How is it that some brands just stay with us forever?
Apple. Nike and Adidas. Coke-Cola, Pepsi and Sprite. The mere mention of these ubiquitous brands is enough to conjure up vivid imagery and tickle our senses.
Perhaps you saw that commercial only once, way back in 1984, but you can still remember the brand story. The brazen heroine charging up the aisle amid a sea of drones and launching her sledgehammer at big brother, or ‘Big Blue’, as it were.
What’s more, they continue to have a ‘sticky’ presence in our lives today – when was the last time that Apple wasn’t in our daily news cycle?
So, what gives? How is one company able to spin a clear, consistent message across media platforms, across time, all while growing its product portfolio?
It’s by crafting a compelling brand story.
In this article, we’ll breakdown the 3 most important elements of crafting a brand story that’ll make it memorable, allow it to resonate with your client base, and to speak on behalf of your company.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
What is a Brand story?
Before we proceed further, let’s make it clear what exactly a “brand” is.
As grating and obvious as it sounds, your brand is your product. For every toaster, blender or microwave oven that a household may have, there’s a clear distinction between each product in terms of how the packaging looks, how the product itself looks like and the feelings that each product evokes.
And while branding comes from the Nordic word ‘brandr’, which means to distinguish ownership by burning one’s mark on the hide of free-range animals. The same concept holds true in the human psyche.
A brand is used by companies to differentiate themselves from their competitors and to consumers. You could be manufacturing the best product available on the market, but you won’t go far if you can’t successfully market it.
That’s what brand stories are for – conveniently packaging your brand and product to make it viable for marketing.
Think back to those brands we’ve listed above – their names and logos already tell us all that we need to know. What products they sell, how much they cost and the emotional response they elicit from us.
Why You Should Create An Authentic Brand Story
In addition to making your brand and product marketable in the first place, here’s 3 more reasons why an authentic brand story is essential for business success.
1. We’re hard wired to remember stories
Story’s help make your brand and brand message memorable
We remember stories far better than we remember empirical facts. If you’ve ever taken musical theory, it’s easier to remember that “Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge” and “Good Boys Deserve Fudge Always” than EGBDF and GBDFA for each respective clef.
Simply listing out statistics that support your product will only serve to bore your customers. Reducing plastic consumption in your packaging is great for appealing to more sustainability oriented consumers (and the environment).
But it’s difficult to remember the hard statistics of “reducing plastic used in packaging by 13 percent.”
By imbuing your brand and product with vivid sensory imagery, consumers become far more likely to remember your brand’s story. In turn, this helps them recognize your brand and product when they see it online or on the shelves.
2. Stories evoke an emotional response
The best way to get someone involved and committed in your brand is to evoke an emotional response. With all of its sensory details and vivid imagery, stories are great at achieving this.
More than that, it’s been shown that narratives work to activate many other parts of our brain in addition to the language processing section. Vivid metaphors, imagery and descriptions stimulate the sensory parts of our brain – serving to “transport” us into the world of fiction. This explains how one can get fully immersed in a novel and become “lost” in a book for hours at a time.
This is important to consider. According to a Harvard Business School professor, 95 percent of our purchasing decisions are decided through our emotions. As we discussed above, stories are great at negotiating emotions and persuading. They’re great for influencing how your customers should feel about your product.
Forget statistics and the benefits your product/service can bring – how your customer feels about your brand and ultimately your product is what matters.
3. We are naturally drawn to stories
We look for stories everywhere we go, in every facet of our life. We are naturally the protagonist of our own personal story of life, but our search and natural attraction towards stories extend even into the realm of the mundane.
A seminal study conducted in 1944 cemented this fact. Researches Heider and Simmel took 34 students and showed them a short video about a collection of geometric shapes. 2 triangles and 1 circle moved across a flat surface with a motionless rectangle, partially opened on one side, as the only other prop.
The film has no dialogue, sound or even an accompanying backstory to give the film any semblance of a plot. Nevertheless, when the 2 researchers asked the group of students what they thought of the film.
There was only one student out of the cohort of 34 who saw it for what it really was – a collection of geometric shapes translating across a flat surface. The rest had come up with fantastical stories to narrate what essentially was nothing more than nonsense.
We naturally indisposed to the indispensability of stories; so much that we look for one even when there are none. Leverage this for your brand – incorporate a story into your brand. You’ll be surprised on just how impactful it can be.
3 Themes To Consider When Creating A Brand Story
When it comes to digital marketing, there are 3 key themes to bear in mind when crafting a believable tale for your customers to rally around.
The more classic and timeless a story is, the more recognizable and relatable it is. In turn, this will make your brand and product more recognizable and relatable as your consumers become better able to identify it. Tell your story in a way that crosses digital space and time by relying on characters, conflicts and resolutions that everyone can embrace.
The easiest way to do this is by utilizing the framework used since Ancient Grecian times – the hero’s journey.
For example, a hero’s journey is Odysseus’s struggle to get home in The Odyssey. He survived the Trojan War but is thwarted at every turn by the Gods in his efforts to return to his family. This story arc is also critical to more modern narratives such as Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings, or blockbusters like Star Wars.
The structure usually goes like this – the hero encounters a problem which forces them to leave their old, “ordinary” world behind and traverse a strange, unknown territory in order to solve it.
Within this unknown territory, the protagonist usually meets and/or is endowed with special gifts by a mentor. This mentor assists them through the various trials and tribulations that the hero must face. After triumphing over his struggles, the hero returns home as a more accomplished individual for having endured.
For brands and branding, the same elements must hold true:
- Identify a struggle that your consumers have that you can turn into a message
- Find or craft an everyday hero that your consumer base can relate to
- Cast the right characters
The last note is especially poignant. It’s easy to believe that as the one crafting a brand story, you should naturally be the hero and protagonist of your story. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
You are the mentor, not the hero. Your products/services provide a benefit to the hero that is the customer.
The villain that they will indubitably face is the struggle or inconvenience that they are suffering from of which you, as the mentor, help to solve.
2. Cater it to your product
Don’t make up something that doesn’t fit in well with your product.
As amazing as your product may be, not everyone will need what you’re offering or be enticed to purchase it, and this is due to no fault of your own. You will never be able to everybody’s wants or desires, so don’t try to.
Keep your brand story authentic by keeping it true to your products and/or services. Don’t embellish or “stretch” what your product is able to do or the story behind it.
PepsiCo’s “Naked Juice” line of beverages, a collection of drinks which the company advertised as using “all natural” and “GMO free” fruits in their production was charged with a $9 million class action lawsuit in 2013 for false advertising and misleading consumers
If you’re selling affordable footwear, it doesn’t make sense to tell a story of extravagance and lux. Likewise, it doesn’t make sense to align yourself with rugged, outdoor values if you’re a luxury technology company. Your brand is your product; your brand story has to make sense in order for your product to make sense.
Don’t lie or embellish your brand story for the sake of increasing its appeal. It should be a brand story, not a brand mythos – keep it authentic, honest, and grounded in reality (and your product).
3. Consistent and compelling
This may sound obvious, but keeping your brand story and ultimately your brand consistent across products and all visual and written communication platforms is imperative. Your brand should remain cohesive throughout all of your products. How can you expect customers to identify and connect to your brand if it’s constantly changing?
This concept goes back to authenticity and telling a story that’s believable and sensational. Utilize sensory and vivid language in your storytelling to emotionally involve your customers. This aids in “transporting” your customers into your brand’s story.
Now there’s no saying that a little creative freedom is unnecessary or bad. But to reiterate the second tip of catering your story to your product, be sure to let your brand do the talking and you doing the storytelling. Don’t talk about what your brand/product can or can’t do – tell stories about the people it helped and how it was able to do that.
Examples of Effective Brand Stories
The mascot that Proctor and Gamble created for their all-purpose cleaner and melamine foam line of products is a perfect case study of a brand story executed properly.
According to their own site, Mr. Clean’s origins story begins when an agricultural couple discovered a remarkably clean and bald baby on their doorstep. They subsequently adopted it. Wanting to work as hard as his adoptive parents, Mr. Clean adopted a “hard work pays off” mentality. He worked hard to strengthen his body to become the “best, toughest, hardest working cleaner in history.”
As evidenced, your brand story doesn’t have to be complicated or even make sense – it just has to be easy to remember and make sense with your product. Proctor and Gamble want their customers to associate the strong, hardworking and durable nature of their mentor mascot with their line of products. The origin story makes complete sense – even if it is a bit ridiculous.
Almost a century old since his inception, the Green Giant was eponymously created to reflect the name of a “particularly large variety of pea harvested and sold by the company.” The story was and remains simple. A large, green giant presided over the vegetables grown in his valley. He also inspired people to consume an adequate amount of veggies every day.
When the Green Giant was first conceptualized, the company’s name at the time was the “Minnesota Valley Canning Company.”
Without getting too deep into semiotics, consumers were more capable of remembering the large and green silhouette of the jolly colossus. Is it any wonder why the company changed their name and rebranded itself?
An instant classic for anybody who has enjoyed Pillsbury’s lines of flaky pastries in a tin. The Pillsbury Doughboy is perhaps one of the most recognizable brand mascots available today. Acting in a support role for the time-strapped host or parent who has no time to bake fluffy pastries, the Pillsbury doughboy fulfills the mentor role necessary in all brand stories exceedingly well.
According to their own site, the first 3 years of Doughboy’s debut saw an “87 percent recognition factor among consumers.”
Key Takeaways For Creating An Authentic Brand Story
If it’s not clear already, then it bears repeating. Digital products and services will only survive if they have a classic, consistent and compelling story backing their unique selling proposition.
The only way to achieve this is to rise above the flotsam of information overload that’s prevalent in so many digital mediums.
Here’s 3 tips to help you do just that through an authentic brand story.
1. Keep it simple and memorable
You’re writing a brand story to achieve 3 things:
- Making your product/service marketable
- Making your brand stand out
- Connecting with your customers.
You don’t need to write a novella or a literary epic to give your brand authenticity. A long-winded story can only distract from telling your customer more about your brand and what it does. Keep it short, sweet, and simple – your brand story will be easier to remember and more easily recognizable.
2. Keep it classic
You’re not reinventing the wheel, so don’t fix what’s not broken. The hero’s journey is a time tested narrative structure that’s easy to both remember and relate to. To reiterate our previous point, it’s unnecessary to complicate something so simple and classic.
However, that’s not to say that you should strictly adhere to this narrative structure. Creative freedom is necessary to make your brand distinctive enough to stand out from the rest of the crowd.
Many multinational corporations follow a similar narrative structure in each of their respective brand stories – there’s no reason why you can’t do the same.
3. Make it make sense
You can write the best brand story, have it be instantly recognizable and memorable while connecting to your customers and clients. But it’ll all be for naught if it doesn’t speak to your product. At the end of the day, your brand is your product; it’s what you’re selling.
If there’s a disconnect between what your brand is saying about your product and what your product actually is, you’ll end up appearing inauthentic.
Don’t try to be the next Nike or Apple of your industry. Aspire to confidently fill in your market niche and construct your own identity – one that speaks to your values, your vision and your products.
Lastly, remember that you’re not the hero; just the mentor.