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The Importance of Brand Storytelling

Date posted: November 15, 2016

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve talked to clients—or clients have talked to me—about brand support, I could retire. I could even stop writing this blog. But telling a brand story is something quite different from having a brand platform, and an astonishing number of enterprises don’t differentiate between the two.

In a post on the Type A Communications blog, Carla Johnson does an extraordinary job of defining brand storytelling and detailing why it’s important. Here’s some of what she has to say:

Plain and simple, a brand story is the story of the difference you make in the lives of your customers. While the best approach is to develop a brand story alongside a brand platform, make no mistake that they’re different and have distinct functions. Every company was started for a reason. The founders believed with all their hearts that they could do something better, different, or truly unique that mattered. They believed in a core purpose that they, and only they, could deliver. A company’s brand story is the succinct articulation of that reason. It has nothing to do with the products or services that you sell. Rather, it’s a definitive statement about why your brand exists and the difference you’re trying to make in the world. Three examples:

  • Enabling Americans to perform extraordinary acts in the face of emergencies — American Red Cross
  • To transform lives for the betterment of society — The University of Texas at Austin
  • A relentless ally for the individual investor — Charles Schwab

Why do you need it? A brand story goes beyond branding. I talk to plenty of companies who’ve invested heavily in branding. They’ve endured the belabored process of developing a brand platform but still have nothing original to say about what they do. Besides using a new logo, most marketers don’t know what to do with a brand platform once they have it. Or if they use it, they use it in such a way that it constricts creativity and they function more as a brand cop. Consistency has its place, certainly, but not at the complete exclusion of creativity.

Jackson cites six specific things that brand storytelling enables companies to do:

  • It lets you stand out in a noisy marketplace.
    The most integral parts of your brand’s story—what you stand for—are what people care about most. No one can copy it. For one, it’s honest and up front. Second, it sounds different from everyone else in the marketplace.
  • It increases relevance.
    Disrupt expectations. Start talking based on what matters from your customers’ point of view. Think about how you can become more relevant, more often to more people. You brand story takes you away from focusing on what you have to say and points you toward what’s most important to a broader audience.
  • It takes the focus off price and lets you compete on value.
    When push comes to shove, what do most companies do? They default to features, benefits and, worst of all, price. The only way you’ll get out of the quicksand conversation of price is to tell the story of value. That’s the foundation of your brand story.
  • It creates clarity across the organization.
    With a brand story in place, decisionmaking becomes easier. You can look at an opportunity or a challenge and ask yourself, “Is this the right thing to do given our story? Does it further our cause?” If it does, you do it. If it doesn’t, you don’t.
  • It creates internal aspiration.
    Think about the difference you’d feel if you woke up every day knowing you were going to work to update your company’s website verses helping Americans perform extraordinary acts in the face of emergencies. There’s quite a difference, isn’t there? Employees want to perform amazing acts of grandeur for customers. But the problem is that most of them don’t have any idea what that might look like. In fact, a Gallup poll revealed that 41 percent of all employees don’t even know what their company stands for or what makes them different. If you want to catapult your customer service, engrain your brand story within your company and let every employee express it in ways that matter most in their position.
  • It improves your bottom line.
    While purpose and passion are fabulous, let’s face it—at the end of the day we have to make money to keep the doors open and the lights on. In their book Built to Last, authors Jim Collins and Jerry Porras talk about the increased financial results that companies experience when they let their purpose (story) drive what they do, and they have the values in place to support it. These companies outperform the general market by 15:1 and outperform comparison companies by 16:1. To back that up, John Koer and James Jaskett go further in their book Corporate Culture and Performance, and talk about how companies that have cultures based on their story (purpose) and values out-perform companies that don’t: Revenues grew four times faster, jobs created were seven times greater, and stock prices grew 12 times faster.

      For anyone involved in brand marketing, Johnson’s post is essential reading. We recommend you go to the site and read it in full detail.