It’s the glue that bonds you with your chosen tribe. The one possession your competitors can’t ever steal. The rocket you can ride to stratospheric levels of profitability. And if you do it right, it could be the most valuable asset your company will ever own.
I’m talking about your brand story.
But it’s not exactly easy to develop a brand story the right way. In fact, it can be one of the trickiest aspects of starting a business, and tough to tell if you’ve got it right. This article is going to show you exactly how to discover, develop, and then leverage the hell out of your firm’s unique brand story.
So take a deep breath. Brew up some strong coffee. Then hold your calls and emails. Here we go!
Develop Your Brand Story
How to Create Your Brand Story
A brand story is defined by Jane Hope of Echo Stories as: “A cohesive narrative that encompasses the facts and feelings that are created by your business—and inspires an emotional reaction.” And if you want to see a great one in action, then check out that little trillion-dollar company known as Apple, Inc.
Apple’s narrative is that it sells cool, uncompromising products that are incredibly easy to use. Their story draws from the cool, uncompromising personality of their founder Steve Jobs, who famously refused to release anything unless it was “insanely great.”
Millions of consumers believe Apple’s products are the best, because they must have already passed Apple’s standard for insane greatness. That story helped make the iPhone the top seller in the competitive smartphone market, and Apple the most valuable company in the world.
Make no mistake, developing a brand story will require a lot of work. But it will absolutely be worth it. And if you want to end up with a real industry-disrupting story, I highly recommend you follow a step-by-step, cradle-to-grave creative development process.
And what would those steps be? Why, they would be these:
Step 1: Determine How Others Perceive Your Brand
You know, all those people walking around outside the four walls of your offices. This includes your customers, your prospects, and anyone else who has ever heard of your company. When it comes to your brand story, what they believe is what matters most of all.
This means you can’t just guess, throw darts, or take a poll in your next meeting. To learn what outside humans believe, you must get as close to the source as possible. Talk to the following:
Your sales staff – They talk to prospects all day, every day. They know who they are, what makes them tick, and what makes them click the buy button. Your sales team also knows your competition, and their brand stories, too.
Good sales staff have firm grasps on what potential buyers believe to be true about your brand story, as opposed to what they consider to be just buzz-wordy marketing fluff. They hold PhDs in prospect psychology, and are your best internal source.
Prospects who did NOT convert – Yep, the very same people who went through your sales process, but then decided not to buy. I know it sounds crazy, but stick with me here. Because it is critically important to understand what they think.
Discovering what they believe is actually a great way to gauge how effectively you’re telling your story in public. If there is a disconnect between what they think and what you believe, then you should review your ads, sales pitches and other messaging.
The best way to obtain such information is to contact these non-converters almost immediately after they opt out. Your response rates might be low, but what you get could be gold.
Follow up via checklists that require only minimal effort. Then push it further by asking what they believe to be true about your firm. Then close by asking what your firm should do to win their business in the future.
This extra effort will show that you are willing to listen, learn, and improve. And, in some circumstances, it might even cause the customer to change their mind. It gives you a chance to make one final sales pitch before that prospect disappears forever.
But most of all, talk to those who did convert, otherwise known as “your customers” – And research has shown that one of the cleverest ways to determine what they think about your firm is to, well, ask them.
Reaching out to customers on a regular basis is a great idea, period. Customers love when you seek their opinions on how can improve. It shows that they matter to you, and it makes them feel like part of your mission.
Today’s uber-connected world offers dozens of ways to reach them. These include emailed surveys, questionnaires posted to your social properties, even requests for feedback in their monthly statements.
In addition, you can get some great info about your customers’ perceptions by monitoring the chatter on your social channels and online reviews. For even more communications options, read this article.
Of course, instead of using formal methodologies, you could always opt for a radical new approach known as “actually listening to what your customers are telling you every day.”
OK, so that’s hardly radical or new. But it is something many businesses overlook. Your approach could include everything from simply writing down what your customers are saying, to creating a formal customer advisory board.
Such advisory boards (also known as CABs) consist of key customers who are willing to give you candid feedback on the entirety of their experiences with your company. If you have never created a CAB, here’s some information on how to set up your first one.
A great example of a firm that did listen to its customers is the online shoe vendor Zappos. Zappos is legendary for its phenomenal customer service. But here’s the funny part. When it first started, Zappos had no idea this was its brand story.
Indeed, the team initially believed customers loved them because they offered the widest selection of shoes on the web. But then they decided to employ that cray-cray “actually listen to what your customers are telling you” strategy.
It began when their CEO, Tony Hsieh, received a personal email from a customer. Instead of complaining, the customer raved about how well she was always treated by every one of Zappos’ employees. Hsieh checked around and found dozens of other stories just like hers. It was an epiphany.
The incident helped Zappos realize its true story was the fanatical dedication to providing an incredible customer experience. Hsieh quickly made the mandate, “Deliver WOW Through Service” the firm’s #1 core value. That’s now what the company is known for worldwide.
Step 2: Review the Insights You’ve Gathered and Start Making Decisions
Yep, this is when it gets tough. When you have to gird your loins and start writing a brand story you want to stick with.
This can be a bit nerve-wracking, as you have a lot on the line. Your brand story will form the backbone of your messaging for years. You will pour millions of dollars’ worth of marketing and advertising into this premise. So yeah, um, you sorta want to get it right.
It might seem like all of the info you’ve collected would make it perfectly clear how to write your company story. But often, that tsunami of data can make you feel overwhelmed. This is why you need rules to guide you. Here are a few that can help.
Your story must be clear. The simpler the better. Your story must distill the essence of who you are down to the most basic level. It helps to think of the emotional response your story will elicit in your audience. Like, “WOW Service.”
Your audience must perceive your story as true. You believe a lot of awesome things about your company. But if your customers don’t share these beliefs, then, like Zappos, you may not really know your own brand story. Resist the temptation to dismiss external opinions that you disagree with. Because, in the end, you don’t tell your audience what your brand story is. They tell you.
Your story must be concise. Today’s consumers are carpet bombed by 5,000+ brand impressions daily. And now, you’ve got to somehow squeeze your unique brand story into their already red-lining little brains. That means your brand story must spark a prospect’s interest from the get-go, before the next shiny object appears.
Your audience must find your story compelling. Repeat this phrase: “What’s in it for me?” And then keep repeating it over and over. Because that’s what your prospects are asking any time they hear your brand story.
Now, the perceived benefit from your customer’s perspective could be financial, tribal, or even purely emotional. But the brand story that best addresses it will likely be the best option for your firm.
Examples of Great Brand Stories in Action
The Fantastic Founder Story
When your brand story is built around you.
They have thousands of employees. Offer dozens of product lines. And compete in many industries. But if you mention Tesla, Microsoft, or Virgin Airlines, you likely think of one person.
And when you do, you usually ascribe the traits of their personalities to the firms they founded. Whether it is their bold, seemingly crazy vision (Elon Musk), their desire to dominate the entire world (Bill Gates), or their propensity to kite-surf with supermodels (Richard Branson), the more outsized aspects of each founder’s personality will always be tied to the companies they created.
Of course, this strategy could never work for your small biz, seeing as the last time you checked, your founders were not exactly international celebrities, right? Don’t be so sure.
Remember, the founders mentioned here were all virtual unknowns when they launched their firms. Their personalities came first. The fame came later. What’s important is that their personalities resonated with their audiences.
The Takeaway for Your Business: Consider your founders. They’re usually quite unique by nature. When it comes time to write your brand story, consider their most compelling personality traits. Could any of these be embraced by your target audience?
Now, it could turn out that none of your founders possess any weird or oddly endearing borderline personality disorders. That’s okay. There are other ways to go.
The Personal Experience Brand Story
When your brand story revolves around a pain point you and your customers can relate to.
People react to bad experiences in different ways. Some might call customer service. Others might disrupt entire global industries. And when they do, they can solve the problems of thousands of people experiencing the same problems they did.
I have a client named 3PL Central (www.3plcentral.com), which offers a SaaS WMS for 3PLs. Not sure what all those letters and numbers mean? Well you’re not alone. In fact, they only makes sense to a small, highly lucrative niche market. And that’s all my client needed.
You see, those wacky acronyms stand for a software my clients developed for warehouse owners, because they were warehouse owners themselves. And in 2006, they desperately needed a software designed for their own requirements. They looked everywhere, but couldn’t find anything.
So they created the perfect solution on their own.
Their product became a huge hit, in large part because of their real-world knowledge of their customers’ pain points. This might not seem like a big deal to you or me. But to a warehouse owner, it was huge. Finally, here was a software provider who got them.
The Takeaway for Your Business: Your founders’ personal frustrations are more widely experienced than you realize. And people just love to hear how you vanquished a problem, especially when it is their problem, too. Start by writing down why you started your business. Next, share your pain and show your fix. Then stand back and watch people sign up in droves.
The Customer-Obsessed Brand Story
When your brand story is totally focused on, you guessed it, your customers.
Some of the most powerful brand stories have little to do with a company itself, and everything to do with its customers. One of the best ways to get customers to fall in love with you is to show that you are in love with them.
This is more of a winning strategy than ever before. Empowered by mobile phones, unlimited shopping choices, and intense competition, today’s consumers have incredible power.
As a result, companies realize that they must either provide superior experience at every touchpoint, or start working on plans to file bankruptcy. It doesn’t matter how big or entrenched you are. Need proof? Google “Sears.”
This is why many successful brands follow the maxim “the customer is always right” to the extreme. This includes that 800-ton ecommerce gorilla known as Amazon.
Yes, Amazon is known for low prices, free delivery, and ability to sell you anything on the planet. But Amazon’s real secret to success? Its total focus on customer convenience.
And you can see it in everything they do. One-click checkout. Stored addresses. Same-day delivery. The ability to reroute your order, even if it is already on the truck headed to your house.
The idea is to create truly frictionless commerce that eliminates every barrier to making a purchase. From initial impulse, to your front porch, with a single click of your mouse.
Takeaway for Your Business: Developing a brand story is never easy. But if customers truly love your business for its undying devotion to their specific needs, then there is no better time in history to leverage that love for all its worth.
Write down every way your company makes life easier for your customers. And if you can actually tell a legit brand story about your customer obsession – then you could get a leg up on your competition.
Step 3: Test Your Ideas!
Again, one cannot simply assume that your new brand story idea will work. You must test its viability on actual living, breathing human subjects. This can include:
Focus Groups – Ideally, these would consist of people who know little about your company, and care even less. In other words, they way most prospects will be feeling when they first encounter your brand. Here’s some information on how to run a successful focus group.
Customer Advisory Board – As previously mentioned, CABs can be invaluable. They will quickly give you the thumbs up or down and priceless insights.
Non-Branded Google Ads – Such ads are a great way to test market a new story or tagline before you go all in. The response rates you receive should quickly let you know how the online world will react. This tactic was famously employed by author Tim Ferriss when he was developing the title for his book. He used Google ads (and local bookstores) to choose the title for The 4-Hour Workweek.
Return to Your Original Subjects – In other words, run your new brand story idea past the audience you began with—your sales staff, customers, and prospects. Do they find your new story clearer, more compelling, and most of all, representative of who you truly are?
In short, does your pitch move your audience in the way you’d hoped it would? If it indeed does, well then…
You have now created your own bouncing baby brand story!
From here, your story could grow up to be beautiful, wonderful, and impactful. Or it could turn out to be utterly useless, if you don’t leverage it properly. Like every other aspect of your company, it will all come down to your ability to execute.
So here’s how to execute yours.
How to Ride Your Brand Story to Glory
Repeat after me: Brand execution is all about repetition. You’ve got your great story. Now you, your co-workers, and all your partners must begin repeating that tale relentlessly to anyone who so much as makes eye contact with your company. It can take different forms. But it must always be the same message.
It’s a big job that only gets bigger as you add new products, customers, and employees. But it can be done. Here are the steps you need to follow if you want to maximize your brand story’s power:
Step 1: Ensure Your Brand Story is a Priority for Senior Management
This can be a tough sell, depending on the backgrounds of your top dogs, and their acceptance of, you know, that touchy-feely marketing crap. But you must bring them along no matter how much they resist. Without their support, you’ll never have the clout you need to execute throughout your organization.
Step 2: Ensure Every Employee Knows Your Brand Story and Its Importance.
And I do mean every employee. Your brand story should be their bible. Every employee should not only know it, but understand its true meaning, and believe in it wholeheartedly. Here’s a great explainer on how to do that.
Step 3: Ensure Everyone Delivers on Your Brand Story Every Day
A great brand is more than just a cool marketing slogan. It is the fundamental truth of your business. If you are known for uncompromising quality, then everyone in your org must deliver that, from the CEO down to the janitor.
Step 4: Ensure Your Brand Story Lives in All External Communications
Your partners must become obnoxious evangelists, as well. These outside groups are often the direct conduit to your target audience. Which means they are your firm in the eyes of those prospects.
Step 5: Monitor, Monitor, and Then Monitor Some More
You may have heard that we live in the digital age. Which means we now have the ability to track, scrutinize, and improve, everything we do. And when it comes to your brand story, there’s a ton of ways to do that. These include:
- Analyzing your content marketing metrics. Which aspects of your story resonate best with your target audience? Break down by components, such as headlines, images, and subject matter. Test multiple approaches to ensure maximum brand reinforcement.
- Continuing to survey customers. Ensure your story is always being communicated properly. As your company grows and introduces new products, it runs the risk of brand dilution.
- Keeping abreast of social media chatter. You once monitored this to discover your brand story, now you have to make sure you’re living it. Most people have zero problem letting you know exactly what they think about your company on social media.
Step 6: Above All, Never Let Your Brand Image Rest on Its Laurels
Remember, your brand story is a living thing. That means it must be restated, replenished, and revitalized on a daily basis. This has always been true. But it has become even more so as you battle to overcome the millions of distractions it must now outshine every day.
In fact, this may well be the single-most compelling reason brand stories today are so uber-important. And precisely why I humbly submit that your company’s brand story is the most valuable asset that it’ll ever own.
Agree? Disagree? Feel that something else is more valuable? Don’t be shy—step right up and let me know! I’d love to hear your thoughts.