What is Brand Storytelling?
Joining its older sister, content marketing, and “snackable” (a distant cousin, admittedly), brand storytelling assimilated into marketing talk a few years ago after a rebirth of sorts. If you asked every other marketing expert, creative strategist, or brand ninja/rockstar/evangelist, it’s the be-all, end-all solution to whatever problem a brand faces.
It can’t manage to earn an entry in the American Marketing Association Dictionary; but if you key in a simple Google News search, almost 50 articles have been written on brand storytelling in the last few weeks. Respectable outlets like Marketing Week and Forbes have all reported on the subject, advised on strategies, tactics, and best practices, and reminded us all why it’s oh, so important, all without actually defining what the term means.
Brand storytelling is how you share your story with your audience.
Your Brand Narrative
Before we get into your story, we go back to the basics and talk about brand stories. Brands have many stories–stories that are both easily recognized and quickly understood and stories that are obscure, unnoticed, or unknown. Stories are sometimes officially told through formal messages, others are passed along by word of mouth, while more still might never even be shared at all. Some of these stories are told by the brand, and some are shared by others. Sometimes, the stories told aren’t even true.
These stories and the factors that influence them establish what people believe about your brand, and what ties all of these stories together is the brand narrative. If each story has an journey–a defined beginning, middle, and end–then the brand narrative is the greater arc that connects these stories. It’s the sum of the external and internal stories that surround your brand. As these stories are ever changing, your brand narrative develops over time–for the better or the worse. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but these are the types of stories that most often influence how your brand is perceived:
Brand to Audience
An external story | What your brand shares with your audience (the group of current and potential consumers you want to reach), often the story with the greatest impact that you are most in control of.
Audience to Self
An external story | What your audience tells itself about your brand, often what they believe about your brand story.
Audience to Audience
An external story | What your audience tells to other consumers, often as an evaluation of their brand experience (their feelings about the brand, interactions with the brand, brand offerings, etc).
Competitors to Audience
An external story | What your competitors tell your audience about your brand, often to influence their perceptions of your brand.
Media to Public
An external story | What the media tells the public about your brand, often to inform or hold your brand accountable to public scrutiny.
Brand to Culture
An internal story | What your brand shares as acceptable and encouraged practices, often the expectations your brand sets for itself.
Brand to Investors
An internal story | What your brand shares as priorities and how your brand measures success, often an evaluation of how your brand is honoring to your set values.
Employees to Employees
An internal story | What your employees tell other employees about your brand, often their interactions with and evaluations of the brand culture.
Your Brand Story
As you can see, most of the stories that surround your brand aren’t coming from you. You can’t control your brand narrative in its entirety–you can’t decide for your audience what they will believe or how they will feel about your brand–but you are in control of how you share your brand story with your audience.
Your brand story is who you are, as defined by five key components.
Why did you start your business in the first place: to fulfill a passion, introduce a product to an underserved market, improve upon an existing service? Whatever it is, every brand has a beginning and a reason for existence. This is your origin story, your foundation, how and why your brand came to be. It’s what drives you and keeps you motivated. Your purpose does not change, but it does inspire change.
How has your brand changed over time? A brand is a living entity, influenced by internal and external factors, and your history outlines how your brand has adapted in response to the obstacles you’ve faced. It’s your journey, how you got to where you are today.
What is most important to your brand: innovation, reliability, honesty? Your values are the fundamental beliefs and guiding principles of your brand. Every brand decision you make is dictated by your values, including your brand’s design, message, voice, and relationship with your audience. Your brand value–how loyal your audience is to you and why–is directly related to how clearly you communicate and how committed you are to your brand’s values.
What does your audience expect of you? Your brand promise is how your brand creates and provides value to your audience–it’s what makes your product or service desirable. Whatever you promise your audience, it should embody your unique values and be achievable, measurable, meaningful, and, most importantly, kept. You must deliver on your brand promise in every audience interaction.
What impact will your brand make? What will be its legacy? Your vision is the outcome you’re working towards, what you want your brand to accomplish. It’s the ultimate fulfillment of your purpose.
The Power of a Story
The story that your brand shares with your audience is the story that you have most control of because it’s the story that you tell. Your brand purpose, history, values, promise, and vision are all elements of your brand story; and once they’re established, you will better understand your brand and can better communicate your brand story to your audience. Why does that matter? Stay tuned for Part II, where we’ll delve more into why storytelling is so important when building a brand.