Brand Storytelling Part 3: Different Stories For Different Purposes

Different image via Shutterstock
Different image via Shutterstock

Author’s note: this is part 3 of a 4 part series on brand storytelling.

In our last post, we discussed identifying your company’s key brand values as a starting point for developing your story.  What, besides profit, does your business care about and why? Expressing these values is an important part of building trust and loyalty with your customer base.

But how do you express them? How have successful companies wrapped these values in a story that made them accessible and engaging to their customer bases? We’ve identified three recurring story types used by effective brand storytellers.

 

Your Origin Story

Starting a business is not easy. The founders must possess drive, hard work, long-term commitment, and daring to undertake so risky a venture. Those attributes alone are usually enough to spark both respect and interest in an audience.

Telling your origin story gives a company the chance not just to recount some memorable tidbits, but to let your audience understand what was important enough to inspire your founders.  What motivates a person to take on this kind of risk?

Image via Nordstroms
Image via Nordstrom’s

Like many people, John W. Nordstrom came to the United States to chase the American dream. Starting in 1887, with $5 and an inability to speak English, he spent years laboring in some of the most physically grueling professions available to try to make his start.

Eventually, he took a risk at least as big as his initial plunge into the land of opportunity and headed to Alaska to try his hand at gold mining. In spite of extremely difficult living conditions and a massive influx of like-minded competitors, Nordstrom finally got his break. With $13,000 he teamed up with a contact he’d made in Alaska and started the business that became Nordstrom’s department stores.

Your company’s story probably doesn’t include the high drama of the Klondike, like Nordstrom’s, but it can still allow your values to shine through. For the company that John W. Nordstrom built, his story shows the importance risk, hard work, and chasing his dream played in building the company that exists today.

Image via Nordrom's
Image via Nordrom’s

Nordstrom’s is expensive. Strolling the aisles, an average shopper can get a severe case of sticker shock. A shopper who understands the origin of the company is more likely to trust that the items for sale have been carefully sourced and are well worth the lofty price tag, because a man like John W. Nordstrom wouldn’t just throw trendy labels around. They would also trust that their own hard work, which provided the means to shop at high-end department stores, wouldn’t be disrespected.

As you may recall from our first post in this series, a key benefit of brand storytelling is enabling your customers to form a more human relationship with your business. By inviting them into the founder’s journey, the origin story does just that. Although we as the customers may be 100 years late, we cheer, we support, we identify with the struggle, and we celebrate the success with our loyalty.

 

Your Vision Story­

Your vision story describes how you hope your business will influence the world around you. In what way do your work and business practices make people’s lives better? How will you contribute to the world you see in your grand view of the future?

Image via Oliberte
Image via Oliberte

Put one way, Oliberté is a company that makes and sells shoes. Put another, Oliberté is a company working to help create and sustain a successful middle class in Africa.

Selling shoes is how the company meets its bottom line, but it’s the process before the sale that really makes them the company they are, such as insisting on providing jobs with fair pay and good working conditions in an area of the world where those things are in short supply, Oliberté is able to sell the idea of a better life along with their shoes. By making a deliberate choice to base a profitable business operating under fair business practices in Ethiopia, Oliberté is helping create their vision of a more stable, more prosperous Africa.

There is a small but growing middle-class in Ethiopia, as well as other African nations, which, if sustained, would greatly contribute to success and stability in the country. Oliberté’s business — factories, suppliers, farmers, and workers — supports that fledgling middle class. In addition to their own contribution, they believe that their presence in the region will inspire others to follow, making their vision a reality.

If you can figure out and effectively communicate what ideas and goals motivate your business beyond the bottom line, you’ll inspire your customers,who will feel that much better about the money they spend with you. Their decision to support your company makes them a part of a grand vision and accomplishment they couldn’t achieve on their own.

 

Your Customers’ Stories

You may be exceptionally articulate.  But your own words will never convey as much power as the words of your customers.  People don’t trust businesses advocating their own self-interest.  By contrast, they do trust independent peers in similar circumstances.

Testimonials are one of the most powerful marketing tools available to a business. A testimonial that really digs in deep to tell the story of how your business made a customer’s life better will make a serious impression on prospective customers.

Google’s self-driving car has the potential to make millions of people’s lives safer and easier over time. In the short-term, it’s already provided a small miracle in the life of one man. Legally blind and unable to drive on his own, Steve Mahan’s access to a self-driving car gives him an ease of mobility and independence that would have been impossible for a blind man just a couple of years ago.

People buy your products for a reason. They are probably using your products to make their lives easier or better in various ways. Talk to them to find out how and capture the best stories you hear.

While you have a personal interest in making your business sound good your customers don’t. When they tell a story about how your products improve their lives, it’s more powerful and convincing than anything you could say to new prospects.

 

Mix ’n’ Match

Image via Hand in Hand Soap
Image via Hand in Hand Soap

While these three story types are different, a consistent theme about your business should emerge from all of them. It’s up to you to figure out the best balance to strike.  To see a good example of the “Mix ‘n’ Match” principle in action, let’s look at how a simple soap company, Hand in Hand soap, lets the story and values of their business shine through in all their stories.

The origin story of Hand in Hand Soap makes their values clear from the get go. The business started because they were shocked to learn how many people die due to a lack of soap.

Before you get to the point of buying their product, you’ll come to their vision, clearly communicated on the site: fewer children dying of hygiene-related diseases. Every bar of soap sold means one donated to people in need.

Image via Hand in Hand Soap
Image via Hand in Hand Soap

To top it all off, their blog tells the stories of both their customers and those whose lives are improved by the donations customers enable.

Through all of the company’s stories, Hand in Hand soap succeeds in connecting all kinds of people to a common cause.  Usually, the distance between a happy, wealthy couple getting married in the United States and a child in Haiti finally given access to fresh water near home seems massive. Hand in Hand bridges the gap. Isn’t that the kind of story you’d like to be a part of?

 

Find Your Own

What’s your story? How can you share your origin story, your vision, your customers’ stories, or a combination thereof in a way that creates one consistent and persuasive story that defines your business? Get started, and good luck!

Be sure to stay tuned for the last post in this series in the coming weeks. As always, feel free to discuss by tweeting at us or leave us a message on Facebook.

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