Get ready to release your inner author: why storytelling is a key part of branding
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.
What is storytelling?
If you’ve ever been a child - and I assume all of you have - you’ll have experienced the joy of telling, and listening to stories in some format or another. Whether it was book time at nursery or school, a family member reading you through “We’re all going on a bear hunt” before bed, listening to an audio book or even spinning a tall tale in the playground or when you were in trouble, you’ve enjoyed the characters and plots of a story.
Stories engage us, they provide escapism and inspiration. And they don’t just have to be fiction; there are millions of stories which really took place but which are filled with the same compelling emotional charge as our favourite fictional reads.
Stories can also be used for many different purposes. A great public speaker at a conference will tell you a story. Journalists make a living from bringing the most important stories into the living rooms of people around the world. And companies who use storytelling in their marketing, and who build it deeply into their brand identity, differentiate most effectively against their competitors.
Why is brand storytelling important?
Telling a company’s story should be a fundamental part of business strategy.
It provides consistency in how you, your staff and your customers talk about your company. You story doesn’t change. You might adapt your logo, or your slogan, or the marketing channels you use. You might change your name, or your boilerplate, or react to a merger or acquisition. But unless you are up to something sneaky, the history of your organisation doesn’t change.
Your story is what makes your company what it is. It’s a powerful way to connect with prospects, customers, employees, partners and investors. A relatable and honest story builds trust and helps your business stand out against the competition.
It also humanises your brand, and gives it personality, which is particularly important in a bigger company (where there may often not be one “face” of the company) and in businesses which are heavily bureaucratic or compliance focused (for example legal firms, consultancy companies, and public sector organisations).
The old adage is that people buy from people. And customers often look for business which align with their values.
Writing your past, present and future
If you’re looking to secure investment, storytelling is essential in creating engagement with your plans for the future. A well-told narrative can demonstrate the company's potential, growth trajectory, and commitment to its purpose. It can also build trust, which is crucial when seeking financial support or forming strategic partnerships.
Does your ideal customer know why they need your company?
You might think it’s obvious why a customer would want to hand over their money to you. But do they?
Sometimes you might need to “educate the market” about not just what you do, but why it solves the customer’s pain. Your insights, innovations, and experiences (success or failure) all feed into your company’s story. Sharing these can help your customer know why they should spend money with you and position your company as an authority in its field.
“A good story wraps itself around you and whisks you into its world. It lingers in your mind long after it’s over.” The Five Essential Elements of a Good Story, Archway Publishing
Writing a brand story
In Hollywood you wouldn’t book the actors and organise the cinema distribution before you had a script (or at least the outline). So don’t invest your precious budget in paid marketing before you get your story straight. Only once you’ve authored your masterpiece, should you put it out into the world in your marketing activity.
There’s a variety of techniques to help craft your story. However my advice is to get in a room with someone who doesn’t know anything about your business. Give them a pen and a piece of paper, and ask them to listen to you while you talk about your business and to write down a) the most important facts and b) the things that interested them most.
This only forms part of the story though as here you have pulled out what you want to tell your audience. Not necessarily what they want to hear. So get your willing volunteer to ask you questions about the company based on anything they think you might have missed and write down your answers. This forms what they want to hear and is arguably more important anyway.
Combine the two, then refine, and refine and refine this information into something tight and engaging. A dry bullet point list of big milestones in your company history is not engaging. A more human description of the time you moved from working in your spare room to your first premises is more likely to hook people.
Then test it with people and get feedback. Then keep repeating this process on a regular basis (maybe once a year) forever. For as long as your business is running, your story isn’t ever finished.
Who’s responsible for writing the company story? And who should tell it?
I’ve read two different posts this week. In one, the author has stated unequivocally that telling the company story was the role of the brand team. In the other, it said with total certainty that this was squarely the remit of corporate communications.
In reality, it doesn’t matter which part of a company’s marketing and communications function writes the brand narrative.
What does matter is that everyone in the company, whether there are two of you or two million, all share the same story. It should be visible throughout your website, your paid advertising, your induction for new staff, interviews with the press, speeches by your CEO… The story won’t be read out word for word every time, it will of course be tailored to the speaker, the situation and the audience, but the essence of the story should be woven through all your communications, whether internal or external (just like your organisational values).
Your brand is your business
““It’s only a story,” said Rabbitfish and Redfin. “Just a silly story,” said Dragonfish and Drab.” Tiddler, Julia Donaldson
But it’s not.
This isn’t just a marketing activity. It’s a central part of your business strategy. Don't neglect it, or you might find the ending writes itself.
If you need help to write your story, and bring it life, get in touch.