If you’re an entrepreneur, marketing director, or business owner thriving in the Information Age, odds are pretty good you’ve put time and consideration into your brand presence. You’ve painstakingly crafted your logo. You’ve poured your heart into a unique mission statement. You’ve also probably contrived relevant hashtags to stand out from the crowd. But just how much consideration have you given to your brand’s story? Above and beyond logos, catchphrases, and a healthy social media presence, your brand story is the narrative that connects you to your customers. It’s your chance to focus on linking what you stand for to your audience’s shared values.
But won’t the numbers speak for themselves?
Not necessarily. According to Roger C. Shank, an American artificial intelligence theorist and cognitive psychologist, “Humans are not ideally set up to understand logic; they are ideally set up to understand stories.” Take a moment to reflect on some of your favorite products and companies. Is your mind flooded with miniature spreadsheets overflowing with statistics, facts, and data? Are you smiling to yourself while you think about bottom lines and stock trade values? Probably not. As natural storytellers, humans have always been predisposed to connect with one another through stories.
So what is brand storytelling?
Try to imagine you’re walking down the street one morning, minding your own business. A stranger approaches you. He’s wearing bright, flashy colors. He thrusts out his hand for an aggressive handshake while exclaiming, “I make snack bars for kids! Want to buy one?” Do you feel compelled to give this person your hard-earned cash? Or are you leaning towards pulling a taser on him? Unfortunately, marketing frequently falls into this pitfall. Business owners favor flashy advertising over genuine human connection.
It’s easy to tell potential customers what you do. It’s much more difficult to tell them why or how you do it.
Let’s try another scenario. You’re sitting in a café when a stranger approaches you. He asks if he can have a seat. You begin chatting, and he mentions his company. He used to be a nutritionist, but after his daughter developed severe food allergies, he turned his garage into a test kitchen to create healthy, allergen-free, portable snack bars for kids. You get to see pictures of his daughter: helping him in the test kitchen, snacking at the park, sharing with her friends at a table set for a tea party. He mentions that a portion of their profits go to charity, and they’re looking to expand the operation. Would you be interested in purchasing a few snack bars, or even investing in the company?
By taking the time to tell you the story behind the brand, he has created a human connection between you and the product he’s trying to sell.
With an effective story, you’re not just telling what you do, or how you do it. You’re telling your audience why you do it and why it matters. Also why you’re driven to get out of bed each day and keep on keeping on. So how can you create your most compelling brand story?
Well, it’s about where you come from…
Try to imagine Apple without Steve Jobs’s garage. Or Facebook without the image of a college-aged Mark Zuckerberg tinkering with software in his Harvard dorm room. Consider the fateful poker hand that helped David Daneshgar launch BloomNation, an American online floral marketplace that delivers to nearly 5,000 cities across the country? Each of these brands have taken their humble origins and transformed them into a brand-boosting mythology that continues to power their presence to this day.
…and also where you’re going.
In the modern age of information inundation, brand stories have to be more than “set it and forget it.” Consider Gillette, the company responsible for the first safety razor. Gillette brought the daily practice of shaving into the home in the early 1900s. For 30 years, the brand has relied on the tagline “The Best A Man Can Get.” By 2010, Gillette held 70% of a $30 Billion industry. Enter The Dollar Shave Club, a startup that burst onto the scene in 2011 and leveraged the power of brand storytelling to undercut some of the industry’s biggest players.
Perhaps responding to the increased market pressures, the last few years have seen Gillette step forward and take a stance on social justice issues with their Always “Like a Girl” campaign, and the recently launched “We Believe” campaign, which tackles the #MeToo movement head-on. Gillette needed a way to show their relevance while appealing to the next generation of consumers. By allowing their story to evolve, they’re demonstrating their commitment to the future.
How do you tell your brand story?
Of course, just having a brand story is not enough. The average consumer is exposed to 5,000 ads per day. What’s going to make your story stand out in the mental clutter most folks have learned to turn off? How do you create a story that reaches and sticks with your target audience? As we step into 2019, let’s take a look at some of the newest marketing trends to support your brand storytelling success.
Today’s generation of digital natives tend to be socially-conscious, technologically savvy, and have a low tolerance for inauthentic marketing. Consider the recent backlash to Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner commercial. In an effort “to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding,” Pepsi’s tone-deaf advertising trivialized the Black Lives Matter movement and led to major outcries across the nation. “In torrid criticism after the ad was posted, commentators on social media accused Pepsi of appropriating imagery from serious protests to sell its product,” Daniel Victor writes for The New York Times.
According to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, more consumers than ever are distrustful of information or questioning brand reliability. Stephen Kehoe, Edelman’s global chair of reputation, claims: “It is concerning but it’s also a point of opportunity for brands. In a world where we are searching for truth, there is a real thirst for those who can convey facts in the right way… Businesses are expected to take a lead.”
Give your customers space to be a part of the story.
Since 2008, Airbnb has grown from a modest property-sharing app to the world’s leading hotel group, valued at about $32 Billion worldwide with over 150 million users. And stories are at the center of their success. “Instead of telling the company’s story, it gets its customers to tell their stories,” writes Sujan Patel, a growth marketing specialist who studies some of the world’s most successful brand strategies. “Positioning the customer at the center of the brand – in effect, letting the customer be the brand – is essential to the Airbnb philosophy.”
Today’s consumers have created an influencer-driven market, where the stories told about your company are just as important as the stories told by your company. By giving consumers a space to share their experiences, you’re harnessing what Forbes predicts will be the top marketing trend of 2019.
Find the balance between growth and consistency.
Gillette’s “We Believe” ad campaign is an example of an established company taking a bold stance on a hot button social issue. According to Forbes, brand activism will continue to play a prominent role in 2019. In telling your brand’s story, it’s important to consider how you’ll navigate the more socially-fraught advertising territory. Learn what your core values are and stay true to that.
Do away with catch-all advertising.
The days of catch-all advertising are over. Goal-oriented, strategic marketing is the key to achieving success in an oversaturated market. Sivonne Davis, vice president of marketing at L’Oreal USA, claims that tailored content strategies hinge on understanding your customer profile. In an interview with Forbes’ writer Krystle M. Davis, she said, “Any good story starts with knowing your audience.” Who are you wanting to reach? And how can you reach them effectively? What population shares your company’s values, and would benefit from the products or services you have to offer?
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Establishing a strong brand story means that you have to keep your focus and goals at the forefront of your marketing efforts, all the time, every time. Luckily, companies like Savy exist to keep companies like yours at the forefront. Learn how we can support your successful brand story.