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How to Use Storytelling to Strengthen Your Business Brand

Why are stories so powerful? Stories tap into human feelings that everyone can relate to. Hope. Love. Fear. Excitement. Triumph. Failure. The emotions behind a story are accessible even when the characters and setting are unfamiliar.

Telling business stories is how you get customers to see a product as more than a commodity. Every product is just a product until you show people how it can enrich their lives.

Why do you think Nike gained 35 percent of US market share among footwear brands? Nike is an expert at showing customers what they can do versus telling them what to do. Instead of using a long list of features to sell sneakers, Nike shows people the goals they can achieve. The races they can win. The hurdles they can jump. The distance they can go.

As you grow a small business brand, you can use storytelling to reach customers on an emotional level. Learn to create persuasive stories that show the human qualities powering your business.

Craft a compelling brand story

A strong brand story helps you distinguish your business and find your audience. After all, choosing to be loyal to a brand is a statement of values. With every purchase, customers are saying, “This company understands what I need better than all the others.”

To inspire loyalty, you have to project the same values that are important to your audience. Start building a narrative by thinking about:

  • The reasons you chose to start a business
  • The challenges you faced to get your business off the ground
  • The mistakes you made on the path to success
  • The personalities, goals, and quirks of your team
  • The processes you used to develop great products
  • The characteristics you love about your community
  • The problems you want to solve for customers
  • The experience you want to deliver when customers use your product

Invite customers into your world. Did you start a sewing business after doing a last-minute alteration on a friend’s wedding dress? Did you launch a food truck to showcase fresh ingredients from local farms?

If you think your products and backstory aren’t exciting enough to make a great story, you’re wrong. Customers want to know you’re genuine and in business for more than just profit. As you explore your roots, try pinpointing what you have in common with your audience.

Appeal to strong emotions

Good brand stories convey a lot of information in limited time. For one thing, every story we hear or tell builds upon the experiences and feelings we share as humans. It’s easier to spark interest if you appeal to common emotions.

To come up with powerful story ideas, focus on the core emotions you want to convey.

  • How do you want viewers to react to your story?
  • What type of people do you want to represent?
  • What circumstances would motivate them or have an impact on them?
  • How do these people think and feel under the given circumstances?

Consider the 2014 “3rd Shift” Cheerios commercial from General Mills. The ad is about a shift worker who has limited time to spend with his family. At night, the man’s young son sneaks out of bed to get a bowl of Cheerios. The father is upset and asks why his son is up in the middle of the night. The boy innocently explains, “I just wanted to have breakfast with you.”

The ad works because it doesn’t promote Cheerios at all. In 30 seconds, it appeals to parents who work hard for their families while making difficult sacrifices. The ad reminds parents to cherish simple moments, such as bonding at the breakfast table.

Follow a clear story structure

Remember the basic writing rules you learned in elementary school? Always create a clear beginning, middle, and end, whether you’re working with video, photo or written content. To trigger a very specific response, you have to guide the audience through the action. Include these three elements:

  1. Setting/Backstory: What does the audience need to know right away to understand the story?
  2. Climax: What is the biggest event or turning point in the story?
  3. Conclusion/Resolution: How and why does the story end? Is the conflict resolved?

Sure, it’s intimidating to try and tell a complete story in every medium. A blog is one thing, but how about a short Tweet or Facebook post? The Charmin bathroom tissue brand does a great job of driving engagement, despite the sensitive topic. Take a look at this post from the popular “Tweet From the Seat” campaign on Twitter.

“On #NationalBossesDay we say thanks to those bosses who stock the good stuff! That way, we can all #tweetfromtheseat in comfort.”

The NationalBossesDay hashtag is enough lead-in material to set the stage. The concept of bosses who “stock the good stuff” is a climactic moment and a familiar sentiment for many workers. The post closes with a well-known brand hashtag, bringing attention back to the product. It also wraps up the story with a common, but embarrassing topic — using the phone in the bathroom.

Use common story themes and formats

Relatable themes make it easy to quickly reel in an audience. No matter how trends change, popular story themes hold a lasting place in consumer hearts. Chances are, you recognize these common examples:

  • The hero’s journey
  • The tragic romance
  • The enduring love story
  • The rags-to-riches tale
  • The triumph of the underdog
  • The faithful pet/sidekick
  • The rebel on a mission
  • The search for redemption

Don’t get hung up on the literal aspects of a theme. Focus on the overarching action that defines each story. For example, your journey to redesign a product can be a hero story. The steps you take to fix a poor customer service experience is a redemption story.

Keep in mind, using a familiar story format sets up specific expectations. People expect an underdog story to end well and a tragic romance to end poorly. You can choose to follow through on those expectations or surprise your audience. Whatever you decide, make sure it leaves customers with a positive message about your brand.

Involve your audience in the story

Use customer contributions to enrich your own brand story. Focusing on someone else highlights your value proposition without overt advertising. This strategy works for a wide range of media, such as case studies, testimonials, e-books, and social media posts.

Involving your audience is also an effective form of social proof. When customers share photos or videos of themselves enjoying your products, other people want to experience the same benefits. Consider these common approaches:

  • Highlight a customer success story involving your products
  • Ask customers how they would solve a relevant problem
  • Encourage customers to share feedback about ideal services or features
  • Ask customers to share visual media showcasing their experiences with your product

Depending on the marketing channel, you can feature customer journeys or ask for freeform submissions. For example, Charmin is known for posting Tweets with a funny hashtag and a clever question. In such cases, Twitter users supply the story’s conclusion, strengthening their connection to the brand.

Stay consistent in your story

When people fall in love with your brand, they’re more receptive to every message you put out. Customers love your product when they feel like it’s made for them. That’s why it’s important to develop a consistent small business brand. You don’t want to create conflicting images and lose consumer trust. As your business evolves, maintain a strong sense of values to assure customers you care about their needs.

Amber Ooley
Amber Ooley
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