Updated: May 12, 2021
What is the power of storytelling? It’s clear that humans are fascinated by stories, since the days of prehistoric cave drawings to the era of social media, people are captivated by the sensation of shared experience. Stories bring us together and make the world relatable. They are a mechanism of communication, influence, empathy and connection. We construct meaning by searching for significance behind objects, history behind places, and people behind creations.
Storytelling is indispensable to our engagement with the world. Narratives assist us in effectively approaching, interpreting and learning from the unpredictability we deal with on a daily basis. We are far more likely to remember the name of some historical battle, or the shop we walked through last week, if we can associate these memories with a story. We build a relationship with our surroundings by finding the emotional relevance each interaction has in our lives. Stories inspire curiosity about the human experience and carry us into the future as our legacy. Through exploration of dialogue we become both appreciators and creators of the thing that connects us all: stories.
The potency of storytelling is just as powerful in the professional sphere. Good business requires clever branding that emphasizes the humanity of your company. Successful businesses use stories to their advantage by encouraging an emotional connection with their client base. People like businesses they know and trust. Customers return to companies that treat them as individuals, rather than numbers. Clients feel validated and recognized when you bring them into the fold of your organization’s journey.
Naturally there are many factors needed to make a business successful. These include creativity of the idea, quality of the product or service, knowledge of the market, and competence of the team. However all of this means nothing if you don’t have an audience to share it with. Solid branding inspires interaction with your company that goes beyond a sales transaction. Developing a client base requires building a community around a powerful message. Many companies look at growth solely in terms of sales numbers and the bottom line—and while these are crucial components of measuring business growth, they can not stand alone. A story generates interest in your company and has the effect of increasing revenues through cultivation of leads. Your community determines your sphere of influence and impact on the market. Your audience become the civilian advocates of your company’s purpose.
So how do you build a story around your brand? We will focus on three main steps. The first is by building your brand identity, the second by understanding your target audience, and the third by determining your methods of imparting value. Let’s explore these three steps in more detail.
Building Your Brand Identity
It makes sense that we start from the inside and work our way out. Before you can begin to address the mechanisms through which you’ll share your story with the world, you’ll want to understand what it is you represent as a company. There are several primary components to defining your brand identity. Naturally it all begins with your own innovation—a novel or reimagined idea that fills a particular need in the market. However, let’s be clear that being in business doesn’t have to mean you are doing something that’s never been done before. Rather, it means that you are doing something in a way that’s never been done before. You are in business because of your unique process, location, philosophy, team, values, timing or approach. You provide something that no one else can, and the ability to articulate what that is is crucial to the future success of your message. Your ingenuity and creativity mean just as much as the product or service you plan to sell. Ask yourself questions to figure it out. Think about why the world is a better place as a result of your business. You’ll want to address both the physical and emotional elements of this question to get a full picture of your particular role in the marketplace.
Whether you’ve been in business for a month or 20 years, if you’re looking to redefine your brand it helps to write it out. Three good exercises can assist you in defining your company: creating a mission statement, a slogan and a mantra.
A mission statement succinctly elaborates on your organization’s purpose. Patagonia’s is to “build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” Burger King’s is “to be the most profitable quick service restaurant business, through a strong franchise system and great people, serving the best burgers in the world.” JetBlue’s is “to inspire humanity—both in the air and on the ground.” You may want to do a little research to get a sense of the style that fits your brand best.
Creating a good slogan will depend on designing something catchy, memorable, distinctive and authentic. It’s important that it simultaneously stands out and is easy to remember. Nike’s “Just Do It,” MacDonald’s “I’m Lovin’ It,” L’Oréal Paris’s “Because You’re Worth It,” and North Face’s “Never Stop Exploring” are good examples. They work because they support each company’s individual narrative. They tell a brief story that reflects their brand identity in one decisive punch.
Finally, you’ll want to think about a company mantra. In contrast to the first two, a mantra isn’t something you publicly advertise. Instead, it functions as an internal compass and integral part of your platform’s DNA. It acts as guidance when you come to crossroads in your company. Mantras tend to be short 3-5 word value statements that articulate and strengthen the significance of your brand. It’s what you are about and what you aim to provide. Nike’s “Authentic Athletic Performance,” Coca Cola’s “Sharing Happiness Tasty” and BMW’s “Ultimate Driving Machine” are just a few examples.
It’s not a bad idea to put some time, consideration and research into your answers to these questions. Even if you’re an established company, these exercises can help you to infuse your brand with a new energy that attracts more business. Walking through these steps will help you discover who you are as an organization and set you up for the next phase of building your brand’s story.
Understanding Your Target Audience
Once you identify who you are and what you can provide to the marketplace you’ll want to think about two major points: who your audience is and what speaks to them.
Defining your audience can be a good role-playing activity. Put yourself in the shoes of your ideal client and think not only about what they want, but who they are. If you are an organic T-shirt company, your ideal client is likely interested in promoting a green climate and supporting environmentally-friendly social causes. They might be passionate about local agriculture, sustainable energy, reusable water bottles and farmers markets that support the regional community. In order to attract their attention, you’ll want to explore what interests them, what motivates them to action and what they value. Dig into the psychology of their sense of self so you can understand what makes them tick and speak to their identity.
In terms of product development, our organic clothing line’s ideal clients might like shirts that feature natural colors, or patterns that evoke trees, mountains, oceans and wildlife. They may be interested in simplistic graphics or perhaps in shirts that prominently display their support of the environment. If you source all of your materials sustainably and ethically, it would be important to focus on this in your design and marketing strategy. Furthermore, their interest in conservation might attract them to support your company if they knew you donated a certain amount to environmental preservation efforts. Whatever the industry, you’ll want your product or service to be something that brings your target client meaning and reinforces their relationship with your company.
Before closing this section it’s important to note that you can’t please everyone. Try not to get swept up in the seductive image of universal appeal. Instead, employ every mechanism you have to understanding your target audience and marketing directly to them. Share an authentic message aimed to captivate them—but make sure you don’t sacrifice the principles established in your mission statement only to please a population that won’t be interested in your company anyway.
When it comes to marketing, we’ve all seen what it looks like when it’s done poorly. At best it goes unnoticed and at worst it’s distasteful, obnoxious and off-putting. In a word, it’s spam. Spam gives marketing a bad name. That’s why it’s your mission to continually and consistently provide value to your sphere of influence. True marketing is sincere, informative, clever and relevant. When done successfully, it’s extremely powerful.
At this point you’ve started to build a story—it’s the story of your brand and of your audience. It’s a narrative built from depth, emotion, research and knowledge. The next step is to figure out the most effective way to disseminate your message without spamming or alienating your client base. The goal is to be genuine and share value that provides impact, insights curiosity and inspires action.
So what does it mean to provide value? First, if you take one thing away from this post it’s that telling a story is the most important thing you can do to build a devoted and engaged community around your brand. People respond well to being involved in stories, in fact most of us spend ample amounts of free time indulging in storytelling via cable, books, sports, news and interactions with friends.
Value begins by weighing in on a topic that you know from your research will interest your target audience. Your role is to listen and observe as much as it is to contribute and create. It’s just as important to advocate for others doing trending things in your industry as it is to self-promote; and the sneaky thing is that by supporting the work of independents you simultaneously advance your identity as a respected leader in your field. Look to promote the work of individuals doing interesting things that push the boundaries of production in your field or inspire creativity in design. You want to share the insights of those who are furthering the advancement of your industry, yet be sure to make it clear the unique niche in the market that your company fills.
You build credibility and influence by sharing the story of your field with your audience, whether or not it directly relates to your company. It turns out that this is how you display the kind of experience and leadership that gains you more followers. This is not to say that you shouldn’t share your own successes and innovations as a team, please do. Just make sure you have a comprehensive understanding of your industry beyond your organization that you actively share with your audience. The goal is to establish yourself as a source of authority and knowledge in your field, and to demonstrate that in addition to the incredible work you do as a company you understand the entire market at large. This is how you build a network that grows business and drives sales.
Be excellent in your craft and insightful in your field. Be innovative and knowledgeable. Be a listener and a contributor. Be aware of your audience and cater to their needs and desires. Be authentic to your company because you occupy a niche in the market that no one else can. Most of all tell your story, because that’s what connects you to others. Your story is your voice and it’s what makes your business unique. It’s what gives your company impact and allows you to grow in an ever-changing economy that you help to shape.