In my job as CEO of a brand agency, I help clients create their brand stories. Unlocking a brand story is often a long and highly collaborative process. It is not about coming up with a nice story, or my version of my client’s story, it’s about asking questions such as: Where is the client’s business heading? Who are their customers? What is their history? Who has shaped the company, and how? What are the company’s values?
Brand stories are incredibly complex, because they are so much more than just stories. They are the strategy of an entire company, distilled into a couple of paragraphs on a website or social profile.
So here are 6 tips that will help you shape your brand story.
1) Story First, Product Second
I found, while working as CMO of an Austrian startup in Silicon Valley, that many successful US companies follow the principle of “Story first, Product Second”. While European companies tended to focus on developing the best product possible, only hiring a marketing team once they were working on selling, US companies would often start the other way around. In the USA, it’s story first.
Thinking about the story first helps save resources and will answer important questions early on: What problem are you solving? What value are you providing? What is the story behind your product? How can you tell this story in a way that provides value to your customers?
Try finding your story as early as possible. That could be before you have a product or service, or, at the latest, mid-development.
2) Start At The End
Related to “Story first, product second” is the strategy of starting at the end. Before developing something new, teams at Amazon will often write press releases about the product or service they’re planning.
According to Ian McAllister, General Manager at Amazon:
“We work backwards from the customer, rather than starting with an idea for a product and trying to bolt customers onto it.”
The advantage of this approach is that when writing and revising a press release you and your team will go through most of the process of assessing and revising your product. You will notice what works and what doesn’t. Yet editing a press release is much cheaper than iterations on the product itself.
While I frequently apply this principle with my clients, I also applied it while designing my recent course at Lauder Business School, which I’m teaching together with the Innovation Strategist Claudia Falkinger.
Claudia and I started our course outline by writing a press release answering questions such as: What do we want our students to remember after the semester is over? In a year from now? Maybe even in 5 years?
The result was a course that closely cooperated with Austrian corporates and gave students the chance to work on real cases, and companies the opportunity to get new and innovative ideas.
3) Use Method Acting To Tell Your Customer’s Story
This is a tip I recently learned from writer Cathy Yardley, who suggested applying the theatrical technique of “Method Acting” to writing.
So what is “Method Acting”? Method acting is a system used by many successful performers. Method actors create complex backstories for their characters, even if none of that information will ever be known to the viewer. They then use these backstories to create motivation. The final step is the actor connecting their own experiences to those of their character, inspiring a genuine emotional response. And method acting isn’t only part of drama; a writer can also try to inhabit their character as they write them. In your case, this is your customer.
In a recent newsletter, Yardley writes:
“Do whatever you can to embody the characters you’re writing, in order to think the way they think, feel what they would feel, and most importantly, to know how they’d respond in any given situation.”
You can use this principle not only when you are writing fiction, but also when you are thinking about your customer’s story.
Here are some questions to get you started: What is your brand story from a customer’s point of view? How would they tell their story? What are your personal emotional experiences and how can you relate them to the emotional experiences of your customers? Try imagining their day and try to write their story in the first person.
This story needs to be part of your brand story.
4) Employ The SEP-Principle To Make A Story Memorable
Stories are great for your business because they are the things people remember. No one will remember the stats you put on a Powerpoint presentation, or not unless you wove a great story around them.
Making a story memorable is a key topic in my work. I have identified three attributes that are highly relevant when it comes to making your story stick. It is important to make your story:
Surprising: Your customers are bombarded with stories all day every day. They know the usual shape of a story. To have yours remembered, make it different, surprising.
Emotional: Think about the method acting. We react to things that are emotional, and we remember those things too. The best stories connect with their viewer or reader’s emotions.
Personal: Part of your brand story should be the story of your customer. If it’s not personal to your customer, it’s not the right story for your brand.
5) Create A Talk Trigger
You don’t just want your story to be remembered, you also want it to get people talking. That is where your talk trigger comes in. The Talk Trigger is the topic of Jay Baer and Daniel Lemin’s recent book, Talk Triggers: The Complete Guide to Creating Customers with Word of Mouth
A USP is a feature, articulated with a bullet point, that is discussed in a conference room. A talk trigger is a benefit, articulated with a story, that is discussed at a cocktail party.
Designing a talk trigger means designing something that is so unusual it gets people chatting. One example is the menu at the Cheesecake Factory. This 5,940 word long, 250 item menu contains 85 different chicken dishes alone. And this is at a restaurant named for cheesecake.
What is something unusual you could design for your brand? What little added extra could represent your brand values, and get customers talking? What could make your story travel?
6) Tell Your Story To Everyone
We meet dozens of people every day. From those we see often – our friends, families, colleagues, to those we encounter occasionally or maybe only once – our Uber drivers, cashiers, friends of friends of friends.
Every one of these people is an opportunity not only to spread your brand story, but to perfect it.
Tell your story to your mom, your partner, your grandmother, your 6-year old nephew. See if they understand it. Think about the questions they are asking.
Be open to incorporating everyone’s feedback. Your story will only get better. And your story will be spreading its wings, getting out into the world, making an impact.
As you tell your story, remember these tips. They will help you to get started, and to improve your story day to day. And don’t worry if your brand story takes a while, or you have to make changes before people respond to it. Like everything else in life, creating your story takes practice!
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