in airline history when flying was this more positive, fun, enjoyable experience and that they’ve somehow recaptured that for a modern era.
Well done, Virgin. That’s a resounding brand story.
There are a few other ways to make your brand story really sing that we can dig into at another point, like:
- Connect around a founder’s story.
- Leverage the founders’ personal stories.
But whatever you do, don’t settle for the first version of your brand story. Keep rewriting it. Get creative. Write it every different way you can think of.
Then try it out with others. Use it with current customers and staff and see how they respond. What feels right? What feels off? What changes will get them more excited?
5. Your brand story isn’t being used consistently.
Okay, you’ve got your brand story. You’ve tried it out a bit. You’ve even spent some time refining it — really working hard to get it beyond just right but also interesting and compelling.
BUT you’re not really using it.
Maybe it shows up now on the website but it’s not in your brochures and collateral. You don’t really use it when you present or introduce yourself when networking.
And let’s not even talk about your staff and contractors. Your marketing team barely uses it. Sales is like, “What brand story?” And customer service couldn’t repeat it back to you even if you offered them a $10,000 bonus.
And what does this look like for the customer? Marketing messaging is scattered and inconsistent and social media messaging doesn’t match blog posts and the newsletter. Sales and customer service sound like two different businesses. And the communication a customer gets through the buyer’s journey, from awareness through engagement and to purchase, is all over the place.
And what does this lead to? Distraction, friction, and confusion for your potential customers. Just like in our personal relationships, ultimately you’re going to lose them because no one can trust someone who doesn’t communicate clearly. And all that much more so when their relationship with you depends on a multitude of voices and media.
So what are you to do?
You can’t just write your brand story and be done with it. I know you don’t really want to hear it, but this is going to take some work.
You’re going to have to really invest some time and energy in implementing your new brand story so that every person in your organization (and every customer touchpoint) is singing the same song, in the same key.
Stay tuned for this month’s protip, which gives you an implementation list.
Go forth, and tell your brand story!
Your brand has a remarkable story to tell and the world needs to hear it.
There are heroes out there right now who are struggling. And they need a guide. You are their only hope because only you are the best-suited with your experience, perspective, culture, and solutions.
You now have the understanding and tools to tell your brand story.
What are you waiting for?
(P.S. If you’re still feeling stuck or need some extra help, consider grabbing our free Brand Story Worksheet. This will help you work through how to craft your own Brand Story, step by step. I highly recommend it.)