For brands, and the marketers behind them, the idea of telling stories to win over hearts and minds is nothing new. But in today’s world, which is crowded with messages and largely devoid of trust, it has never been more challenging, or more valuable, for a brand to win loyalty.
How does it do this? There is a well-known proverb that my former boss used to use, “tell me a fact and I will learn, tell me a truth and I will believe, but tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” We remember narratives and journeys over facts.
When you’re thinking about your business, you shouldn’t only think that you’re selling a product or a service, you should think about how your brand is appealing to people’s emotions and how it fits in with their lives.
The good news is, storytelling is cheap. The bad news is it isn’t easy. It requires emotional intelligence, cultural insight and a lot of craft.
So what do we mean by story? Simply put, a story unites your idea with an emotion, it makes your product personal. Think about your customer and get under the skin of what they believe in.
Forget your product momentarily, it’s the context you’re trying to articulate. Telling people what to believe will fail, but showing you understand how they already feel – that is how brands get ahead.
Take a brand like Ella’s Kitchen. The founder, Paul Lindley, who I was fortunate to work with for a number of years, crafted an entire brand on the authentic story around his personal experience of encouraging his daughter to eat healthily. He created a world for kids filled with fun and experimentation. It is a story that taps into the emotions of parents and families across the world and is expertly woven into every element of his business, from the font used in emails to the design of their packaging and their adverts on TV.
Crafting your story can take time, but the important thing is to be authentic – consumers can tell if you’re not. It is unlikely your story will appeal to everyone but that’s fine, if you aren’t turning some people off, it’s unlikely you’ll turn anyone on.
How to use your story
Show, don’t tell – in the world of Vine, Instagram and Twitter, you don’t need to tell people that you make your leather bags by hand, or that you know the farmers that produce the coffee you sell, you can show them. Sharing inspiring content can be the most effective way of winning over consumers and proving that your story is authentic.
Let your customers do the talking – customers are as important in creating a brand’s story as the business itself. Start a conversation with them, ask them to be part of the story. Think about Coca-cola’s personalised cans – the customers did the hard work here, Coke just produced the product.
Bring it to life – live events and experiences can take your story to the next level. So, if you’re telling a story about being adventurous, then you should be engaging with customers in a way that shows them that you are. Think about the way Red Bull hosts live music and extreme sports events. They’re giving something meaningful back to a highly engaged audience.
Use the press – your story should be a “red thread” throughout everything you do with your business and using PR can be the most effective way to really strengthen your brand story. Being in the right media, with the right messages and at the right time can position your business in a way that allows people to see what you stand for.
Be authentic and consistent – no matter what, your story has to be true and you need to make sure you are committed to it. As a startup it can be tempting to take every opportunity that comes your way, but ask yourself each time whether it fits in with your story and vision. From which shops stock your products, to where you advertise and the people that represent your brand – make sure it all fits into the wider story.
Nicole Green is a communications consultant and runs PR workshops for startups. She tweets at @nlgreen
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