Stories have been around since prehistoric times, but are now more relevant than ever. In an age where we're bombarded with fancy sales pitches and loud marketing campaigns, people now crave a more emotional connection with brands.
And this goes quite far: neuro-economist Paul Zak discovered that strong brand storytelling causes people to donate up to 56% (!) more money to charity.
Nevertheless, despite their ample passion, few brands succeed in really reaching their ideal customer base. So how do you create a brand story that truly warms people to you?
A brand story that has what it takes.
To light a fire with a story, you’ll need good kindling. You want to know what to look for. Igniting storytelling needs to:
Provide a clear answer to a problem or challenge.
The best stories make the complicated world around us just a tad easier to understand. They always have a clear bottom line or moral. This is equally important for brands!
Be easily recognisable to your ideal customer
People need to be able to identify with the hero of the story and a ‘one-size-fits-all’ formula simply doesn’t work. You want your customer to feel personally addressed, as if you’re individually speaking to them about their specific circumstances. One way of doing this is to work with ‘buyer personas’.
Your brand story has to reflect who you are. When brands tell their story, people need to immediately feel that this story genuinely comes from you. Your brand personality must at all times shine through and that means being transparent. It also means being consistent. When you create a lot of content, it’s crucial to cultivate that consistency for people to not only recognise your content, but especially to trust it.
Make the right connection.
Your ideal customer needs to feel more understood thanks to your story. You will want to work with their emotions. For example, if you sell software that generates automated emails, that is great, but it’s not exactly something that makes people’s hearts beat faster. But when you pitch it as ‘less stress, time to pick up the kids from school, take the dog for a longer walk...’ then you create a whole other story that makes a connection on a deeper level.
A story that doesn't incite action is not a strong brand story. Your clients have to feel motivated to apply what they learned from your brand to their own world of experience.
Collect the right kindling.
Now that you know exactly what you need, you can start gathering your kindling.
Self-knowledge is the beginning of all wisdom. Nothing more boring than listening to someone that doesn’t even know what he wants to say. Before we start brainstorming about creative stories, we need to start with the basics: what is your brand essence?
Your brand essence includes your goals, vision, mission and values. Basically, the ‘why, how and what’ of your brand. To determine your brand essence, you need to have a thorough understanding of your own brand culture, and your customers and competitors.
You want your story to perfectly fit your ideal customers’ needs and preferences. Therefore, it’s necessary to take a critical look at your customers and the markets you want to tap into.
Which categories can you roughly divide them into? Let your imagination run freely and define ‘a buyer persona’ for each category. In other words, you create a detailed image of an imaginary ideal customer: you name them and provide a detailed description of their personality and the problems or needs that they are facing.
It can even help to get creative with a bunch of magazines and make a collage of that typical customer. Once you’ve defined your personas, whenever you tell your brand story, you keep these ‘fictional customers’ in mind.
Igniting the flame.
Now you know what to say, but not yet how to. Luckily, there are some easy frameworks you can follow. Boil Agency uses Donald Miller's StoryBrand framework, but – to be honest - the difference between the various frameworks is almost negligible. Almost every story, whether it's in the world of marketing or literature, pretty much follows the same framework or structure. Why? Because it works.
This is the structure you find in 99% of all stories and which you’ll also want to apply:
Once upon a time...
You start by introducing your main character, aka the 'hero'. The main character of your brand story is always your customer.This way, we know for sure that they can sympathise with the story. We advise you to write a separate story for each of your buyer personas.
Example: For one of our clients that owns a social housing company, we invented and described the buyer persona ‘Vera’. She’s a recently divorced mother who dreams of owning her own house, but fears that she has too few resources.
In this part of the story, you describe the problem or challenge that your hero is facing. In addition, you provide a detailed description of the hero's beliefs that play a role in his or her frustration and how they feel about the situation.
Example: "Vera’s past makes it more difficult for her to reach her goal. She always lived for her family so now it’s very challenging to find her own way. The divorce also completely changed her financial situation. There is a lot of uncertainty in her life."
At this point your brand enters the story as a wise advisor. You don't solve the problem, but you guide the hero towards the solution. In this part you explain why you’re the perfect guide for the protagonist.
Example: "Klemo believes that everyone, regardless of budget or situation and provided they qualify, should have the right to their own home that meets their needs. As a social housing company, Klemo has been building and selling social housing for more than 80 years. In addition, they also act as a credit intermediary for social and mortgage loans from the VMSW."
As a wise advisor, you give the hero a plan. Which steps should the hero take to get help and assistance from your brand? How does your product work? At Klemo it's quite easy:
1. Contact Klemo.
2. Klemo checks if someone is eligible for social housing or a social loan.
3. An application is submitted or a second interview is set up to define the needs.
4. Then a waiting period follows.
5. Buy a house or get a social loan.
Your hero will take action. What direct actions can he or she take? Must the hero purchase a product to solve the problem? Or must they take indirect actions, such as booking an appointment or downloading paperwork.
In the final section of your brand story, you describe the future of the hero ever since they overcame their challenge. In addition, also describe what their future would have looked like if they hadn’t done anything.
Success: "Thanks to Klemo Vera finally finds a house that fits her budget, is located in a child-friendly area, and that she feels truly proud of."
Fail: "Vera continues to look for solutions on the private market. This forces her to keep renting property and as a result she cannot guarantee stability to her children, nor does she feel emancipated."
Het BrandStory framework
The BrandStory Framework
You have collected all the right ingredients for your brand story. Now you have everything you need to light a strong fire. All that is left is putting all the parts together into a flaming success. You write your story in such a way that it addresses your main character, but also describes them at the same time.
Main character + desire
As a single mother you dream of giving your children a carefree childhood in a place where they feel safe. You’re ready to start a new chapter in your life, but you’re unsure whether your budget is up to the task.
Problem or challenge
Up to now you’ve always lived in service of your family and that’s why it’s difficult right now to find your way on your own. On top of that, your new financial situation is a considerable obstacle. The divorce was already a shot in the dark, but now your new story truly begins. The situation brings about a lot of uncertainty, which often makes you feel desperate.
At Klemo we believe that every mother should be able to offer her family a safe and caring environment. As a social housing company, we have been building and selling social housing to parents with modest budgets for over 80 years. We’ve often seen and felt ourselves how people can feel vulnerable when their lifes suddenly take a different turn. That is why we do more than just add a new name to our waiting list.
Plan and action
We would like to get to know you better so we can see which social housing solution is the best fit for you. We look at which house and environment best suits your needs: the neighborhood, municipality, type of home, and so on. When you apply with us, we’ll gladly guide you through the entire process.
At the end of the process, you’ll have the keys to a home that fits your budget and is located in a child-friendly area. Your new home will make your children feel the safety and security they deserve. You’re building your children's future and there’s no need to look back anymore.
The endless search for solutions on the private market is behind you now. You don’t have to sacrifice your independence and finances by endlessly renting.
Keep the fire going.
Our bonfire story is finally finished, but it doesn’t end there. Now it's important to keep the fire going. Do this by telling your brand story at every opportunity you get. There are countless ways to do so: articles, case studies, blogs, e-books, infographics, social media posts, videos and so on.
We’ve said this before: when a brand tells its story, people should instantly feel that this story comes from your brand. Every bit of content should precisely reflect your brand story, from the way it looks to the actual words you use. The only way to achieve this is by being relentlessly consistent. Inject your brand essence into each piece of content. Your tone-of-voice, humor, logo, design and corporate identity. These are all good ways of reinforcing your ‘brand voice’ and successfully standing out from the crowd.
There are some guidelines to keep in mind. Don't send 101 different messages out into the world that are dry and fact-based one minute, and then tongue-in-cheek the next. When creating content, always ask yourself the following questions:
- Does this message match our brand story?
- Will it resonate with our buyer personas?
- Does this message have the correct tone of voice?
Finally, you don't want to be the only one shouting your message from the rooftops. Encourage all your employees, colleagues, stakeholders and the rest of your network to share your story. Send out shareable links, provide every piece of content with social sharing buttons and always optimise your content for SEO purposes.
Spark it up.
You’ve probably noticed by now that a brand story pretty much writes itself. You don't need to be the next Shakespeare, but you do need a good understanding of all aspects, proper guidelines and ample consistency. With all of that, your story will spread like wildfire.