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Building an awesome brand part four: brand story

Apr 25, 2018 | 6 minutes read | Entrepreneurship

Welcome to the fourth and final part of our April #goals series, where we’ll be tackling the challenge of building a strong brand in four parts:

    1. Mission statement
    2. Brand positioning
    3. Visual identity
    4. Brand story

This post will focus on the last item on the list—your brand story. If you missed the other posts in this series, make sure you go back and read them first because we’ll be building on them.

Stories aren’t just for kids

At the beginning of this series, we talked about how a brand is a big picture made up of key puzzle pieces: your logo, image choices, tone, manner, voice, colors, essence and reputation. Now that you’ve created the building blocks, it’s time to bring them all together and give some thought about that bigger picture: How are you going to create a story for your brand and tell that story consistently?

Storytelling is a big deal in marketing right now. That’s because marketers have realized the very real power that stories have when it comes to brand recognition, customer loyalty, and company reputation.

Think about how sticky a good story can be. Most of us remember the fairy tales that taught us basic morals in childhood. Greek myths, biblical stories, and Shakespearian plays are still referenced in movies and TV today. We get caught up for hours watching regular people’s personal narratives play out on YouTube.

What is it about stories that make them stay with us for years to come? It’s because stories give us a piece of human truth that we can relate to, and create a framework for understanding the world. As humans, we want to feel the comfort that comes from knowing we’re not alone in our experience, or from having the answers to life’s questions.

Show, don’t tell

Now that our goal is clear, let’s look at some examples of great brand storytelling across a few different kinds of marketing campaigns and assets.

Video: Google

Video is a perfect medium for storytelling, yet a lot of companies still insist on making stodgy, corporate videos to sell their products and services. To be fair, it can be pretty difficult to create a compelling, emotional story while still communicating how the product works, what features make it unique from competitors, and why customers should buy it. Difficult, but not impossible.

Google does an amazing job of this with the video Dear Sophie, which they created to promote their Gmail product. The video tells a story of a new father writing emails to his daughter throughout her childhood, capturing photos, videos and his own emotions around some big milestones and tough times in her life.

The audience comes away not only understanding all the features that Gmail offers (you can send videos, photos, maps, etc.), but also the bigger part Google plays in enriching people’s daily lives. It also subtly references the brand’s longevity by creating a timeline that extends into the future.

Advertising: Guinness

The iconic beer brand, Guinness, has a long history of great storytelling—dating back to 1794 with its now-famous Mad Hatter-themed print ad. Guinness truly understands its audience, drawing on popular culture, local tradition, and a healthy dose of humor.

Take this St. Patrick’s Day commercial from 2012. What appears to be an old video of a shepherding competition quickly takes a hilarious turn when we realize the sheepdog isn’t rounding up sheep—he’s trying to get a scattered group of friends into the local pub for a St. Patrick’s Day drink. The dog encounters a series of obstacles in his mission, almost losing various friends along the way to a group of women, a spouse’s text, and the allure of watching “the big game” from the comfort of home.

The reason this works so well is the bit of human truth baked into the storyline. We can all relate how hard it is to get everyone together as we get older and priorities change. It’s a bit like herding sheep, in fact. But, that only makes those rare successful occasions even more special. Even through the humor, Guinness always positions itself at the heart of the moments that matter: family, friends, community and team.

Experiential: Dove

Another great way to tell your brand’s story is through experiential marketing. (This can be a live event or a filmed marketing “stunt” that you can later build a broader video campaign around.) Experiential marketing is a great form of storytelling because it lets customers experience the brand in real life, which can have a big, lasting impact.

Beauty company Dove did such a stunt in 2015 with its Choose Beautiful campaign. The idea was to go to popular buildings in cities around the world and change the signage over the doors, so women had to choose whether to walk through a door labeled “average” or one labeled “beautiful”. They captured the difficulty women had walking through the “beautiful” door, and their emotions as they realized what that meant after it was over.

Dove has built a brand story over the last few years based on recognizing and supporting a different—and more inclusive—idea of beauty. This campaign brought to life the real effects of the beauty industry, society, and culture, by showing us how many women can’t see their own beauty.

CEO narrative: Beardbrand

An often overlooked storytelling channel is the CEO narrative that gets shared in media interviews, event keynotes, and investor pitch meetings. Whether you’re sharing your brand’s history from scrappy startup to industry disrupter, or framing your vision for the future, your public story as the founder or CEO of your company is a powerful one.

Take Beardbrand, for example. While hardly a household name, Beardbrand is a popular company among young beard aficionados looking for quality facial hair-care products. After having some issues with out-of-stock items, the company’s founder, Eric Bandholz, published a blog post addressing the problem.

In a climate where customers think nothing of blasting a brand on Twitter when they don’t meet expectations, this approach is really smart. Bandholz’s post centres on a powerful phrase: “What got us here won’t get us there.” From there comes a story about a guy who built a company from the ground up and is making tough choices on the journey to success. It’s compelling, it’s honest, and we want him to succeed.

The same message could easily feel inauthentic coming from a huge corporate entity. What makes it work is how it fits in with the overall Beardbrand company narrative, where Bandholz is the protagonist. He wanted to build a community for people living what he calls the “bearded lifestyle”. He wanted to sell quality products to people who care about the same things he cares about. And now he wants to do the right thing to keep building this company, his heart and soul.

Website: Every Last Drop

One of the hardest places to tell a story is on your website. The copy has to be short, people don’t read it thoroughly, and if they’ve come to your website to make a purchase you don’t want to get in the way. You’ll have to take all of that into account as you figure out how to build your story into your website.

That being said, if you want inspiration to show you what’s possible, check out this website from Every Last Drop, a U.K.-based charity that aims to improve educational opportunities for children in Africa’s poorest communities.

The website was designed to help educate visitors on how much water we really use in our everyday lives. Rather than simply filling the page with boring facts and figures, they used them to bolster a storyline based on the daily lives of people who don’t have to worry about having enough water. This method is genius because you walk away understanding the impact of the issue, while at the same time seeing (instead of being told) specific actions you can take to help.

Brands are built on consistency

Now that you have a good idea of how your story can come to life in different kinds of marketing materials, it’s time to consider how you would use each one of these tactics for your own brand. How can you connect those pieces to a larger brand narrative that reinforces your positioning, visual identity and company mission?

In part three of this series, we talked about how messages and symbols interact in branding and advertising to create an impression of the company or its product. You want your audience to feel a certain way when they interact with your brand. If this is done well, and consistently, you’ll create brand recognition, preference and loyalty.

That means any time your customer encounters your brand in the real world, they have to feel like that experience is part of one cohesive storyline. The content on your website, in your emails, in your ads, in your videos—even what you say as CEO of your company on stage at events or in media interviews—has to reinforce that storyline.

Good cop, brand cop

The idea of consistency might seem simple right now—maybe it’s just you running with this brand that you’re now deeply connected to. But what about when you have a few employees, or when you contract marketing work out to freelancers or an agency? How will you ensure consistency then?

A great place to start is to build out a set of brand guidelines and a writing style guide to capture all those elements in one place. Make it as comprehensive as you can—the more detail, the better. Include examples and think about how you want your brand treated in different situations. Don’t know where to start? Canva has a great postsqqyrayq with links to different companies’ brand guides, and MailChimp has an amazing writing style guide you can use as a template.

Every person you hire or contract out should be trained on the brand guidelines, and have a personal copy they can reference. Writers will need to learn to write in your company’s voice instead of their own, and you’ll have to make sure you provide your brand guidelines anytime your logo is being used by another company (i.e. in a brochure for an event you’re sponsoring, in a bus ad, or on a partner’s website).

Assign yourself or someone on your team to be your “brand cop,” who’s responsible for checking that every piece of marketing collateral adheres to your guidelines.

Final thoughts

It’s important to remember that your brand doesn’t need to be perfect from day one—it just needs to be thoughtful. You can evolve your brand subtly over time, or even completely rebrand. Many companies need to do that as they grow, the market changes, or their industry changes. The key to having a brand that’s ageless is knowing how to stay true to what makes your customers love you, even as you change with the times.

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