6 Steps to Developing a Compelling Brand Story

How does a brand become compelling? The story branding process provides a template to aid communications planning. The brand is substituted for the main character that is described as having functional capabilities and is infused with values and beliefs that resonate with audiences. The brand’s ultimate goal, apart from increasing sales and profits, is to influence a relationship with the prospect.

As is the case with most stories, there are obstacles in the brand’s path toward achieving its goal. These must be identified and dealt with before the desired relationship is achieved.

Here are six steps, known as the 6 C’s, that can help your company tell a compelling brand story.

Step 1: Collect the Back Story
This provides the background necessary to explain the problem that must be solved for the brand. Every back story is different but usually consists of any and all information relevant to the story about to be written. This includes an assessment of the brand’s culture as well as problems and opportunities it faces in the marketplace.

Step 2: Characterize the Brand
One of the key challenges is to identify the brand’s persona. Specifically, it starts with a thorough understanding of the brand’s value and belief system. Since this is sometimes difficult for management to articulate, we use a number of techniques, including archetypal analysis, to help everyone see the brand more as a person than a thing. It is important to determine if the brand is showing what it stands for. Is there proof that what the brand wants to stand for is authentic and not just lip service?

Step 3: Characterize the Prospect
Once the brand is fully explored, we can then characterize the most likely prospects. Specifically, we look to see what functional and emotional needs are being left unfulfilled. Then we set out to discover the extent to which any of these needs present an opportunity for the brand in question. This is referred to as the dramatic issue and consists of the problem that propels the main character’s journey. We look for something that will propel the prospect’s movement toward a fulfilled relationship with the brand.

Step 4: Connect the Characters
At this stage, we start to play matchmaker. Now that we understand our two story characters, the brand and the prospect, we look to connect them. We are interested in knowing how the brand satisfies a functional need through its product features and benefits. We need to know that there is something that can spark a long-term relationship, one that is founded on shared values and beliefs.

Step 5: Confront the Obstacles
Our model requires a definition of the communication obstacles standing in the way of the brand/prospect relationship. Typically these fall into four categories: awareness, comprehension, confidence and affinity. The extent to which any of these obstacles must be overcome sets up the plot, and we prioritize them by order of which have to be moved first to achieve the brand’s ultimate relationship goal.

Step 6: Complete the Story Brief
The story brief outlines the entire brand story in ways that promote an empathetic understanding of the brand and prospect personas. The aim here is to identify what we call the outer and inner layers of both the brand and the prospect. Outer layers have to do with functions performed by the brand and desired by the prospect. Inner Layers have to do with values and beliefs that are subscribed to by both of the characters. To help, we craft what we refer to as I AM statements for each character. These take the form of first-person autobiographical sketches as opposed to factual descriptions that are common to most traditional briefs. These stimulate empathy and identification which is something we believe is missing from most traditional creative input documents.

Whether the brand is sold B-to-B or B-to-C, this process can move a brand closer to connecting with its prospects on an emotional level.

Jim Signorelli is the founder and CEO of ESW Partners, a Chicago-based marketing firm and author of the new book, StoryBranding: Creating Stand-Out Brands Through the Power of Story.

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