How to Create a Compelling Brand Story

Every brand, regardless if they’re B-to-C or B-to-B, big or small, old or new, has a unique story to tell. Unfortunately, most brands don’t tell theirs very well.

Many have forgotten where they came from, what made them special, or have drifted so far from their roots that they’ve lost track of who they are. Many brands get so caught up in “selling things” that they forget people buy from people (or brands) they like. And it’s difficult to like someone if you know nothing about them or don’t care about them.

Think of it this way. Every great novel, movie, or Broadway play is based on a compelling story. You care about the characters, you get caught up in the storyline, and the best ones move you and stay with you forever. This is also true of great brands.

Here are five ways to create a compelling brand story.

Look to the past
If you feel your brand has lost its way and drifted over time, stop and look backwards. Look back to where you came from. How did the brand originate? What is its heritage? Maybe it’s time to revisit your roots.

Think about how Apple was started by a young Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in the garage of Steve Job’s parents’ house with a shared disdain for the status quo. Or how Bill Bowerman, the University of Oregon track coach and founder of Nike, poured rubber into his wife’s waffle iron and glued it to the bottom of a running shoe, creating the famous Nike waffle tread. Then he sold these shoes out of the trunk of his car. Great stories. How did your brand originate?

Location, location, location
Is your brand closely associated with a city or a region of the country? Many successful brands have taken advantage of their locale, adding interest and richness to their brand’s narrative. Think of Starbucks and its first store in Seattle’s historic Pike Place Market, or Coors brewery at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. These locations play a significant role in the lives of these brands still today. It helps set them apart. Where is your brand located? Is there something unique or interesting about it? If so, make it a part of your story.

Give back
Is your brand dedicated to giving something back? Is activism and generosity a part of your DNA? If so, don’t keep it to yourself. Let people know about it. Today, more than ever, consumers are aligning themselves with brands they feel good about. It’s a fact, people want to give to companies who give back.

Think of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and their commitment to peace and justice, or Toms Shoes’ “One for One” corporate policy of donating a new pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair purchased. These aren’t just marketing schemes, they’re something these brands believe in. And consequently, millions of consumers believe in these brands. Do you give back in a big way? Maybe you should.

Have some character
Several consumer brands have recently relied on characters to help tell their story. If your brand lacks personality or seems to be dry, you might consider introducing a character or persona to help spice things up. A few successful brand storytellers are the Geico gecko, Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man in the World”, and The Old Spice guy (the man your man could smell like). Try to imagine these brands without these characters. Tough to do.

Pack it with personality
Sometimes a brand can build its story around unique personality traits. Is your brand cool like Apple, or rebellious like Harley-Davidson, or rugged like L.L. Bean? Consumers tend to see themselves in the brands from which they buy. Our favorite brands become a reflection of who we are, or who we’d like to be. Maybe it’s time to dial up the personality in your brand communications. Add some swagger to your story.

Notice that I’ve intentionally left out topics like “quality” and “service” as key story drivers. These concepts are too generic and are frankly cost-of-entry items. Everyone expects you to have quality products and good service. Find something more compelling that truly sets you apart. Every brand has a story. Make yours worth telling.

Brent Niemuth is partner and creative director of J.Schmid & Assoc.

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