How Stories Bring Brands To Life

June 30th, 2013   •   2 comments   

How Stories Bring Brands To Life TOMS shoes
TOMS shoes has one of the most best brand stories ever (source of image)

Logos. Taglines. Company names. Mastheads. Mascots. Jingles. More logos.

Every single day, we’re exposed to hundreds of different brands. These cover the entire spectrum of the consumption experience – from F&B to fashion, tuition services to toiletries.

You name it. We’ve seen, heard, smelled, tasted, touched or played with it.

Brand Overkill?

Brands scream at us from every conceivable physical and online platform. Television channels. Radio stations. Newspapers. Magazines. Movies. Websites. Social networks.

Heck, even our smart phones are full of branded apps. And then some.

The question, however, is this: do brands still matter in the age of mobile social networks? Do we really want another branded ad or app plastered over our overflowing craniums?

Unearth Your Brand Soul

As I’ve shared previously, your brand needs to move beyond logos, designs, advertisements, endorsements and tag lines.

To succeed in the social and digital age, your brand needs to represent something deeper – a movement, cause or belief – rather than a slick and stylish way to make customers depart with their hard-earned cash.

You need to unearth the “Whys” of your brand – the very essence of why it matters and how it changes the way people think, behave, work or live.

Your brand needs to be perceived as one which helps rather than hurts your chosen customers. It needs to move beyond features, advantages and benefits. It needs to be perceived as an emblem of communal identity focused on your customer’s interests.

Your brand also needs to display your personality and collective behaviours as an organisation – not just your CEO but every employee.

Telling Your Brand Story

The best way to communicate what your brand is about is to tell stories.

Here, it isn’t just about “how great thou art” or what flaming hoops your founder jumped through to bring the company to success.

Neither is it just about the 101 different steps your company took to manufacture a widget, or ensure that service quality is “world class”.

Rather, your brand stories are embodied in the core purpose of your company and articulated every single day in every single activity. They are the sum of all actions and interactions between your company, its employees, its customers, its shareholders, and other stakeholders.

Brand Story as Performance

To bring your brand stories compellingly to life, consider the metaphor of your brand as a performance.

In such a setting, your distribution outlets would be the “stage” or “backdrop”, your customers the “audience”, and your products and services the “actors” or stars of the show.

The packaging, design, colours, sounds, scents and tastes of your product would act as “props” or “costumes” which accentuate the authenticity of the branded experience.

For service businesses, the “actors” are no longer just the products but employees of the business. Here, it is useful to emulate the example of Disneyland, where every staff are known as members of the “cast” who needs to be “on brand” when they work in their theme parks.

Tying all the disparate pieces together, a coherent “script” needs to be developed by the production “crew” (ie the employees). Here, you need to have a “brandstorming” session to unearth the different narratives which define your brand.

Make Your Customers Brand Heroes

It is also useful to consider how your customers can play a part in developing your brand story, enlarging and colouring it with their personal narratives.

Even better, make them your heroes in your brand story, or help them to craft their life stories with your brand playing a major starring role.

The key thing here is to make sure that your brand story is credible and believable, while embellishing it with touches of imagination, dreams and possibilities.

Craft Your Brand Plot

To connect deeply with your audiences, your brand needs to engage them with a compelling plot. Identify who your characters are, the challenges (or enemies) which they face, and how your brand empowers your protagonist (usually your customer) to overcome those difficulties.

This probably needs to dance the fine line between truth and imagination, depending on your product or service.

A bank, school or transport provider probably needs a story more rooted in pragmatic reality while a toy manufacturer, theme park or fashion retailer can indulge in greater flights of fancy. However, this could vary depending on your product and service.

Test Your Brand Story

Once you’ve got your brand story worked out – more or less – find a way to test the story before rolling it out in all its glory.

Gauge your audiences’ response:

  • Are they convinced by what you have to say?
  • Do they seem to buy into your story?
  • Are they enchanted by its telling? Or bored and listless, preferring not to find out more?
  • What do they do after they have heard your brand story? Would they share it with their friends and family?

Roll Out Your Brand Story

After you’ve tweaked, turned or transformed your tale accordingly, it is time for the curtains to rise.

Unlike a cinematic performance, however, your brand story is played out every single day in your organisation. It is a mixture of long-form storytelling and short snackable vignettes.

Look for opportunities to share your brand story across every single touchpoint, ie

  • Amongst employees and management
  • On brand websites and blogs
  • Across social media profiles and pages
  • On advertisements and media stories
  • During interactions between customers and staff

As you roll out your brand story page by page, chapter by chapter, day by day, remember that you are not just telling your brand story but living it collectively as an organisation. Your brand story must permeate every single pore of your organisation and define why you do the things the way you do.

While you do so, gauge your customers’ responses, adapt and refine your brand narratives as you go along.

Examples of Great Brand Stories

Many of the world’s greatest brands are fabulous storytellers. They include Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Coca-Cola, Nike and Virgin.

Often, the stories of these brands are inter-twined with that of their founders. Driven by their passion to create a “dent in the Universe” (ala Steve Jobs), these extraordinary men and women dedicate their lives to creating a movement.

I love the story of Zappos and how its founder Tony Hsieh made it his personal mission in life to “deliver happiness”. Zappos prides itself not on being just an online retailer of shoes, but on delighting customers with incredible value. They include a 365 day return policy and free upgrades to overnight shipping.

Warby Parker is another amazing brand. Breaking the traditional mold of spectacle retailers and opticians in the US, they offer low priced yet stylish glasses by designing them inhouse, and provides a free pair of glasses to children in third world countries for every pair sold. Ditto for TOMS Shoes which have given over 60 million pairs of shoes away thus far.

Committed to helping companies tell better brand stories on digital media, Cooler Insights marries the power of content marketing, social influence, search, and online advertising to improve your brand marketing efforts. Drop us an email and we’ll be happy to meet for a chat.

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2 comments

  1. posted on Jul 01, 2013 at 2:19 AM

    Great post Walter – totally agree on the value and power of brand stories!

  2. harry landu
    posted on Oct 01, 2016 at 7:02 AM

    Yes, great brands must have noble stories striking the very values of people who are affected, so that they feel and take ownership of the product as representing them. Thank you for sharing

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