Why is there such an obsession with stories in marketing? The answer – organizations that are powered by a well-crafted brand story grow more than those with any other communication approach. Brand stories aren’t just a method; they connect to the core of how the human mind works. When we connect with people using a brand story, the message stays with them longer and moves them to take action more quickly.
You have a brand story whether you know it or not.
Sometimes we just fall into our brand story. That can be good if your story grows out of amazing things that are happening with customers, but just having an interesting founder’s story won’t be enough. If your business isn’t in the small minority (think 1 in 100), that has organically sprouted an amazing story, then you probably have one of the default stories used by your industry. You know these stories because they contain the same images and language used by every other organization that does what you do.
Default brand stories that you might recognize
Default stories for private schools often feature a collage of pictures or slider with lots of different posed photos of students. For service companies, you’ll see a neatly dressed service repairman standing in front of a truck, or holding a clipboard as they “talk” to a generic customer. For tech firms you’ll see some artistic pixelized technology, and for government contractors either an American flag or a fighter jet. Default automobile marketing is probably the worst. It’s always a car driving in pretty scenery with some occasional bad weather. All of these look like they came from a stock photo library somewhere and have the same lackluster impact.
Most of us could write the primary headline for almost all of these default stories in our sleep. It will be something about “best service”, “guaranteed quality”, or something that is “outstanding”, “excellent”, with the “highest standards.” These terms are used so often, that they actually don’t mean anything.
Here’s the problem with default brand stories－they are just more noise in the mind of the consumer.
If you are just using a default brand story that is present across your industry, you can be sure of the following:
- Customers will shop you like a commodity or a convenience
- Customer biases and presuppositions will always apply to you
- You won’t attract the kind of customers you want
- You will spend more money on advertising with increasingly smaller returns.
Who is the main character?
If you want your organization to stand out, you need a unique and well-crafted brand story. The first key to a great brand story is to understand who that story is about. The main character is not the repairman, the teacher, or any of the solutions you sell, it is the customer. Good brand stories feature the very people that will make the purchase. What you offer has to make them a hero, and your solution plays a big part in that success.
Brand Story First Impressions
The very first images that a customer sees related to your organization creates the brand story first impression. Those are photos or videos that are placed in landing pages, advertising, and web pages to tell your story before a single word is heard or read.
Of course, the words matter too. The first words that you put in front of your customers also provide the first impression of your story. Clear and meaningful should be the goal.
A powerful brand story is always pictured and told with just a very few words.
If you are using stock photography, or written language that includes “default” storylines, then it can create an impact that is the complete opposite of what you need. Instead of standing out, you may convince the customer that they should not regard you as anything special. You become just another place to compare prices.
Can customers see themselves in your brand story?
You’ll know you have the right brand story when your customers begin to see themselves in your story. The imagery, the topics, the way you describe your offerings all tell your prospect if what you have is really for them.
The Story Collaborative team interviewed a group of prospective millennial customers about a proposed brand. What they told us bears repeating. “When I saw that logo and web page, I knew this organization was not for me.” That isn’t what you want customers to experience.
If you get it right, you’ll grow.
With a strong brand story, you’ll see that all of your communication for ads, marketing, and sales become easier. Because you are connecting with people in the way they are wired to receive information (via stories), and because you are speaking to the real issues they are trying to resolve by making a purchase, your organization will grow.
A clear brand story travels along with everyone it touches.
And beyond making the sale, building enrollment or service volumes, you’ll be equipping everyone in and around your organization to become story ambassadors. A brand story will equip your staff and customers to share about you in powerful ways.