How to tell a brand story: 5 steps to crafting an irresistible narrative
Brand storytelling is more than a buzzword. It’s the foundation of much of your PR and marketing.
As human beings, we’re hard-wired to respond to stories, and by tapping into narrative elements and customizing them to your company, you can earn media attention, build an audience, and attract customers.
And remember: If you’re not telling your story, someone else is.
Whether you’re building your story from scratch or your current narrative isn’t resonating with your audience, here are five steps for how to tell a brand story.
1. Establish the hero
The hero of your brand story is not your business. It’s not your CEO. It’s not your product or service.
The hero of your story is your customer.
She’s the one who needs to improve cybersecurity or track fitness or find insight in masses of data. You’re the guide, the mentor helping the hero through the adversity she faces along the way.
Every hero has a goal, and your company and product bring that goal within reach.
When people don’t know what to cook or wear, Pinterest offers recipes and outfits. For gym-goers whose schedules never align with workout class schedules, Peloton delivers them on demand.
What big-picture goal do you help your customers achieve?
2. Set the context
Before he unveiled the first iPhone in 2007, Steve Jobs first ran through the state of the smartphone market. At the time, smartphones meant a phone, email, and the “baby internet.”
Jobs emphasized that the choice was either a regular cell phone, which wasn’t smart and wasn’t easy to use, or a smartphone, which was a little smarter, but a lot harder to use.
Against that backdrop, the iPhone’s functions and user interface stood out as a massive leap ahead.
- What trends dominated your industry over the last five years?
- What trends are reshaping your industry now?
- What new threats or opportunities are shifting how your customers operate?
- What are your customers’ greatest challenges?
- What do your competitors offer and how do they characterize it?
Your product will only stand out against the right backdrop. The answers to these questions can set the stage for your technology as something new, different, and necessary.
3. Pinpoint your inciting incident
The inciting incident is the event or change that sets a story in motion.
In a brand story, it could be the problem that compelled you to launch a company or the inspiration for your latest product, to name two examples.
Lackluster instant messaging programs led a gaming startup to create its own – what we now know as Slack.
Drew Houston wanted to get some work done on a bus trip from Boston to New York, but he forgot his USB drive. He immediately started building what became Dropbox.
It doesn’t need to be an earth-shattering moment. It doesn’t even need to be a moment – more often it’s a set of circumstances that have come to a head: an abundance of messaging apps with limited use, the need to access information from anywhere at any time.
The inciting incident often aligns with the same pains and challenges your customers experience. Make that need as specific and concrete as possible to connect with the audience’s desire for a solution just like the one you’ve created.
4. Use conflict to connect with your audience
What obstacles stand between your customers and their goal?
The types of conflict most relevant to tech company stories are:
- Person vs. self: In recent years this conflict has been part of the stories told by fitness bands, smartwatches, and other wearables motivating users to get moving.
- Person vs. person: Slack’s story goes after coworkers draining each other’s productivity with excessive email and unproductive meetings.
- Person vs. technology: Dropbox’s story highlights the pain of bloated email attachments and siloed files.
- Person vs. society: Regulations are the biggest conflict in this category – what issues do your customers have with compliance or maintaining efficiency in the face of new laws?
- Person vs. nature: Client Sungard AS keeps businesses’ IT up and running despite the threat of hurricanes, flooding, and other natural disasters. .
Conflict is at the heart of every story. Capture that tension and your audience will viscerally identify with the problems your company solves.
5. Resolve your story by showing the new normal
Here’s where you tie up loose ends by showing how your technology addresses the conflicts and helps your customers achieve their goal.
Remember, it’s not just about the product, but what the product means for the reader. Show the results of your solution.
Slack points to productivity gains over other work communication with a user survey, showing hard numbers for drops in internal emails and meetings.
Steve Jobs demoed the iPhone’s features and touchscreen gestures to show how much simpler and better it was.
This is where media coverage can be so valuable, whether it’s a product review, a trend piece, or a full-blown profile. A third-party validation of how your company solves a problem adds invaluable support to your own content in highlighting the resolution of a conflict your customers know so well.
Now try telling your brand’s story
All right, take it from the top.
Who’s your hero? What’s her goal? What stands in his way? What does success look like and how are you helping your hero get there?
What’s your story?
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