You may not realize it, but stories play a huge role in your life every day. Stories help you filter information and make quick decisions (what coffee shop you stop at in the morning) and provide a “script” for how to act in specific situations (such as purchasing a car). Essentially, stories provide a way for people to understand and interpret the world.
Your business is in no way immune to the power of stories. But how do you harness this power to help successfully market and grow your business? There are two components – knowing what your business’ story is, and helping customers incorporate that story into their own lives and decisions.
Know Your Story
You may already know that a brand is more than a logo – a brand is how people feel about your business, or about a specific product or service offered by your business. However, the way people feel about your business doesn’t materialize from thin air. Over time, their impressions and interactions with you and your business develop a bigger picture of your brand in their minds.
Think of the difference between the story that a luxury brand like BMW tells versus the story a socially-minded brand such as Mountain Equipment Co-op tells. The names of these brands alone evoke a number of other mental connections and visuals because of how they position themselves, what kind of advertising they produce, and how they do business and deliver customer service in general.
What mental associations and images do you want your brand to conjure up in people’s minds? What do you want them to say to their family, friends and colleagues about your business? Of course, it’s not as straightforward as merely telling people what to think about you. As Marty Neuermeier says in his book The Brand Gap, “Your brand isn’t what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.”
However, by articulating the story you want to tell through your brand promise and values, and actively working to live up to that story as you operate and grow your business, you can help shape the way people interpret your brand. For example, it won’t be enough to simply tell people that your business offers the best customer service in your industry – you and your employees actually need to deliver on that claim every day.
Make It Their Story
The most important, and often surprising, rule of brand storytelling is that you and your business are not the main characters – your customers are.
You need to know where your customers fit in your brand story, and help them picture themselves in the role of the hero (with you there to help them along the way). But first, you’ll need to get their attention.
It goes without saying that stories need to be interesting to get our attention. And what is it that makes a story interesting? Conflict. While that may sound a bit dramatic, the basis of any good story is a character who wants something and has to overcome some obstacle to get it – that’s a conflict.
For instance, take the example of deciding where to get your morning cup coffee. You can either choose a national coffee chain, or an independent, local cafe. Whichever option you choose, you’ve overcome the obvious obstacle of needing a cup of coffee, but more subtly, you’ve also reinforced some aspect of your identity through your purchase choice and what you associate with the chosen brand.
Brand Stories in Action
If you want to be more intentional about the story your brand tells, you’ll need to answer a few questions first.
What problem does your product or service solve for your customer? Is it compelling enough to capture and keep their attention? Is it convincing as the best possible solution to overcoming a given obstacle when compared to your competitors?
Knowing the answers to these questions is the key to successfully differentiating your business’ brand from your competitors. What’s more, sticking to a consistent story over time builds trust and loyalty, and helps position your brand and its accompanying story in your customers’ minds.