Make your brand more effective with storytelling
What does a brand mean? Brand is an often misunderstood word. It can mean a number of different things. Brand-ing was considered to be doing new advertising, doing a new logo, putting forth a new look for your packaging, etc. As much as, they all may add to defining the brand, it is much more than that. Brand is everything and anything you might say about a company, product, person, a group or a place. A brand is an intangible asset that resides in people’s hearts and minds. It’s defined by the expectations people have about tangible and intangible benefits that they develop over time through communications and, more important, actions!
The tangible part of a brand is the promise it makes and it becomes an intrinsic part of your marketing message that you must communicate strategically and creatively across a broad media mix. The promise includes issues about your business like: What do you do best? What can your consumer count on? What is the payoff? The internal and external audience should become true believers of the message. The only way to make them truly believe is to be true to your promise. The trust based, value-producing relationship called a brand is proof that the company is organizationally aligned to repeat the process and sustain the value.
Intangible emotional associations are difficult to copy: once an emotional territory is occupied by a well-known brand, it is is more difficult to displace than a brand with a functional association. Advantages built on emotional values and brand meanings (e.g., Levi’s, Nike, Starbucks, Amazon, BMW, Harley-Davidson, Apple, Sony) are often the most durable. Here is what the Scott Bedbury, former marketing executive for Nike (1987-94) and Starbucks (1995-98). , had to say…
“A great brand taps into emotions. Emotions drive most, if not all, of our decisions. A brand reaches out with a powerful connecting experience. It’s an emotional connecting point that transcends the product.” - Scott Bedbury, (Nike, Starbucks)
“A great brand is a story that’s never completely told. A brand is a metaphorical story that connects with something very deep – a fundamental appreciation of mythology. Stories create the emotional context people need to locate themselves in a larger experience.”
- Scott Bedbury, (Nike, Starbucks)
Companies are going to thrive on the basis of their stories and myths. Quote…
“We are in the twilight of a society based on data. As information and intelligence become the domain of computers, society will place more value on the one human ability that cannot be automated: emotion. Imagination, myth, ritual – the rich language of emotion – will affect everything from our purchasing decisions to how we work with others. Companies will need to thrive on the basis of the stories and myths. Companies will need to understand that their products are less important than their stories.”
- Roif Jensen, Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies
Case in point – Virgin America
Launching a new airline takes lots of money and patience — one reason that Virgin America’s debut in 2007 was so eye-catching. The other was its hip vibe including mood lighting and young, attractive flight attendants. So, when Alaska Airlines announced in 2016 that it was buying Virgin for $2.6 billion, it was like asking Virgin customers to trade in their sports car for a minivan — which was a solid, reliable ride, but not exciting. After months of teasing, Alaska Airlines had bad news for loyal customers of Virgin America — their airline’s name is being dumped. Alaska announced late Wednesday, on March 22nd, that it will retire the Virgin brand, probably in 2019, adding that name to a list including Continental and US Airways that disappeared in the past decade.
Virgin America had a strong brand name and had an exceptionally good brand story. A brand story isn’t just a valuable marketing asset; it’s also a brand’s guiding principles and impacts every facet of the organization. In other words, it’s not just a marketing message; it’s also a sales pitch and a roadmap for the C-suite. Let us take a closer look at the Virgin America brand.
Brand Story: Virgin America said its mission was to make flying good again, with new planes, attractive fares, top-notch service and a host of amenities that reinvented domestic air travel.
Brand Promise - “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.”
Brand Slogan: Make flying good again.
Measure of Success: In 2015, the brand launched integration with Google Street View that allowed consumers to tour plane cabins, as well as a partnership with Netflix, which enabled passengers to stream content in flight. It also announced net income of $73 million for the third quarter of 2015.
Why it Worked: Virgin America had tackled the problem of domestic air travel and refined the typically dull and sometimes painful experience in the process, including everything from its catchy in-flight safety video, which has 12,227,523 views to date, to its nearly six-hour video replicating the experience of flying on other airlines. It not only knows its voice and clearly communicates its message throughout, it practices what it preaches.
Watch their in-flight safety video:
Here is what the grand master of the Virgin brand had to say…
“The idea that business is just a numbers affair has always struck me as preposterous. For one thing, I’ve never been particularly good at numbers, but I think I’ve done a reasonable job with feelings. And I’m convinced that it is feelings – and feelings alone – that account for the success of the Virgin brand in all of its myriad forms.”
- Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Group
What does storytelling have to do with brands?
Great stories make people feel something, and those emotions create powerful connections between the audience, the characters within the stories and the storyteller. Stories are the perfect catalyst to building brand loyalty and brand value. When you can develop an emotional connection between consumers and your brand, your brand’s power will grow exponentially.
Brand storytelling requires creativity and an understanding of fiction writing fundamentals. It’s different from standard copywriting, because brand stories shouldn’t be self-promotional. Instead, you’re indirectly selling your brand when you’re telling brand stories.
Through your brand narratives you’re actually telling a story. Stories that make people sit up and pay attention. They can inspire consumer loyalty and make your brand stay in their minds. Gaining that kind of headspace is invaluable. The problem is making a compelling narrative. Fortunately, storytelling is a technique as old as time, and there are plenty of storytelling tactics you can use to improve your marketing efforts. Unfortunately, a lot of companies don’t think of themselves as a brand, let alone consider whether they have a story to tell. But the problem is not that they don’t have a story — they just don’t understand how to find it, or how they should be sharing it.
A brand story is made up of all that you are and all that you do. So, it can be drawn from the company’s history, mission, inspiration, goals, audience, and aspirations, it’s why you exist. Your story is the people, places, and ideas that your company thrives on. It’s the foundation that keeps a brand going and growing. It’s a blend of those vital little core pieces of information about your business — how you came to be, why your products or services are special, what you’re passionate about, your company culture, how you make people’s lives better, and why the customer would do business with your company.
Brand stories can be told in many different forms, with an evolving story line and cast of characters, but content creators must be vigilant about continuity and consistency, avoiding any holes. Your brand’s story has to resonate with people at a level that goes way beyond what’s tangible — the functionality, features, and benefits of your products or services — to create a deep, emotional connection with your audience. You have to create something that they want to be a part of and show that you really “get” who they are and what they need.
Plot a complete story arc
Your brand stories shouldn’t be stand-alone short stories. Instead, they should be part of a broader, long-term story arc. Create obstacles for your characters that your target audience can identify with, and motivate your audience to root for your characters as they get through those obstacles. If you tell the complete story in one shot, you will lose the opportunity to build a long-term relationship with your audience. Instead, peek their interest but don’t provide resolution immediately. Leave them hanging with a promise of more just like the best fiction authors do at the end of each chapter.
For example, Dos Equis does a fantastic job in not only creating a great back story for its main brand character but also in keeping its audience hanging. Where will the most interesting man in the world be next and what will he be doing? You’ll have to wait for the next commercial to find out.
Be consistent with you brand promise
Unfortunately confusion is the number one brand killer, so make sure your brand stories are always consistent with your brand promise and image. If your target audience doesn’t understand how your story relates to their perceptions of your brand and their expectations for it, they’ll turn away from your brand in search of another that does consistently meet their expectations.
For example, Red Bull provides a great example of consistency in brand storytelling. The Red Bull brand image is one of adventure, extreme sports, and freedom. All of its marketing campaigns focus on a variety of characters living the Red Bull brand lifestyle. From its World of Red Bull commercial series to Felix Baumgartner’s 128,100 foot space jump, Red Bull elicits emotions in its audience through brand stories, drives emotional connections between the audience and the brand, and reinforces the relationship with its target audience in every interaction.
Bring characters to life that people really care about
Many brand stories feature brand mascots as the primary characters, but you don’t have to create brand characters like the Geico gecko or Flo from Progressive. Instead, you can use your audience’s buyer personas as characters to drive an even deeper relationship with your brand. When your target audience can relate to your consumers, their emotional connection to your brand grows organically.
For example, the Google Chrome advertisements are a perfect example of using buyer personas as brand story characters. There is probably at least one Chrome ad that features a character you can relate to.
Show me what is happening, instead of telling it to me
The first thing fiction writers learn when they step into a writing class is the importance of showing the audience what is happening in the story rather than telling them. Use descriptive words that evoke deeper feelings for the characters and their plights.
For example, nonprofit organizations show rather than tell in their brand stories. Rather than simply telling consumers there are people or animals in need, nonprofit organizations show them by using emotionally-charged and descriptive language. Remember the Sarah Mclachlan SPCA commercials? It’s nearly impossible to listen to those scripts and watch those ads without feeling something powerful.
Most of the time, you could inspire imagery in the minds of your audience. Don’t just tell them that you saw that people wanted a new way to take care of their pets. Tell them that they can be more than owners, that you saw a way for pet owners to serve as guardians to their cat or dog. It may sound silly but using the right language can result in a more compelling story.
The goal with using imagery is to inspire emotion in people. Video game streamers, for example, are encouraged to show raw emotion when they go live. Emotion evokes reactions, and reactions often lead to emotional investment.
Have you heard about the Toms Shoes brand story? A brand like TOMS Shoes uses their story as a bedrock for their existence. The tagline, “One for one,” means that for every purchased pair, TOMS gives a pair of shoes to someone in need. TOMS exists to improve lives.
Watch TOMS Video:
Why it Works: In an era of unprecedented competition and an abundance of comparison data, Stephen Golub, vice president of digital marketing agency DXagency, notes a new consideration point has become increasingly important: Do people like you? “With social media, brands are now more than their price points, they are living, breathing entities with personalities, goals and values,” Golub said. “Consumers want to feel not only like they are getting a good product, but that they are getting it from a good brand. For example, Toms was able to enter an extremely competitive industry with products very similar in price, quality and style to that of its established competitors. They were able to do so by combining their product offering with a robust brand story that consumers could get behind and feel good about being a part of.”
By the way, it solves a problem, has a visible founder and does good as well.
Contrary to popular belief, brand storytelling is not about your company. It’s about your customers and the value that they get when engaging with your product or service. The most powerful brand stories are the ones that prioritize customers as the stars. Think of your company as a supporting character.
Oftentimes, marketers get hung up on this concept. They’re stressed about communicating the perfect message and confused about where an initiative should be housed within your business.
At heart of marketing function are the connections you form with your customers. A compelling brand story gives your audience a way to connect with you, one person to another, and to view your business as what it is: a living, breathing entity run by real people offering real value. Brand story can reinforce these bonds by giving your brand a powerful voice, regardless of whether you’re running an enterprise organization, small business, or startup.
Storytelling craft is medium-agnostic. You can choose to tell your story through blog posts, customer help centers, about pages, videos, or infographics. You need to formalize your brand story to build connections both on and off your site, especially if your company is actively building a PR strategy.
Storytelling is more than what you say explicitly. It’s how you communicate your message and how you connect with your target audiences. Storytelling concepts are vague, abstract, and tough to plan. Rely on card sorting exercises, message architecture maps, and brand styleguides to articulate your strategy and scale it across teams.
Finally, brand stories are cross-functional commitments that should guide your entire organization. Your sales team, engineers, product managers, executives, and entry-level professionals should all have a hand in articulating your brand’s messaging. This is what gives your company a cohesive identity.
Remember, a brand story is the framework for a business’s life. The brand story shouldn’t create a trap, but serve as a catalyst. Your story will build the foundation of trust, but only a customer’s personal experience will cement that trust into something that lasts.
“People are looking for a connection. Tell a good enough story about your brand and people will not only get invested, they’ll want to buy from you.” - John Michael Morgan