Marketing, PR & Advertising

The power of story: building brand authenticity and engagement

October 24, 2014
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The power of story: building brand authenticity and engagement
A Coke drinker proudly holds up a bottle with the name Cassiday printed on it.

Over the last year or so, “brand storytelling” has established itself as the marketing industry’s latest darling. As often happens in the fast-paced world of digital communication, the phrase has become ubiquitous, even though most businesses are still struggling to figure out exactly what it means.

The truth is that brand storytelling is nothing new. Brands have been leveraging the power of narratives to build emotional connections with their audiences since the advertising industry was invented. Just look at Coca-Cola over the years. From their endless Santa Claus riffs in vintage Christmas ads to their modern day “Share a Coke” campaign, Coke has consistently engaged people around the world by plucking its audiences’ heartstrings. How? By telling variations of the same story — not about its product, but about the lives of the people who drink it. From the joys of parenting to diversity, Coke is a brand with a story, and that story is: life.

That sounds lofty for small and medium-sized businesses — or brands representing less glamorous products (try finding an emotional connection to industrial fasteners). But the truth is that good storytelling isn’t about sexy products and expensive videography, but about turning inward. Brands that are successful at connecting with their audiences — and turning a great ROI — are the ones that know exactly who they are. They understand their mission inside and out, from employee culture to communications strategy. And they do a great job of sharing that story.

So what exactly does this look like for ordinary businesses?

Finding your brand’s story

Many companies mistake the product or service they’re offering for the story they’re trying to tell. While what you’re selling obviously impacts your company’s mission, it’s not your brand’s story. The question your story needs to answer is why. Why does this company make the widgets it does? Who does it make them for? Aside from financial growth, what is the company most committed to, and why?

Usually, the best place to look for this is the company’s history. In other words, why was this company founded in the first place? Once you can find your brand’s origin story, you’ve found your hook.

For example, a law firm specializing in family wills and estates might initially identify its story as a commitment to providing expert legal advice in estate planning. This is what the company does, but it’s not why it does it. Perhaps the firm’s founders both had large families that were very important to them and were on a mission to help other families protect their assets and carry on their legacies. Perhaps it’s a family-run firm that values integrity. The story, then, would be one about protecting family legacies. This is a story that tugs at a basic human emotion — need for security. It’s a far more effective hook than “providing expert legal advice.”

Storytelling 101: brainstorm, craft, share, measure, repeat

Once you’ve identified your brand’s story (which can be quite a process), it’s time to craft fresh ways to tell it and share it. Knowing your audience is critical — if you know your brand’s story, you have to know who you should be telling it to.

Knowing what to say, and where to say it, doesn’t necessarily require a bolt of creative lightning. Simply look for ways your brand’s story relates to your audience. How does your brand’s story impact their stories? What’s the value your brand adds to their lives?

If you’re really in tune with what your brand stands for and what you want to say, then finding the time and place to share your story isn't hard. Sponsor causes your audience cares about. Do things that improve the community where you do business, and don’t do it only for the media attention. Spark conversation with your audiences, whether through hashtags, brand journalism, or podcasts. Share success stories, inform your audiences, and keep your content egoless and relevant.

As Don Draper says, “make it simple, but significant.”

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