5 steps to create a smashing brand story
On a Saturday afternoon, my friends and I made our way into an already packed theatre room to watch the movie everybody was talking about: Titanic, featuring then-teen heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio.
We gasped when they first kissed. Some of my friends even resented Rose for kissing Leo. We were invested and engaged in the story. We rooted for Rose as she tried to escape the pressures of her stifling life.
And when Jake didn’t make it in the end, you couldn’t hear a pin drop apart from the sound of people sniffing and tearing up.
A gloomy feeling stayed with me for a couple of days. By the way, it wasn’t just me.
Twenty years later, people are still wondering if Jake could have fit on the door and survived. Twenty years later, people are still not over it.
That’s the power of storytelling. The story stays with you. It is memorable because it makes you feel an emotion.
Can companies take a page from Hollywood screenplays to create memorable brand stories?
Yes. You can apply storytelling to your brand's communication.
Nowadays, it’s not enough to talk about your products and their benefits. It doesn’t matter if you have a great product or service.
What matters is how you frame and communicate your ideas.
The competitive landscape pushes companies to reach people through feelings. So your audience is inspired to buy into your brand.
Why would some people spend £3000 on a bag when it is worth £200 of leather and labour? Or why would others buy an average looking pair of canvas shoes? Because they don’t buy a bag or a pair of shoes. They buy a feeling.
Great companies evoke feelings. And to evoke feelings, great companies tell stories.
Storytelling is one of the best method to leverage emotion. Telling stories is a way to connect through our shared humanity. When we share a story, we ask: does it resonate with you, can you relate?
But sometimes, the problem when creating your brand story is that you may end up even more confused than you were before. You take a stock of the experiences you and your business lived through.
Eventually, you will be faced with the dilemma of which one to include in your story to make it resonate with your audience
When I had to find which parts to include in my story, it felt like digging concrete with a spoon.
Other times the brand story is flat with no emotional shape to trigger the right emotions and engage the target audience. The result: it tastes bland like an unseasoned chicken.
So here is a simple framework to help you create your brand story, while bringing clarity and life to it:
- The main character
- Figure out your customer's transformation
- The guide
- The villain
- Shape the story
1. The main character of your brand's story
A story is driven by a lead character, by their desires and actions. For the audience to engage, the main character has to be relatable. In Titanic, we relate to Jack because most people know what it is to feel like an outsider, someone who doesn’t belong in a group.
In your brand story, your brand is not the hero.
The lead character has to be relatable.
That is why it has to be similar to your ideal customer. The main character’s struggles have to resonate with what the audience you’re trying to reach is experiencing.
Main character = your prospect
The goal is to create some familiarity, so your prospects not only hear your brand story but feel and experience it.
To make your main character relatable, find out how your prospects feel, what their struggles are, what motivates them to find a solution, and what they want.
Once you have that figured out, you have to paint the picture so they can see the movie in their heads. That’s where you have to find the dramatic moment. It's the moment when their struggle disrupts their peaceful lives.
Describe this moment with:
- Details that resonate with the target audience, so that they can see themselves in the story
- Details that evoke the 5 senses, so that your audience is drawn into the story.
This scene will anchor the story in their minds and hearts, and the story will be more memorable.
A dramatic moment for someone struggling with their finances could be when their card is declined when buying groceries, while there is a huge queue behind them.
At this point, you have the main character depicted in a dramatic moment. Your audience is engaged. Where do you take them from there?
2. Figure out your customer's transformation
You have their attention, but they are wondering what is in it for them.
Everybody wants to change. Transform. Fix something in their lives. And your prospects do too. They don’t want to stay stuck.
A big part of your brand story is the transformation you guide your prospects through.
Who are they after working with you?
To show what is in it for them, figure out:
- The one transformation you can make happen
- The one feeling you resolve
How does using your service or product make them feel? You have to keep digging to find the core emotion by using the what else technique.
Let’s take someone who subscribes to a gym membership:
They certainly want to be in shape. But what else?
They want to feel confident in their bodies. But what else?
They want to stay healthy. But what else?
They want to live a long and healthy life. Here is the core emotion.
In the Dove “Real Beauty Sketches” campaign, the prospects have unreal beauty standards for themselves, which make them feel uncomfortable in their skin.
With Dove, they find self-acceptance and learn to embrace their differences. Or a gym subscriber goes from not living their best life to living a longer and happier life.
Transformation is the essence of a story.
It’s the journey of what your customers feel before meeting you and how they feel after experiencing your solution.
This transformation becomes the North Star of your communication.
Once you figure out your clients’ transformational journey, it focuses your messaging - clarifies your offer - triggers an emotion from your prospects. And when you get an emotional response, they act. People don’t buy the product. They buy the transformation.
In step one, you discover who your main character is and what they feel. In step 2 you figure out how they will transform after meeting you.
Now onto step 3.
3. The guide in your brand's story
How can this transformation happen? Who will guide and help them?
That’s you. That’s where you step in.
You help them face their challenges and villains. You give them a step-by-step plan.
Your brand = Guide
But first, they have to trust you. Nowadays business is personal.
You, the guide, connect with your prospects like you do with your friends.
What do you have in common with your friends?
Common values and beliefs? The same perspective on life?
Customers connect to brands in the same way. Your brand stories should speak to who they are and the values and beliefs they share. We are humans before we are consumers.
You express your values and beliefs through your brand stories, so it resonates with the right crowd. And your customers will think to themselves: ‘That’s me. They get me.”
When it comes to two similar offers, it's the human side of the business that makes the difference.
Prospects will choose the business they have the most affinity for.
Telling your brand's story is about empathy. You also show your customers that you understand them and know what they are struggling through.
When you have to decide which stories to share with your audience, look for the ones that are personal to you and relatable to them.
That's how they know you can help and guide them through a simple plan which is your irresistible offer.
4. The villain in your brand's story
How boring will it be to watch Tom Cruise save the world in Mission Impossible without him having to face any challenges? No jumping from helicopters or climbing buildings. We would tune out quickly. There would be no movies.
Conflict and tension are what keep your audience engaged.
So how can you bring some conflict into your brand story?
In your customer's life, the villains are not people who want to destroy the world. But they are your customers’ problems. Maybe they suffer from a lack of confidence, skills or time.
Villains = Customer's problems
For example, in the Dove real beauty campaign, the villain is an unrealistic image of beauty.
When you talk about the problem, your customers will pay attention until the end. It also shows that you understand them. In turn, they are more open to buying your solution.
The trick is to not go to the extreme and give in to fear-mongering. Otherwise, they’ll stop trusting you and will disengage.
Talk about their issues enough so they connect with you as a brand and see your offer as the solution.
Who or what is the villain in your customer’s story?
5. Shape your brand's story
With these different elements you have clay. Now it’s time to give it a shape. We shape it by organising these pieces of information into a structure.
In its simplest form every story has a beginning, a middle and an end.
The beginning is the set-up of the character and their problems.
The middle is when the character sets up to resolve their problem and the end is the resolution of the conflict.
The story structure used by every screenwriter and Hollywood studio such as Pixar, can easily helps you expand your brand story.
You just have to fill in the blanks of eight incomplete sentences. Let’s have a look:
Let's see how it works for a fictional online fitness company and observe how you put your prospects at the centre of your brand's story.
Once upon a time, Tristan, a first-time father, woke up feeling sleep-deprived. Tristan struggles to find time to handle his job, be a new father and a supportive husband. He feels as if he is in the twilight zone. There is never enough time to take care of himself. There is never enough time to be a good enough father.
And every day, he’s running out of time, trying to adapt to a new routine. Eating healthy and working out are at the bottom of his priority list.
Until one day, he finds himself battling with his trousers to button them. His clothes are too small for him.
And because of that, he doesn’t feel comfortable in his clothes. He doesn’t recognise himself.
And because of that, he’s losing confidence in himself. He’s wondering if he can ever get back to his former self. A fitter former self.
And because of that, his lack of confidence impacts other areas of his life and his relationship with his wife.
Until finally, he sees a fitness app for new dads. It proposes a programme that can work around his busy schedule with no extra equipment. (They know all the money goes to buy nappies.) The trainer at the head of the programme knows what it’s like to be a new dad and lose shape and yourself in fatherhood. Tristan feels seen, heard and understood.
And since that day, Tristan has started taking back control of his life and getting back into shape.
To recap the steps:
1. The main character: You're not the hero of your brand story. Your ideal customer is. How are they when they meet you? What keeps them up at night? Find out their core emotion. That's how you get them interested in what you have to say.
2. Figure out your customer's transformation: How are they after working with you or using your solution? Why are they better off now?
3. The guide: How will you guide them? Why should they trust you?
4. The villain: What are the obstacles keeping them to achieve their desires?
5. Shape the story: How can you shape the story so it has maximum impact?
One of the goals of storytelling for your business is to overcome the natural resistance your prospects have.
By evoking emotions instead of claiming why you’re the best, you guide the audience to come to their own conclusion. They won’t feel like being sold to or told what to do. When you tell a great story, your business is irresistible.
And remember: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou
Make them feel something so they remember you.