How to Tell a Captivating Brand Story
From eliciting emotion from your mission to being open about mishaps and setbacks, here’s how to tell a captivating brand story.
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Using storytelling as a tool for brands to engage consumers is not a new concept and it usually doesn’t take much convincing to get brand executives on board. After all, stories are how our brains make sense of the world. They’re how we relate to each other, how we create meaning from our own experiences, and how we humanize brands to create a more personal experience for consumers.
If you want to incorporate more captivating storytelling into your brand messaging this year, the tools below are a great place to start.
Focus on your purpose, not your product
Founders are often shocked to hear that the products they’ve worked so hard to perfect should not actually be front and center of their brand story. As hard as it is to hear, your product is not your story. Rather, your story lies in your purpose – your reason for existing at all. Your products are just part of your toolset to help you get there.
Nike is a great example of this concept in action. Nike’s mission is to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world (and if you have a body, you’re an athlete). With this mission as the driver of their ad campaigns and social content, they share stories like this and this, which have little to do with their products and everything to do with their purpose.
It’s difficult to tell emotional stories about products and much easier to elicit emotion from a mission. By telling stories that speak to their mission of inspiring the athletes in all of us, Nike creates an emotional connection to their brand that engages consumers and creates space for them to sell pretty much anything, as long as it feeds this mission. Nike could release a pair of shoelaces that support this brand purpose tomorrow and we’d all undoubtedly flock to the stores to purchase them, not because we believe that shoelaces are imperative to strong athletic performance, but because we believe that Nike supports us as athletes.
Name the hero (and the villain)
Your customers are the heroes of your story, so make that known by naming the villain they’re up against. It could be global warming, or toxic makeup, or the patriarchy. Whatever problem your brand hopes to solve, it must be front and center in your story.
Not sure who to villainize in your story? Think back to your purpose. What are you protecting your customers against? What behaviors does your brand attempt to change with its existence? The enemy does not need to be your competitor. It can simply be the problem your brand aims to solve through its products, mission and messaging.
Think of your brand as a guide or mentor of sorts, steering your customers (the heroes) along the path toward their goal. Your products are part of the toolkit to help defend against the villain.
Dove does a great job of positioning the brand as a mentor on their mission toward eradicating low self esteem among girls and women worldwide. Over and over again, they tackle the villain of low self esteem through creative campaigns that portray its perils, often due to unrealistic societal expectations and dangerous stories we tell ourselves or have been told through media and pop culture. They portray their consumers as the heroes of their own stories, with Dove acting as a guide to help these heroes get to where they’re going (in this case, the other side of the self esteem scale).
Share mishaps and misadventures
A captivating story arc is just that – an arc, not a straight line. As such, it must include some trials along the way in order to keep things interesting. Not only that, but these experiences build trust between brands and consumers. Sharing vulnerable stories humanizes your brand and creates a sense of shared experience.
I love to look to Rachel Hollis as an example of this in action. Rachel Hollis is a brand in her own right, and her purpose is to support personal and professional growth for individuals who crave it. She backs this brand purpose by sharing captivating stories of her own success and the details of how she came to be where she is today.
However, she’s not afraid to share micro-moments of failure or setbacks with her audience as a means of humanizing her brand and keeping her audience engaged with a relatable story. She’s shared the ebbs and flows of her success in two of her NYT bestsellers and often takes to Instagram to highlight some of her more vulnerable moments, like this one and this one.
Don’t feel pressured to create a fairytale ending
Finally, I’ll leave you with what I think is one of the most important ingredients for successful storytelling. We’ve been trained to view a story as incomplete if it doesn’t include a happy ending where the villain is slain and the mission is accomplished. Let go of this pressure to share your story inclusive of a neatly packaged ending and embrace where you are right now on the journey, whether it’s celebrating a win or in the throes of a battle. A mission-driven brand launch usually signifies the beginning of a captivating story, not the end, and if you’re true to your brand from day one, you’ll undoubtedly build a loyal consumer base that lifts you up through rough patches.
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