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Have You Captured Your Brand Story?

We see them everywhere in the advertisements we watch, in the clothes we wear and cars we drive- all sold to us with a story. We know that stories are hardwired into the human brain and represent the best way to communicate.

In 2022, most organizations understand the power of stories. But what to do with your brand stories can seem fuzzy and unclear.

The problem is, we’re still struggling to make them practical in business and nonprofit life. Aside from telling a great brand story to an investor, donor a client, using videos in ads, or including testimonials in your marketing, putting the power of story to work is still a pretty confusing proposition.

by David Mills / October 15, 2020

Chapters

What It Feels Like When Your Brand Story Isn't Working

Like a tire losing pressure, or the slow leak of an air mattress that you were really relying on for the night's sleep- that's what it feels like when your brand story isn't working. The momentum you need for growth both internally for your team, and externally with your customers is carried by a compelling brand story.
People know the difference- a brand story that is working engages customers and motivates your team. Without it, momentum is lost and growth falls flat.

 

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The risk of operating without a well defined and fully activated brand story is big. Not only does advertising cost more, people remember it less. The cohesion that comes from rallying around a compelling story is essential to winning and keeping both customers and employees.

Everyone wants to be on a winning team:
  • You can tell a great brand story because people wear it, share it and eat it.
  • Great employees are attracted to more than pay and benefits, they are looking for meaning.
  • Creating momentum without a fully operational brand story is like pushing a snowball uphill.
Like taking someone's pulse, the brand story is the heartbeat of a growing business. It gathers support, feeds enthusiasm, and results in growth that can be measured.

Brand Stories Aren't Invented, They Are Captured

Unlike the talented fiction and screenwriters who craft stories that immerse our imaginations in their narrative, real stories that are authentic to growing organizations originate somewhere else- in the lives of customers.

The real brand story for your company or nonprofit is already alive in the wild. It exists in the lives of your customers and the interactions between your staff and those you serve. It is a living, breathing experience that you and your company are working with consumers to create. It begins in your customer experience and, when captured, it is built into the intentional experience you create to help more customers experience the story.

If you can’t find the brand story in the wild, it isn’t really a story at all.

When we begin a company or nonprofit, we start with a mission statement and a list of services. We give it a name and create a logo. None of that is yet a brand story. As we serve customers and improve our offerings, paying careful attention to the customer experience, hopefully, a real story begins to emerge.

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The story begins to emerge in some of the real testimonials that people share (not the ones we prompt) or it percolates up in social media posts where people spontaneously mention their experience. If the organization is living out its mission, the brand story comes to life in the customer experience.

How brand stories become real.

One of the best descriptions of this process is expressed in the story by Margery Williams Bianco called The Velveteen Rabbit. In this story, a stuffed rabbit wants to be loved by a child so that it can become real. In learning about how this happens, another toy explains, "’Real isn't how you are made...It's a thing that happens to you...It doesn't happen all at once, You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.’”

Your brand story becomes real as your customers experience your services and it has positive impacts on their life or work.

In the Beginning, You Have a Brand, But No Story

When you first launch your organization, you have a brand name, brand imagery and services you plan to deliver. You may even have a story you hope to tell in the lives of your customers. That may be your “aspirational brand story” that has yet to become real. If you are paying attention to the customer experience you create, the story you hope to attach to your organization can emerge.

Often, companies slip away from their aspirational brand story, and default into industry-standard methods of portraying their brand.  That is why many companies have no practical differentiators - people cannot tell them apart from all the other options.

Here's where your story fits in: Brands begin with a discovery or "why" story, but they have to grow beyond it to thrive.Screen Shot 2020-11-09 at 1.57.31 PM

 

website-performancewebsite-performanceYou are always your first customer. The journey of discovery that brought you to offer what you sell carries important seeds of the brand story that will grow and take root in the wild. That is a story you should tell.

But built into that story is a fatal flaw- it's all about you. Until the story becomes about the customer, and is carried by them, it cannot lead to real growth.

Start with your discovery story, but don't leave it there. Your brand story has to connect your "why" to your customer's "why."

Telling your origin or why story is important, but it is not a brand story unless until it touches the pain and goals of your audience. If you stop at telling your "why," you will keep your marketing internally focused- and it will never become a real brand story. 

It's Common for Companies to Get Stuck at "Why"

Check to see if your brand story has expanded past the "why" stage. Review these areas:

  1. Scan your web pages and blogs to look for messaging that refers to the company, versus how many refer to the customer.
  2. Review the imagery on your website. Does it depict your team and your products, or your customers?
  3. Look to see how quickly you can find a customer testimonial or story from your home page.

It's pretty common for companies to get stuck in the "why" phase of their brand story. It's because they really don't know how to take the next step. The normal outcome of this is marketing and websites that are primarily all about the business, and not very much about the customer. 

Brand stories for nonprofits, senior services, and educational organizations can be complex because the customer may be the client that you serve or the person that makes the service possible.  Your customer could be a donor, a parent paying tuition, or an adult child seeking services for their parent.

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All Hat and No Cattle

A brand story doesn't work by simply adopting story techniques and telling more stories 

While stories are effective with sales and advertising, the technique of storytelling alone does not create a brand story. The brand story is how you reliably help people who have a need or a goal to become your customer. 

A brand story is an elevated brand status that reliably moves people from searcher to customer.

 

To move from a flat and unstoried brand to an activated brand story, you first have to find your brand in the wild where customers live and work. There you’ll find the stories that are being told and wrangle them back into your company culture. The brand story is then built into the experience delivered by marketing, sales, and service.

Half Measures

Some of the popular approaches to brand stories only take you part way to an activated brand story. While they offer a glimpse of what might be happening, these measures alone dont' give story power to the brand:

  • Online Review Management
  • Employee Online Review Management
  • Posting testimonials on your website
  • Measuring online engagement
  • Tracking social likes and follows
  • Simplistic storylines on a website home page

Companies have to earn the right to have their story included in the customer's work or life. 

Authentic Brand Stories

Real stories aren’t a single storyline- they are a collection of related experiences. This is what makes them authentic. A simplistic single story arc doesn’t make an authentic story because it doesn’t reflect reality. When you think of your favorite story, consider all the different points of view and narratives that come together. We sometimes think of that as character development, and the more we see multiple characters come to life with their own story, the more immersive the story becomes.

You can use a Brand Platform to identify ideas and concepts that should exist in your brand story. You can then begin the process of aligning your Brand Platform to your brand story.

Begin collecting all the reflections of your customer's experience. Not just the formal ones like testimonials and reviews, but the informal ones too.

Grab screen shots of customers using, or enjoying your brand. Collect notes from conversations with customers, including their questions and lifestyle comments about where your product or services fits into their work or lives.

The George Lucas Effect

George Lucas engineered a new kind of storytelling in the movies that he creates. In his movies, every detail of a shot tells its own story. Think of the famous alien cantina scene or the bazaar that characters run through. Every element of these scenes is telling a story that is relatable to the audience. Immersion comes because people can see themselves in these micro-narratives.

In fact, the Lucasfilm Story Group is the gatekeeper for all Star Wars content. This story team, if you will, can define what does and does not carry the Star Wars name.

These principles can be applied to your own imagery and how you tell your brand story in visual messaging. Learn more about capturing your brand story in photography.

Capturing Your Brand Story

If your organization is ready to capture and activate your brand story, here are the steps you want to follow:
number 1

Gather a Story Team

Gather your story team who can then become internal brand story stakeholders- think sales  and marketing, or for NPOs development and marketing.  Their insights into the customer experience and ability to gather information from other team members makes them invaluable in the process.
number 2

Story Deck Workshop

Attend the Story DeckTM Workshop to learn about the process for capturing and activating your brand story. Learn where the story "rubber" meets the growth "road" with a brand story that works to attract and win new customers.
number 3

Story Deck Accelerator

Speed up the process of defining and putting your brand story to work with the Story DeckTM Accelerator. Available just for your team or in a group, you'll move ahead quickly and know exactly how and where to activate your brand story.
Who's In Your Story Team

Brand stories don't just belong to marketing. They are formed with the collaborative effort of multiple team members who have insights into the experience of the customer and typically involve marketing, sales, customer services and strategic leaders. This team not only helps capture and activate a brand story, it also helps to monitor its authenticity and impact.

What to do now:

Identify prospective team members and begin asking them to collect reflections of customer experiences.

Attend the Workshop

The Story DeckTM Workshop helps explain the process of building a brand story, and how that brand story is activated. It shows how you can go from the basics of a story brand or customer journey outline to brand story that is working to attract and win customers. The workshop is for those who are building their brand, working to scale, or those that want new growth.

What to do now:

Plan to attend the next workshop to learn how you can capture and activate your brand story. 

 

Capture and Activate Your Brand Story

If you're ready to move beyond just the "why" story, and identify and put your brand story to work, this accelerator process is designed to help you get there. It allows up to 3 people in your organization to participate in an accelerator just for your company, or get the benefit of completing the process alongside other growing organizations.

What to do now:

Plan to attend the next Story DeckTM Accelerator so your team can complete the process of capturing and putting your brand story to work. 

Attend the Workshop

Attend the next Story Deck Workshop

Learn the process winning companies and nonprofits use to capture and put their brand story to work. This informative workshop will layout the process that winning companies and nonprofits use to capture and activate their brand story throughout their marketing.

Third Thursday's at Noon EST

Attend the Workshop