This is it, remarka-fans. How to tell a remarkable brand story
This month, I’m cutting right to brand story—the heart of a brand’s posture toward the world and its customers, and the final piece that ties a brand’s expression, identity, and strategy together.
If you love a good story, (seriously…who doesn’t?), and if you know that telling one can mean the difference between scaling your brand dramatically or getting little traction with the same old strategies… then you’re in the right place.
Welcome to the writer’s room.
If you’ve been following my series on discovering your brand’s purpose and remarkable identity, and then using it to build a winsome, potent brand expression, then you might sense that we’re nearing the summit.
And if you’re just joining in, that’s also swell… and if you enjoy the view then you’ll probably find the previous stages of our branding journey worth your time. All of the tools we’ve discussed so far, from your brand’s archetype, metaphor, and location to its own slice of history, culminate in your overarching remarkable brand story.
A well-developed brand isn’t an image.
Or a tagline.
Or even a killer color scheme.
Those are ways of expressing the brand…but they’re no substitute for its story. In many ways, and when it comes to what the busy world sees and hears, a brand is its story.
Whittling Story Down to a Remarkable Brand Story
Hollywood screenwriters and those who study ancient civilizations love to tell us that there’s only one story.
Maybe two… and on the note, the variations I’ve heard are:
1) a stranger comes to town.
2) a stranger goes on a journey.
But if you’re a fan of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey, then you’ve probably had a taste of how much debate, speculation, and back-and-forth exists amongst story and movie buffs.
There’s enough of it to fill a thousand masterclasses. But the good news for B2B’s is that the elements of story sharpen down nicely for those building a brand.
A classic story has five key elements: the balance, the unbalance, the quest, the crisis, and the new balance.
In plain English, here’s what those five elements look like:
- The balance is the “normal” state of the world at the beginning of the story, its status quo.
- The unbalance is the new event, intrusion or “problem” which disrupts the “normal” state of the world and sets the events of the story in motion.
- The quest is the pursuit by the protagonists (the “heroes”) of the story to find some solution to the problem or other ways of settling the unbalance.
- The crisis is when the drama of the quest and the drama of the underlying problem comes to a head, the key event which will determine the outcome of the story.
- The new balance is the resolution to the story in the aftermath of the crisis, which becomes the new “normal” for the end of the story, or the new “balance” to be upset again at the next stage of the story.
Shall we try it?
The 5 Sentences You Need to Tell a Remarkable Brand Story
The key elements of any story can be stated in five sentences following this format.
Balance: Once upon a time there was a quiet village where a humble dentist minded his own business.
Unbalance: Suddenly, a dragon started attacking and burning down the buildings.
Quest: The dentist went on a quest to find the dragon’s lair and slay the dragon.
Crisis: He found it, and the dragon was about to kill him in a blaze of fire, when he noticed the dragon just needed a few root canals to relieve the pain in his mouth.
New Balance: He helped the dragon and brought it back to the village as his loyal pet.
To give another example… one in which you can pick out the elements for yourself:
Sometime in the distant future, the crew of a starship is exploring the galaxy for signs of intelligent life.
Suddenly, they are attacked and boarded by a horde of three-headed alien dogs, or cerberi. The captain and her two first officers flee in an escape pod to go looking for help, searching the galaxy, only to discover that every planet in the area has been conquered by the cerberi.
Realizing they must either fight or die, they come up with a clever plan to displace the alpha dog with themselves. The trio succeeds, the cerberi now follow their lead, and they return to their ship as heroes.
This basic structure works for any story.
You probably use something like it already when you’re telling someone about a significant event that happened in your life… or just trying to catch them up on your day.
The structure also works for presenting the story in which your brand plays a role.
How to Cast Your Remarkable Brand Story
Not every story you tell about your organization will have value for your audience, of course. A story that is all about you and never about them might be interesting but it won’t really matter to them.
For example, the literal history of your company can be presented decade by decade as a “story”, but that story might not do a good job communicating who you are and why anybody should care.
Instead, think about the larger story in which both you and your audience are characters. It is your audience, not you, who should fill the role of the “main character” in the story. Their perspective, as well as your perspective, should guide the way the story is told.
Your brand is not the center of the story.
Rather, your customer is the hero, the one at the center of the story.
Your brand is the guide, the trusted authority who helps your customer reach a positive, transformative ending.
Putting Meat on the Bones
Having oriented your brand as the guide and your customer as the hero, here’s how the other elements play out in real time.
The balance of your story is the context, the “world” in which the people your organization serves operate. It’s what your audience currently takes for granted as “normal.”
Again, it isn’t what your organization or industry necessarily thinks is “normal,” because there may be a gap between the way your industry views the world and the way your customers view the world. Try to describe the balance from the point of view of your audience, before any problems come on stage. For instance, for a non-profit that helps spay and neuter cats, a few stray cats roaming around.
For a company which sells a new system meant to replace the decades-old software tool everybody uses that its competitor never updates, the balance might be how things worked just fine in 1995. The balance might be more general for other brands: like a world in which people commute everyday to work, or a world in which people are busy and easily forget things.
The unbalance of your brand’s story is the problem you’re trying to solve… or just a change in circumstances that disrupts things. Think bigger than just the specific problem solved by a product or service to the overarching cause of those problems.
The unbalance is about the problem in the world which it is your brand’s purpose to address, the problem you exist for the sole purpose of solving.
The unbalance might be the neighborhoods flooded with stray cats that keep having kittens, or the consequences of people using frustrating outdated software. The unbalance might be the stress drivers all feel on the road while commuting, or the damaged relationships when people forget and miss an important event.
The quest, then, is your audience’s journey to find a solution to this problem, looking in every direction and searching through all of the options.
For instance, the quest might be finding some way to cut down on the stray cat population or searching for ways to fix the software, or looking for a more comfortable way to drive.
At some point along the quest, your customer runs into you. You become their guide along the quest leading them to the solution.
The crisis is the point when you come to the rescue! You help them start to neuter the cats, or start to replace outdated software, or start to improve the comfort of driving, or start to better remember what is important to them. The crisis is where your purpose as an organization intersects with the problems people experience.
The new balance in the story is your vision for the impact your organization will have on its customers and on the world.
Perhaps you envision neighborhoods with stable but gradually shrinking stray cat populations. Maybe you envision people who are more productive because they have more user-friendly software. Maybe you envision people who are more relaxed on the road, or a world where people spend more time together because they don’t forget.
Brand Stories Come in Many Sizes
Your brand might have multiple stories at multiple layers, of course.
To start with, there should be a story for each specific product or service your brand offers. But even bigger than those stories is the story for your brand as a whole, the one that makes you who you are, and will most likely endure past particular products or services.
For instance, each model that a car manufacturer sells may have its own story—the kind of problems it’s trying to solve in the lives of intended customers. These stories are parts of a bigger and more important story, though, which is the story of that automotive brand… not to mention its values, history, and the crisis in the world that demands its attention.
If you’re looking for an overarching brand story that incorporates the five elements, you should probably be asking:
Why do you exist?
What’s the problem in the world that your brand uniquely solves?
What do you care about?
How is the world a better place because of your work?
These pieces all come together in your brand story.
Authentic Means Remarkable
Ultimately, tools like a metaphor or a remarkable brand story are about the feeling or experience of the brand, not the definition.
What defines your brand are its vision, purpose, and values. A metaphor or a brand story are a way of giving color and drama to a vision, purpose, and values that might on their own seem dry and lifeless.
One more thing: your brand story needs to be authentic above all else.
Don’t worry about making your characters more “interesting” or the plot more exciting.
Be truthful, and stay true to your values. Telling an honest story is what will engage your audience… and with any luck, show them your true, remarkable colors.
If you’d like some expert consultation on your brand and its story, then check out the resources on our website… or better yet, skip to the quest and give us a call.
We’re all about brand story… so much so that we wrote a book about how to discover it, express it, and use it to find customers who resonate with what you have to offer.
It’s called ‘You Are Remarkable’ and it’s out now on amazon.com.
Until next time, happy brand building!