Brand Storytelling: How to Use it to Boost Your Small BusinessStories foster a deeply personal connection between companies and their customers.
Just like the story of your life, the story of your business is unlike anyone else’s. And the more you share it, the more your customers will feel connected to your brand. If you master brand storytelling, they won’t just be buying your products or services — they’ll be emotionally investing in your mission.
Big companies have been using brand storytelling for years. It’s not difficult for small business owners to develop and share their own brand story. Here’s how to get started.
What is brand storytelling?
Brand storytelling isn’t a new marketing concept, but social media has made it a ubiquitous presence in any consumer’s life. It’s a way of turning your brand into a lifestyle concept.
“Everyone has a story, including a brand,” said Carmine Gallo, author of “The Storyteller’s Secret. “A brand’s narrative is the back story, the story of why it exists [and what] gives the company its identity. In today’s increasingly competitive landscape, it’s more important than ever to use story to differentiate your company.”
Brand storytelling drives sales by building a long-lasting emotional connection with customers who believe in your mission, whether it’s to support coffee farmers in Africa, pamper babies with organic cotton clothing or bake cakes that make birthdays special.
“Stories are not just a series of facts or features about a product,” said Gallo. “Stories provide the emotional connection to customers that so many brands lack but try to establish. We also know through neuroscience that stories trigger a release of chemicals in the brain that connect us to one another: dopamine, cortisol and oxytocin.”
How do I develop a brand story?
“The first thing to do is to understand what you want your brand’s story to be,” said Daryl Weber, author of “Brand Seduction: How Neuroscience Can Help Marketers Build Memorable Brands.” “Think strategically about what is uniquely and authentically you, what you can own, what [makes you] different from the competition and what will fit with your customers’ desires and wants.”
Don’t think about making sales. Instead, recall why you started your business and the niche you were trying to fill. A short, thoughtful history of your company should be the base of your brand story.
Weber said the story must meet three requirements. First, “Be true and authentic to you and your brand.” He warned that customers are smart — they can tell the difference between a genuine story and pure promotion.
Second, the story must “fit with the worldview of your target audience,” said Weber. “Don’t try to teach them something new. Instead, fit with how they already see the world.” For example, if customers already believe in the organic food movement, focus on how your food is improving the community, local farms and the world at large.
“Third, be unique,” said Weber. “Ensure that you’re telling a different story from your competitors, so people have a reason to choose your business.”
Make a list of what sets your business apart, then use those characteristics to weave an engaging narrative.
How do I share my brand story with customers?
The very first place your brand story should appear is on the “About Us” section of your website. After that, infuse brand storytelling into everything from your menus, pamphlets and brochures to your decor, uniforms and, of course, your social media accounts.
“Your brand story should come to life at every touch point a consumer has with your business,” said Weber. “This can be traditional marketing channels and PR, but also think about the customer experience and how your story can come to life in every interaction, including in store and in emails.”
Gallo added that business owners should proudly share their story far and wide. “Add pictures and videos where you can and post the story on your website and on all your social media platforms. Most importantly, tell the story consistently in your interactions with partners, employees and job candidates.”
When researching his book, Gallo was inspired by the way Danny Meyer, the restaurateur behind Shake Shack, engaged his employees through storytelling. “When [Meyer] was growing his restaurant business, he would gather his staff together to share stories of great customer service. The stories were far more effective than simply handing employees a guidebook or a set of instructions.”
Where can I find inspiration?
For a dose of inspiration, look at how successful brands have shaped and shared their stories.
“Before Airbnb became a $30 billion brand, it was the brainchild of a couple of friends living in a San Francisco apartment. They repeated their origin story often to investors. They told the story about how they were struggling for money to help pay the rent and decided to rent out a portion of their apartment with an airbed for young people in town attending a conference,” said Gallo. “The Airbnb origin story has since become legendary, but it started by answering the question: ‘Why do we exist?’”
Get to the point — short and sweet stories are more effective than long-winded ones.
“When Sara Blakely cut the toes off her pantyhose, she knew she would have to become a great storyteller to sell Spanx,” said Gallo. “She would start her Spanx pitch by having the customer imagine themselves going to the closet and picking out their favorite pair of white jeans and not knowing what to wear under them. Today, Sara Blakely is a self-made billionaire on the Forbes richest list, but she credits her storytelling skills for giving her a competitive advantage.”
Finally, channel your story into every element of your business.
“An independent coffee shop in Santa Monica is thriving despite being on the same block as nationally famous brands,” said Gallo. “The store has carved out a unique identity as being a place where Hollywood types can find nice tables, couches and work areas to discuss projects. The walls have pictures of the owner, who travels the world looking for exotic coffees. In fact he has one rare coffee that sells for $80 to $90 a cup. Few people buy it, but everyone knows it’s the store that has it — that’s brand storytelling.”