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How to write an effective brand story in 4 steps | Acumen Connections

How to write an effective brand story in 4 steps

Step-by-step guide to writing a brand story that attracts real customers

Fingers on the keys of a typewriter

Let me tell you a story.

Our ears perk up when we hear those words. That’s because scientifically our brains are hardwired for good storytelling. Think about it. When we meet someone, we try to unearth their story and share our own. If done well, we form a connection.

Storytelling is powerful. It helps put the building blocks in place that allow your brand to thrive with genuine and honest connections.
Emotion is the driving force of our decisions. People will buy from you because they love what you do or what you stand for — or simply, they resonate with the stories you share.

I’ll make it even clearer. People want to support something they believe in.

Even more, people want to support something they feel represents their values.

Got it? Got it.

But hold on. Connecting with people on an emotional level is no small task.

Take this in: the average person encounters 3,000 commercial messages every day. Most get ignored. My point: it’s hard to get anyone’s attention.

Fortunately, I know the secret. It’s storytelling.

Today, I’d like to share with you a how-to guide to writing an effective brand story. I’ll pull in examples of good brand stories, and decode why and how they work. By the end of this article, you will know the qualities of an effective brand story and how to write your own. Ready? Let’s get into it. 

Step 1: Define your core values.

Every story has a message. It stands to reason that with a brand story, there must first be brand value. In short, know the message you want to send.

Thriving companies have a living brand culture that’s defined by a clear and focused set of values. These values answer the greater why question and are carried out by employees who are true believers for the brand’s purpose. Even more, these values serve as the building blocks to how you will engage customers.

The result is a win-win for your employees and your audience.

Defining your core values is an important starting point. Just as you cannot run before you can walk, you cannot skip this necessary step.

Remember this: Consumers aren’t dumb. Your brand message should be authentic. If it’s not, your audience will find out. I say this to emphasize why it’s important to start by defining your core values first. With a clear purpose, crafting your message will be easy. 

Step 2: Identify the hero.

Tell me if this story sounds familiar. 

  • There is a hero.
  • Hero has a problem.
  • Hero meets a guide.
  • Guide gives hero a plan.
  • Guide calls hero to action.
  • Hero achieves success. 

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It’s only the structure of every story ever.

Humans have a natural fascination with stories like this. It’s basic human psychology to think of ourselves as the hero of our own story. At times when we have trouble writing our own story, we plug ourselves into other stories.

Every person wants to be invited into a story.

You can give your audience this experience — free of charge.

I should clear up a common mix-up: Your brand is not the hero of your story.

Your customer is Luke Skywalker. Your brand is Yoda.

You are to guide your customer through the challenges and navigate them to success. With your brand story, you want to make your audience feel like they are part of the journey, and align your brand as the way to success.

I’ll get more into this in a minute, but it’s important that you recognize your role as the brand. Sorry, I know you wanted to be Luke Skywalker. But Yoda is just as cool.

And a subtle reminder: Characters matter. It’s easier to relate to the tragedies of a person than it is a soulless brand. Not to mention, faceless entities are easily forgettable. Write in your characters.

Step 3: Classify the conflict.

It’s invaluable to understand the journey your audience is on.

People don’t engage with every story they hear. Rather, people seek out stories of success that align with their own journey. It’s your duty as a storyteller to highlight the challenges. It’s also on you to show you have insight to what your audience is going through and how they overcome.

I want to speak to a point I already made: Every person wants to be invited into a story. It’s natural for us as humans to want to be the hero. You can give your audience this experience. Transport your audience into a story where they provoke an unforgettable emotional response.

Hold on a second and think about what every hero needs: a conflict. Identify the conflict your audience identifies with. Take in the emotion they might feel and what fears they might have. Imagine their pictures of success and of failure.

Expert storytellers all follow this basic framework. It looks like this:

  • Know what my audience fears.
  • Turn up the emotion.
  • Resolve the conflict with detailed turning points.

Google exemplifies this strategy in what is the best ad I have ever watched.

Google Loretta Ad

It starts with a simple question: “How to not forget.”

With this, it illustrates a conflict. Then, a voice. It’s a man who asks Google to show him pictures of him and Loretta. Here’s where we start to identify our hero — an older man and husband to Loretta. More importantly, he’s a man who has lost his wife and soulmate.

In the next few seconds, we’re shown more pictures and clips that draw on our emotions. Throughout this journey, our hero is working with Google to resolve the conflict of grief. In the final passage of this clip, Google shows what he’s told it to remember — including a heart-grabbing end reminder:

Loretta always said, don’t miss me too much, and get out of the dang house.

Give me a second while I wipe my tears off my keyboard.

Google takes us on a journey of facing loss and overcoming grief. In the end, we reach a resolution, and we join in the joy of seeing our hero overcome.

Good stories resonate with us through a familiar experience. Sometimes a little too well.

Give careful thought to this as I highlight the next step in the process.

Step 4: Write the resolution.

Google’s ad tore at my heartstrings.

It brought to us a real challenge — grief — that has no easy solution to overcome. But Google illustrates more than one solution for how to overcome grief, and resolves the conflict into a happy ending.

It’s important I take a second to remind you of our roles. Your audience is the hero. Your brand is the guide. In your brand story, your audience will look to you for how you can help them overcome their challenges.

People engage with stories not only if they resonate with their personal journey, but also if they can offer them a vision of a better life. Write the resolution and make it detailed.

Briefly, I want to highlight a brand story that nicely puts all these elements into play.

One high-end socks maker has made a name for itself with its pledge to donate one pair of sock to a homeless shelter for every pair sold. Yes, I’m talking about Bombas.

It’s not only the one-for-one business model that has made Bombas a nearly overnight success. I like to think its brand storytelling has also played a large part.

Bombas resonates with people who want to help the greater good. Knowing this, Bombas puts its audience squarely in the center of its story. Its brand story identifies a not well-known conflict — socks being the most requested item at homeless shelters — and gives people something to engage with on an emotional level.

Consumers are invited to step into the hero’s role in Bombas’ brand story. Our hero meets the conflict of homeless shelters needing sock donations. Bombas guides our hero on a journey to resolution. With every pair sold, Bombas donates a pair of socks to a homeless shelter.

But it’s not about what Bombas has done, and more about what consumers feel they have done. It shines a light not on Bombas, but on the audience; and it gives the audience a reason to get excited.

With this story, consumers have an emotional connection to Bombas, separating the sock maker from being just another sock maker. It’s a wildly successful way to drum up support. Yes, it’s a simple story. But simple is relatable and simple sells.

With this story, Bombas becomes unforgettable in an environment of sameness. Ask yourself: What do you want to be remembered for? What do you want your audience to never forget? Your audience may forget what you say, but they won’t forget how you made them feel.

Funny, aren’t they? These examples work so well because they are rooted in authenticity. Everything feels natural. And that’s part of what makes them so relatable. Good stories are authentic, told with natural words and at a natural pace.

Our brains are wired to give attention to good stories.

Write your story.

When I hear the words “let me tell you a story,” my guard goes down. I become more receptive, and I’m filled with a real tangible anticipation.

Write a good story and it spreads. People want to share something they believe in.

Writing your brand story may be the single-most important thing you do this year. Your story is one people want to share. Plus, there’s no better way to relay your values than by placing them in a well-written and compelling narrative.

Understand your audience and bring their journey to life with a well-crafted story. I’ll illustrate a final point with one more example. It’s hard to bring up brand storytelling and not mention Nike.

Nike "You Can't Stop Us" Ad

Nike identifies a shared adversity with their audience. Time after time, Nike has achieved success with campaigns that speak with us; not at us. Nike is a brand that talks with their audience. Not one that talks to.

Talk with your audience. Elevate their voices. Amplify their story.

Because in the end, the best stories are the ones we all share.

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