Have you ever said “No, thanks” when asked, “Would you like to hear a great story?” Generally not. A great brand story cleverly communicated can be just as compelling as one told in person. Yet, while small children may be enthralled by tales predictably opening with, “Once upon a time…”, sophisticated customers need more from unique brand stories.
The strongest brands have the best stories — ones that are eminently attention-getting, relatable and most importantly, shareable. In our always-on, always-connected world, brand stories are central to your brand strategy and sharing is a key factor to achieve that essential brand growth.
According to John Mellor, Adobe’s vice president of business development and strategy, brand storytelling is “the most powerful tool marketers have at their disposal.” In March 2016, Mellor addressed 10,000-plus attendees at Adobe’s annual conference, telling the audience, “It’s that human touch that helps us connect with customers and it’s those personal connections that transform the experience, because stories evoke emotions and emotions drive change.” You must win the heart to move the mind because people buy with emotion first — product, service or idea — and justify with rational afterwards, regardless of gender or cultural background.
Brand Storytelling: It Takes Community Engagement
“The stronger the level of empathy and the deeper the emotional connection, the far greater the likelihood that the customer will look for more information about your brand, purchase your brand, and arguably more importantly, share whatever it is about your brand,” reports Michael Nutley in Adobe’s CMO.com. “Shareability is probably the biggest indicator that you’re looking for and you can absolutely see that emotional intensity drives share.”
An appealing brand story is bound to involve customers’ direct experiences with a product or service. These days, a business cannot write its story sitting around a boardroom table or in an isolated ivory tower. That one-way street is permanently closed; the path via co-creation and connectivity is today’s route.
“Brands are not necessarily what their companies say they are,” explains digital analyst, author, and futurist Brian Solis. Delivering the keynote address at a 2015 content marketing summit at LinkedIn, he stated, “Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room. Businesses are no longer the sole creator of a brand; it is co-created by consumers through shared experience…”
Brand Storyboarding: Creating Meaning
Solis goes on to explain that brand stories aren’t necessarily linear, like the narrative in a classic fairy tale. Rather, these stories begin well before page one. Consider Airbnb and Southwest Airlines as prime examples of brands solidly connected to their audiences. For customers, interaction with these travel brands begins at the dream stage, long before anyone unlocks a rental property’s front door or buckles up a seat belt aboard an aircraft.
Writing in Martech Advisor, Larry Levy, executive vice president of business development at ScribbleLive, agrees. “The best campaigns come from marketers who spend their time understanding the customer journey, listening to and quantifying the types of conversations that happen along that journey, and weighing in at key points with content that educates, informs, and entertains.”
Brand Conversations: The Customer Journey
Successful brands know that customers are empowered to be more vocal and proactive than ever before. A good brand story is now part of the conversation and it must be central to a customer’s wants and needs. Does your brand story reflect and support your brand positioning, style, tone-of-voice and overall messaging while also amplifying your brand mission, vision and purpose? As a brand owner or manager, the plot and the characters are yours to develop, but twists and turns along the way will be embellished by your target audiences and prospective ones to help you grow the brand as the story unfolds.
As a highly skilled presenter with an impeccable sense of timing, every time Steve Jobs tacked on his famous, “One more thing,” in a keynote address, his packed audiences of developers and media broke into cheers and hoots of approval. But unless you’re the next Steve Jobs talking to a solid B2B fanbase, best practice is to avoid being boring about technical details that won’t hold anyone’s interest beyond the engineering department.
Craft your brand story carefully. A discussion of your latest product’s specifications is fine for a chalkboard in the engineering department, but has no place on a billboard, brochure, website or customer magazine. We use a process called the Story Selling System™ in which all the key ingredients of a strong brand story are structured. It ensures all the authentic, relatable, memorable and emotionally engaging factors are included in a way that’s relevant to your primary audience but leaves room for development and embellishment with customer interaction, without losing sight of brand authenticity and provenance either.
Case Study: Barbie by Mattel
Like Apple, Mattel decided to take customers on a storytelling journey to reinvent Barbie. They did it with a short film, “When Girls Are Free to Imagine They Can Be Anything,” aimed at mothers, resulting in 50 million views and 500 million social engagements, 81% of which were positive.
The story line is that when a girl plays with her Barbie, she imagines everything she can become — a vet, a pilot, a comedian, a songwriter, a football coach, president.
Image via www.barbie.com/en-us/youcanbeanything/
Importantly, the story was accompanied by a refreshed product line debuting new dolls with different skin tones, body types, hair colors and textures. Kudos to Mattel for growing the brand with a timely story that clearly takes Barbie from her 1959 Baby Boomer introduction right through to Gen Z.
Case Study: Minnetonka Moccasins
A third generation, family-owned Minnesota-based moccasin maker traces their timeline via the Americana story of fringe and beads since 1946, and includes the CEO, designers, stitchers, retail suppliers and customers in the video relating their brand story.
Minnetonka demonstrates how a small town heritage handmade shoe brand grew to a distribution network in 50 countries without losing their authenticity. Better still, the story continues on Instagram with #MyMinnetonka, where customers upload their photos to “show us how you make our styles your own.”
Image via www.minnetonkamoccasin.com
Case Study: World of Beer
WOB’s concept of tavern franchises for craft beers has grown from its first Tampa, Florida location opened by two college buddies in 2007 to about 100 US locations in 2016. Known for its extensive craft beer offerings, its first overseas bar will open in 2016 in Shanghai, followed by India and the Philippines.
To bring that story to life, World of Beer launched a March 2016 search for its summer campaign called #DrinkItIntern, seeking a team of three global brand ambassadors compensated at $12,000 each to “share the best beer stories on the planet to hit the road and experience the world’s best craft beer…” Without question, the passionate and entertaining stories generated by this team will return manifold on the investment.
Image via www.worldofbeer.com
Case Study: Uber
All paths lead to a more and more personalized journey for the customer, currently achieved through brand storytelling that allows a customer to own the space. The intersection of big data and high tech indicates that this trend likely represents the next decade.
Because today’s brand story is intrinsically tied to customer experience, Uber is an oft-cited example of our “ego-centric” urban environment. In talks told at TedX and onstage at conferences in cities all over the world, Brian Solis predicts, “Experience is key and there will be an Uber of every industry.” Calling customers “accidental narcissists,” Solis explains why for Uber, the central characters in the evolving brand story are the (impatient) customers.
When a rider requests a trip through Uber, the nearest driver gets a “ping” telling them that someone wants a ride. They have 15 seconds to tap and accept before the request goes to another driver.
Image via www.businessinsider.com
Drivers receive weekly alerts, encouraging a better than 80 percent acceptance rates. Furthermore, the Uber brand story is one that allows customers to continually tell, re-tell and share it. With every single ride, customers are asked to give their driver a 1-5 star rating and leave comments…and vice versa. The Uber driver’s career depends on these ratings and passengers with good ratings will get faster pickups.
Case Study: Cirque du Soleil
After more than 30 years as a live storytelling on steroids, Cirque du Soleil must continue to pump their story out to connect with new and younger audiences. The strategy for bums on seats amounts to filling a whopping 25,000 nightly, just in Las Vegas alone.
In one year, Cirque sells more tickets than all Broadway shows combined, says Alma Derricks, vice president of sales and marketing. Because Cirque has eight very different Vegas shows and another dozen performing in a traveling repertoire, the brand story must keep interest in them all alive and growing.
That’s done via a signature brand story explained by Derricks, “If you take any element of what we do – music, costuming, makeup – everything is exquisite. Every detail is thought through. Every wiggle of the finger is something that’s been considered and developed and choreographed and polished. It’s something that really sets our shows apart, and it’s the signature of every one of our shows, no matter what it is. It can be laugh-out-loud, knee-slappingly funny. It can be sensual and sexy.”
Image via www.cirquedusoleil.com
Small Businesses Tell Compelling Brand Stories Too
Four Corners Café, a one-off coffee shop in Waterloo, London, is voted best in the UK and earns a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence by operating a loyal customer led trip planner scheme for photos taken around the world tagged and posted on social media.
A pub in Nottingham features a map to the castle on placemats and the story of Robin Hood on the back of its menus.
Image via www.triptojerusalem.com
Everlane makes simple garments sold online for less, with a brand story called “Radical Transparency.” They offer factory tours in LA and expose the supply chain beginning at source, through process, compliance, and cost breakdown right to your door. Explosive growth and out-of-the-box thinking means they have an opening called “Name Your Job” in which passionate people can apply to create a potential position.
Image via www.everlane.com
A small boutique hotel in Paris names its rooms after famous artists buried in the nearby Montparnasse Cemetery and tells their life stories on their website’s booking engine.
Image via www.hotel-mistral-paris.com
Questions to consider:
• Does your brand have a compelling story? Is it populated with characters, scenes and circumstances that people can relate to?
• Is your brand’s story unique and genuine? Does it enthrall and capture your customers’ attention as you carry them with you along your journey of highs, lows and exhilarating breakthroughs?
• Can you identify several touch points at which your brand story is shared with existing customers in a way that matters to them?
• Can you think of additional brand touch points to put in play? What are you missing in your brand story as you evaluate it through a brand audit health check while benchmarking it against the Story Selling System™?
• How do you ensure that your brand story is reaching potential new customers? How many different brand touch points are you using to share your brand story? Are they all relevent to your ideal customer?
• Are your employees embracing your brand story in their daily customer interactions as your brand champions? Are they living it through your brand values and your customer journey?
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