Having a powerful brand story is something many businesses think they have, but don’t. It’s a thing other businesses know they need, but haven’t quite got around to yet, An element of the marketing puzzle that many more are aware of but don’t deem overly important. And an investment that a lot of businesses have made only to find it doesn’t quite do what they intended.
To all those in the former categories, this is your wake-up call: you need a strong brand story. You need it now. You need it first. It’s more powerful than you think and has the potential to not just make you money, but magnify how much money you’re capable of generating. To those who have a brand story, bravo, I’m super proud.
But tell me, how well is it working? Is it genuinely captivating people and turning them into raging super fans? Or is it a bit blah?
You may or may not know that besides being a kickass copywriter and content marketeer I’m also a fiction writer (British Fantasy Award-winning, no less #HumbleBrag). So I know a thing or two about storytelling, both in a professional capacity. for the purposes of marketing and a fun way, when you’re just trying to sell a damn good story.
Understanding how stories work has been hugely beneficial in my development as a copywriting professional. I practice the art of storytelling throughout everything I do. I’m well aware of the power of corporate storytelling and implement that in my own content and my client work.
Your brand story has the power to elevate your business, when it’s told well and implemented properly. Here’s how to craft a powerful brand story that will boost the success of your business…
Story Comes Before Copy
Before you get stuck into writing your website copy, revamping it, or scrapping it and starting all over again, write your brand story. I see so many businesses do this the wrong way around. The brand story is created whenever someone gets around to writing the About page, and it’s only featured in that section.
This isn’t how your brand story should work. It should infuse everything you write. Yes, that includes your About page. And this page will likely have the whole version of that story, with the most detail. But knowing the narrative before writing the other words is vital.
Crafting your brand story goes hand-in-hand with developing your brand voice. Both need to be in alignment. Both need to pepper everything you write, so each piece of content is recognisable as yours.
When you get this right, your audience won’t need to see a logo or visual branding to know it’s you.
They will recognise the story, the narrative, the voice.
Like listening to someone read an excerpt from your favourite book, the tone, style, and story are familiar even if you don’t recognise the specific section.
Aim For A High Level Of Writing
One of my favourite bands, Within Temptation, has a song called Hand of Sorrow. It doesn’t matter how often I hear it; the lyrics make me think of my favourite books by Robin Hobb. I have no idea whether the song was based on the books or not, but the song tells the story of Fitz Chivalry Farseer. Every line relates to that character and his tragic life.
That’s the level of recognition you’re looking for; to have people hear your story completely out of context, without your name associated with it, without your logo and fonts all over it, and still have a gut feeling that it’s you.
A few years ago, I released an anthology of short stories, and when authors submitted theirs, a friend of mine sent in two. One was under her own name, the other a pen name. She didn’t tell me she’d done it; she was curious to see if the feedback she got on her writing differed if it was a piece I didn’t know she’d written.
The problem was, I did know she’d written it.
Reading it, I immediately recognised her style and voice.
A huge part of why businesses go to professional writers to get their brand stories and website copy written is that they need that level of writing.
And unless you’re a professional writer, you’re not likely to achieve it.
If you’re a decent writer and have a story that’s easy to write, it’s doable. But what happens when you don’t have a story? There is no rags-to-riches tale of how you overcame adversity and went from destitution to success off the back of the very thing you’re selling. When a hundred different investors didn’t reject you before one took a chance on a plucky little startup because they had a vision for a better world?
What do you do when you just sell shit.
And it’s not even your own. Other people made it.
How To Create A Brand Story (Even When You Think You Don’t Have One)
I’ve seen many brands skip over the creation of a brand story for this very reason: they don’t believe they have one. Instead, they invest in a strong, consistent voice and lot of marketing, and for the most part, this works.
But it’s incredibly frustrating to see because I know it would work so much better if there was the unifying thread of a brand story running through it all.
Here’s the thing. You can manage without a powerful brand story, but why would you?
Why wouldn’t you empower all your marketing with that extra layer of highly potent branding?
Why would you settle for website copy, blog posts, videos, social posts that perform okayish or well, when they could be performing really well or spectacularly?
ROI is always the name of the game in business, and the upshot here is that having a great brand story will make all your marketing efforts more effective.
So why not create one?
And create is the operative word here because most businesses don’t naturally have a compelling narrative. For most businesses, it takes someone teasing it out, developing it, adding creative flair, and turning a load of lemons into tasty lemonade.
You may not think you have a brand story, but you do, even if it’s as simple and derivative as ‘I wanted to make money, so I started this business.”
Sure, as stories go, it’s cliched and predictable, but it’s still a story. It just needs fleshing out.
What To Include In Your Brand Story
There are a lot of elements to a successful brand story. Trying to pin down the specifics is tough because the nature of your story will change dramatically depending on your industry, whether you’re a product-based or service business, who your target audience are, and many more factors. Despite this, there are still some aspects that you can include in
Your story needs motive – why did you need to make money? How were you doing that before?).
It needs an inciting incident – what sparked the creation of your business? What drove the development of your product or service?
There should also be conflict – how did you struggle at the start? What obstacles have you overcome? What did you learn from that? How does this relate to the struggles and pain points your audience are currently facing?
Any great story also needs character growth, although the ‘character’ in question can either be a person (the founder, owner, or ‘face’ of the company) or the brand itself – How has your business changed your life? How has it impacted the lives of your team?
The moral of the story is… what do you believe in? What’s the ethos underpinning what you do? What are your core values? What’s your mission?
An unforeseen plot twist! What sets you apart from all the others telling similar stories? What makes you different? In other words, what’s your USP? And please, make sure you’ve taken the time to understand your real USP, and aren’t using free postage when you spend over £50 as some lame cop-out.
And of course, a happy ending – how has/will your product or service change lives? What’s the endgame here? Do you have something that has allowed you to create positive change in your own life, and now you’re sharing it with others so they can achieve the same positive outcome? Where’s the payoff for your customers or clients if they invest in what you’re offering?
Even the most basic narrative can be given meaning and power by adding relatable, authentic details. Extra elements you can add where relevant include:
A love story – this doesn’t need to be romantic love. It can be the love of a cause, passion for a career, or desire to achieve a particular goal.
A redemption arc – if your ideal clients are currently in a less than favourable situation, frame of mind, or role, and what you offer allows them to shift away from that and into a better future, a redemption arc might be just the thing. You know how it goes; at the start of the series, Jaimie Lannister is a despicable man, shagging his sister and throwing small children out of windows. By the end of it, he’s learned his family are all manipulative, power-hungry lunatics and has devoted himself to fighting against the oncoming dark and the right heir to the king he stabbed in the back. The pinnacle of that arc is when he is forced to kill his own sister to prevent her from becoming worse than the mad king, and he saves the day. (I know, that’s not how the series ended, but it’s where Jaime’s redemption arc has been heading in the books for years, you see if that’s not how it ends when GRRM finally finishes them!)
Purposefully Creating Elements That Don’t Exist Yet
Now, you may be thinking, hang about; I’m just starting out, and I don’t have most of that yet. Or you could be years in and still have no clarity or progress on some of these elements.
This is another reason companies initially avoid creating a brand story – it seems like a future problem. When they have success stories to work with, and can look back and use everything that’s been done up to that point as plot.
But the truth is that most businesses are able to tell a killer brand story because they consciously developed one right from the start.
This goes hand in hand with the conscious development of a genuinely unique USP, which I’ve discussed in another post. If you’re looking at your story and find some elements are missing, you can create them.
Don’t have a clear ethos or mission? Adopt a new one. Think about what’s important to you, what will resonate with your audience, and what is relevant to your product or service. It might be a commitment to running a green company, which you demonstrate by switching to renewable energy sources, an electric fleet, or planting a tree for every purchase. Or it could be championing awareness of a particular medical condition, social cause, or underprivileged group in society. Maybe you donate a portion of your profits to pay for educating young girls and women in countries that don’t currently allow it or have the resources to do it. Whatever you decide on, make sure it’s genuinely important to you, and will be genuinely important to your audience, and refrain from weaving it into your brand story before it’s a reality.
What I said about donating to the education of girls and women is something I plan to do myself, but I’ve not done it yet, so you won’t find it plastered all over my website and announced on my about page.
Whatever you add to your story needs to be truthful. Genuine. Authentic.
Authenticity is your most powerful tool for crafting an impactful brand story.
Suppose you can’t yet tell a story with impact without fabricating, fudging, or generally exaggerating a few things. In that case, it’s time to look at where you can develop your business so there is authentic, story-worthy information about your brand.
Gather Social Proof
What’s the first thing you do when you’re considering buying a new book?
You check the reviews.
Maybe you read them, or maybe you just sneak a look at the average star rating and see how many one and two-stars are in the mix. For me, it’s rare to buy a book with less than a 4.5-star average. If I do it’s either because someone I really trust has recommended it, or I’m buying it because I’m expecting it to be bad and anticipate being amused by how awful it is.
You know, like when you’re watching a film that is so dire it circles all the way back around to become highly entertaining because it’s so bad.
We do this because it’s one thing for the blurb to tell us it’s a great book and we’re going to love it, and it’s quite another to see that real people, just like us, genuinely thought so too.
One is a marketing pitch.
The other is proof that this thing is actually worth your time.
There are plenty of ways to gather social proof that will corroborate the story you tell about your business. The most obvious one is to seek reviews and testimonials from your customers and clients. Ensure you have a system set up that automatically requests these and (ideally) offers an incentive as thanks. That might be the promise of returning the favour (if you’re a B2B business), a discount on the next purchase (if you’re a B2C business), or the chance to win something good in a prize draw.
Actively encourage as many people as possible to review what you offer. Of course, it goes without saying, that you should ensure the best possible customer experience before you do this, so those reviews are positive!
With social media such a potent force in marketing, you should also be looking at ways of encouraging user-generated content from your customers and clients. You can post about how great your stuff is until the proverbial cows wander in through the front door, but someone else saying it for you is always going to be more effective.
Uplevel that even further and seek partnerships with influencers and affiliates who will actively promote your brand on your behalf to their own audiences. Just be really careful to select people who fully align with all the other aspects of your brand story.
Write (Or Re-Write) Your Website Copy
Once you’ve really nailed down your brand story, it’s time to look at your copy. So many businesses do this backwards. So if you already have existing copy, and you’re only just developing a nice powerful brand story, it’s time to revisit it.
As I said earlier, a great brand story should weave throughout your marketing. That means your website copy, sales pages, blogs, articles, social posts, newsletters, everything. You don’t need to go back and retcon past posts, but the copy on your static pages is well worth updating.
From an SEO perspective, it’s highly recommended to do this regularly anyway, so you’re killing two birds with one stone here.
And if you’re starting out and about to launch your website, making sure your brand story is clear, fully developed, and incorporated into your copy from the start is essential to ensuring that all-important ROI is as high as possible.
Why launch before you have this in place when putting it in place first will make your product or service more successful?
Incorporate Snippets Of Your Story Into Future Content
As you move forward and continue creating content, consider ways of weaving your story into it all. This might be overt, like a blog post that tells a specific tale that’s a crucial element of your brand story as a whole. But most of the time, it will simply be a peppering of flavour. An aside here and there that mentions an element of your brand story. A reference to a specific incident from your early setup period as a business. Or approaching a topic from the perspective of your core values and mission.
Ideally, you’ll have little snippets of your main brand story that can be mentioned wherever relevant in other content, while that new content will add to the narrative by providing further details.
Your audience can read the main event on your about page, but the more of your content they consume, the deeper they will come to understand the story. The more meaning and power it will care for them. And the more devoted they will become to your brand.
Because that is the endgame here. Crafting a brand story powerful enough to attract clients, and convince them to buy from you again and again. If you need help doing that, you know where to find me…
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