Your brand story is not your company history.
I often come across "our story" sections on websites which go something like this:
"This company was started in 1992 by our founder Larry in Leeds... Larry went on to win Yorkshire maintenance company of the year award in 1998 and the company grew to 32 staff... In 2005 the company acquired ABCLtd and added a logistics division. This enabled us to deliver goods faster... In 2016 the company reached a significant milestone and turned over £5 million with 103 staff covering the whole of the UK. In 2017 Larry retired and his son, Barry, has now taken over..."
My question to 'stories' like this is; who cares? This is a story that focuses on what not why. It is therefore not emotional. There is nothing here to get behind, nothing to join, nothing to believe in. These are the qualities of a brand and the above story shows all of the hallmarks of a business focuses on making money and that do not appreciate or understand the value of their products and services in the mind of the customer.
Photo by Dmitrij Paskevic on Unsplash
What is a brand story
Remember. Brand is the meaning that your audience attaches to your products or services. 'Branding' is the attempt to manage that meaning. To be able to effectively manage meaning a company must first understand what it means itself. It starts from the inside out.
A brand story is actually a summery of the emotional story you would like to be in your audiences minds. It should explain what you stand for (and by implication what you don't). It should contain aspiration and belief in something which will never be compromised. It will contain ideas which your audience can get behind. It will focus on why you exist.
Having this written up on walls, on your website and in a brochure all help your audience to form meaning in their minds about you. Ideally you would like them to write their own story - and, no doubt they will - but hopefully if you live up to what you write their story will follow similar lines.
An example of an emotional brand story
An example of a short brand story for the example above would be:
"In the engineering industry we know time is everything. When a machine is not working every second is costing money. We exist to eliminate non-productivity from our clients manufacturing lines due to machine breakdown. We bring control and order to the potential chaos of breakdown. Regular servicing of machines and speedy delivery of parts is how we have made a name for ourselves. Don't accept neglect. ABC Ltd. Time is everything."
In this very crude example (and, by the way, I know little about this type of business!) you can see how there is emotion, empathy and something to believe in. If I owned a production line I would sure be interested in speaking to this maintenance company - not simply because of what they do but because of why they do it. As an engineer I would imagine this type of company would be innovative and value improvements because of why they do what they do. I'd be keen to join it because I could add value if I also believe in these things. Stories bring people together.
How to write a brand story
There are many ways of creating an emotional brand story. I want to share one with you now which I have found to be very simple but very powerful.
Note: This assumes I know and understand the meaning of the brand and does not include consultation work with a leadership team, research etc. For tips on these early stages keep reading this blog!
I always find it helpful for a brand story to follow a similar pattern:
For business to business clients "The Situation" is crucial as it is where you can explain the marketplace and the problems and challenges your target audience faces. "The Solution" is where the emotion comes in. It is where we describe why your product or service is so crucial. It is in this part of the brand story where you give people something to follow and a cause to join.
Some example brand stories
Here are some example brand stories which I have been involved in leading teams to create.
For a furniture making company:
“Friends are the family you choose.” Great friends are reliable and loyal. They are unique and we love them. They are always there when we need them. We believe furniture shouldn’t be “here today, gone tomorrow”. It should be lovingly crafted to last a lifetime. Much like a great friend, it becomes part of the family. This is how we view furniture.
For a regional commercial property agents:
The successful money-makers invest. They grow. They inspire. They make great choices. What do these people fear? They fear failure. They fear making terrible decisions. They fear the unknown. Sooner or later the thought has to cross their mind about property. Most will have to make a choice about this. When it comes to making property investments in the East Midlands the problem is knowledge. In the shifting sands of the region there are so many factors. Buildings age. Things break. Properties are demolished. Land becomes available. New ones are built. Some are sold. Buildings are filled. Some become vacant. Some are managed. Some are not. The value of the physical spaces is always in a state of flux. And all of this sits amongst a wider national narrative which influences the details. We exist to supply knowledge of this complex market space. We exist to ensure that decisions are not only made... but that great decisions are made.
For a running clothing brand:
Running brands are stale. They serve up a typical image. The sickly cold taste of the squeaky clean streamlined twenty something athlete which we are supposed to ‘aspire to’. These brands focus on performance not reality. We say no. We want something real. Something inspirational. Running for everyone - not just for ‘athletes’. running is for the unfit as well as the fit. it is for the disabled as well as the abled. it is for the old as well as the young. it is for the minority as well as the majority. why on earth is there no offer for the everyday person on the market? for the person who does not want to become a clone? why is there nothing by which we can self express whilst running? Current running brands do not serve this authenticity. That is why we exist. to start a revolution in running. To stop the focus on the clock and to start to focus on the feeling. to rebel against the norm. we want choice. We want change. We are enraged.
Once a brand story is in place which a leadership team are happy with, marketing has a framework to look at how they can take that story and tell it effectively. It can become the basis for creative briefs. I've know these used in HR and induction packs to help set expectation. I've also seen these used as a check-point for business strategy.
The great thing about a story is that it unites people. It explains who they are and what they believe. It sets an emotional pathway into the future which can then be practically executed.
Stories create meaning. Stories are everything. Write them from the heart and focus on why not what.