How to Use Brand Storytelling Like a Pro
In today's information-packed world, it's hard to stand out online. It's survival of the fittest.
With over 1 billion websites in existence as of January 2019, establishing an authoritative online presence that drives a consistent amount of traffic to your site can seem impossible.
No matter how much knowledge you have of your industry, it's difficult (dare I say, impossible?) to be seen as an expert without an appealing, differentiating, unique brand online. Without one, you might be trapped in the status of "start-up" for eternity.
But, how do you create such a demanding presence amid so much noise?
Enter brand storytelling.
Storytelling inflicts emotion. It causes readers to think, feel, and connect with your content. People want to feel like they belong in a group, and stories can do just that.
In a world of so much competition and such seemingly little room for success, here's your guide on how to stand out online through the use of creative brand storytelling.
What is a Brand Story and How Do You Create Your Own?
There's a story behind everything, whether you know it or not.
Your business already has a story–possibly, multiple.
The question isn't whether or not you have a story. The real question is whether or not you're telling it.
When I first learned about brand storytelling, I knew it was an excellent idea. I understood why it was important and the effect it would have on my target audience. There was no doubt in my mind about its power.
But I was stuck.
Even after seeing countless examples of successful brands telling their stories, I had no idea how to tell my own. What exactly was I supposed to tell people? How many stories do I need, and how do I tie my stories into every piece of content I produce?
Here are a few simple yet priceless lessons I learned about brand storytelling, and how they've helped me master my own.
1. Your Brand Story is More Than What You Say Online
Yes, it's important to tell your story everywhere your business goes. Shout it from the rooftops.
What does this mean?
It means your blog content, sales pages, web copy, and social media posts should all be telling a story that accurately represents you and your brand.
But here's the catch: what you say online means nothing unless your customers are telling the same story about you.
Brand storytelling is more than just telling your target audience what you do and how you do it. It's telling people why you do what you do and what they can expect when you serve them.
Your brand story is your mission statement.
And this mission statement should be validated by everything you do, especially when a customer purchases from you. If you sell a service, deliver it in a way that validates your mission statement. If you sell a product, design it in a way that proves your integrity.
2. Your Stories Need to Be the Pieces of a Bigger Puzzle
Now let's talk about the storytelling you do in your content.
The point of telling stories is to appeal to the emotional side of your readers. Stories can make them feel happy, sad, angry, passionate, inspired, and the list goes on.
But no matter what kind of emotion you're trying to pull out of your readers, the story needs to play a bigger part in your brand.
In other words, your stories need to be the pieces of a bigger puzzle. Think of it as each individual story tying into one big, overarching story about who you are and what you're doing.
Like we said before: your brand story is your mission statement. Your values.
These values should be consistently communicated online.
3. Your Brand's Story is More than Your Brand's History
A common mistake made by businesses is confusing their brand story with their brand history.
While your history plays an important role in who you are today, it does not define who you are. Instead, what you communicate and how you represent yourself on a consistent basis is what your definition becomes.
Essentially, your brand story is what you want your audience to remember you as.
A good brand story that sets you apart from the rest creates a contrast between who you are and who they are, and to do that, it can't be cliche. You have to tell your audience something different than what everyone else is already telling them.
How Storytelling Benefits Your Brand (and Why You Should Be Doing More of it)
Your goal as a marketer is to make a human connection.
Brand storytelling is more than just establishing trust with your readers. It makes your readers feel like they are where they're supposed to be, and that's exactly what you want.
Think about it. When someone looks at your content, the last thing you want them to say is "who the hell is this?" or "when is he/she going to shut up?"
Rather, the thoughts you want to be going on inside the reader's head sound a little more like this:
"That's exactly what I'm struggling with! How did he/she know that?"
"Wow, it feels so good knowing I'm not the only one who's struggled with this topic."
"He/she struggled with the same thing...I wonder how they got out of it? I want to keep reading to find out."
Especially with long-form content, it's easy to bore your readers or overwhelm them with an indigestible amount of information. In this situation, storytelling is perhaps the only way to keep them reading.
Storytelling Gives Readers a Feeling of Validation
You see, readers don't just want to be educated. They want to feel connected, helped, and valuable. Regurgitating tons of information–no matter how valuable that information might be–is not the way to make your readers feel valuable.
Feeling valuable comes with a feeling of being validated.
Odds are, your readers aren't just looking to learn about a topic. They're looking to learn about themselves and how they can put into practice the information you've provided about the topic.
After reading an informative piece of content about something they previously knew little about, the reader should feel confident in their new ability to practice what you've taught them. In other words, you've not only provided them with knowledge, but you've also provided them with validation that they do in fact know enough about the topic to do something with it.
People Don't Remember Statistics, They Remember Emotion
Many brands make the mistake of relying solely on data, ROI, and logic to turn readers into customers.
Don't get me wrong, including some impressive stats in your copy isn't a bad idea. Backing up your claims with supporting data is an excellent way to win the trust of your prospects, as well as convince them you know what you're doing.
But if you want to be remembered by prospects, logic will never do the trick.
Feeling connected to your brand is something a prospect will remember much longer than the number of people you've served, years of experience you have, or a fancy number proving your success.
Many times, data and big numbers can make your brand look less human and more robotic. Storytelling is the perfect way to remind people that you have a name and face too, and your business is run by real people who want to serve their customers.
How to Use Brand Storytelling to Turn Browsers into Buyers: Use "The Golden Circle" by Simon Sinek
The power of making your audience feel emotionally connected to your content is crucial to its success. You get it. But how do you tell your stories in an effective way that gets you results?
Storytelling isn't just about the story itself. It's about how you frame it.
It's crucial to keep your brand tone and target audience in mind, but also the way you deliver the story you're trying to tell. There's an organization to brand storytelling, and that's where Simon Sinek's "The Golden Circle" comes into play.
"The Golden Circle" and Brand Storytelling
Simon Sinek, an author and motivational speaker famous for his TED talk titled "How great leaders inspire action," is the inventor of "The Golden Circle."
In his speech, Sinek reveals the reason why he believes some organizations and leaders are more successful than others, even when starting out with unfair disadvantages. His model for what he believes to be the secret recipe for success is called "The Golden Circle."
The Golden Circle is like an onion, and it has three layers:
Source: Change in Context
According to Sinek, most businesses and organizations start with the "what" factor. It's what they tell people first.
Every business knows what they're doing, many know how they do it, but very few know why they're doing it.
The approach that most businesses take to turning prospects into customers is by first presenting to their audience what they do.
Take a look at the website of the computer company Dell.
The first thing you see is an advertisement for new PCs. At the bottom, you can also see advertisements for saving up to $400 on computers, an announcement about impressive tracks, and then a slide that allows browsers to type in what they're shopping for.
These are great examples of what Dell does. They sell technology, such as computers and PCs.
But just by browsing their site, prospects can't find out why Dell makes and sells the products they have to offer.
Dell is the perfect example of what Simon Sinek says most companies do to get their prospects' attention: they describe what they do and what they sell.
Keep this example in mind for the next section.
Use Brand Storytelling to Sell Your Prospects by Starting from the Inside Out
The point of The Golden Circle isn't to tell us how most marketers and businesses (whether they've been successful or not) are trying to appeal to their audience.
It's to teach us how to stand out.
While it's obvious that not everyone who disregards The Golden Circle will meet certain failure (take Dell, for example), you're much more likely to stand out online regardless of your current position or disadvantages.
To do this, don't start from the outermost layer of The Golden Circle.
Start from the inside. Start with the "why" level of the onion and work your way out.
Simon Sinek advises people to market themselves using this process:
Let's take a look at Asana, a work management platform for use by business teams.
The first thing prospects see, in big letters, is the reason why Asana exists: for businesses to "make more time for the work that matters most."
Beneath it, Asana describes how they provide that luxury for businesses and what they do.
Asana is a prime example of working from the inside out of The Golden Circle.
Why Does Using "The Golden Circle" Work for Effective Brand Storytelling?
According to Simon Sinek, "people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it."
Remember that the goal of brand storytelling (and content writing in general) is to make a human connection with your audience. When your brand story–your "why"–aligns with their beliefs, they instantly feel emotionally connected to your business.
Having a clear "why" statement creates a distinction between you and your competitors, and when your prospects are ready to make a final decision on who to purchase from, they are much more likely to side with the business that aligns with their beliefs.
The reason for this? Because stories evoke emotion, and emotion drives behavior.
Sinek supports his ideas with simple brain science. The Neocortex brain is responsible for a person's logical and analytical thoughts. Thus, the "what" level appeals most to the Neocortex.
The Limbic brain is responsible for a person's feelings and emotions. It's also responsible for behavior and decision making and corresponds with the "why" and "how" levels of The Golden Circle.
Because of these facts, starting with your "why" and "how" statements mean you speak directly to the Limbic brain–the emotions–of a prospect first. Then, you validate and rationalize those emotions with logic (the "what").
I've put The Golden Circle into practice on my own website, where I advertise my freelance content writing services.
I say what my brand does (write content for businesses), how we do it (making it strategic, measurable, and meaningful) and why we do it (to turn internet browsers into buyers).
Following that "why" statement, I have a small section about who I am, and then my story.
It tells the story of my content writing journey and my brand history. It allows me to create a connection between me and my audience before they decide to buy from me.
I emphasize the fact that I've been in their shoes before; starting a business from scratch, trying to be my own boss, and relying on my content to get me from Point A to Point B.
How to Write Content that Tells Your Brand Story
You now know the importance of having a brand story (in other words, your "why"), and how brand storytelling will set you apart from the competition.
Now, let's talk about how to tell stories in your content writing.
The Essential Elements of a Story
In creative writing, there are 5 essential elements of a story:
In content writing, we focus on 3 of these elements: characters, conflict, and resolution.
The characters of your content stories are your readers and target audience. Without characters, your storytelling would be pointless. The goal of storytelling is to create an emotional connection with readers through value.
Content writers value their readers by answering their questions via content creation. Creating content around your target audience's wants and needs is a surefire way to speak to them with your storytelling.
If you really want to make a connection with your readers, write in a way that allows them to see themselves as characters in your content.
You can easily do this by writing content around your buyer persona.
A buyer persona is a representation of your ideal customer. Having a buyer persona (or multiple) will help guide you write content that suits your target audience's needs, goals, and struggles.
A good story can't exist without conflict. In content, this should be a challenge your reader faces. Examples of "conflict" are your buyer persona's problems, wants, and needs.
Creating content around these conflicts is the best way to satisfy your ideal buyer's needs. Think about it: even your products and services exist because of a conflict.
Another way to identify different conflicts your characters/prospects face is by understanding the buyer's journey.
The buyer's journey consists of 3 stages:
- Awareness stage
- Consideration stage
- Decision stage
You should be creating content for prospects in each of these stages. And the good news is, you can always find conflicts to write about in each of them.
(If you need an example of content written around a conflict, take this blog post for example. I'm answering my ideal buyer's questions about brand storytelling. Their conflict/problem: they don't know how to include storytelling in their content. I'm educating them, not trying to sell them, so they are currently in the awareness stage.)
And with every conflict comes a resolution.
In your content, the resolution should be something you encourage the reader to do in order to put their conflict/problem to an end, such as taking certain next steps, a call to action, etc.
If the solution to your reader's problem is provided by a service or product you sell, the best way to wrap up the content would be through a call to action.
If you offer a free webinar or email course that will show the reader step-by-step how to solve their problem, throw in a sign-up form.
Or, you can simply end your content by including a wrap-up of the steps you've provided and encourage your readers to put them into practice.
Killer Examples of Businesses Using Brand Storytelling (Like the Pros They Are)
Let's take a look at some stunning examples of businesses that use brand storytelling to connect with their audience.
HubSpot provides marketing, sales, and service software to promote and track business growth.
Their "why" is clear to see on their home page: to grow businesses without compromise, and to be good for the business and the customer.
They also explain how their products enforce what they stand for: marketing, sales, and service software that helps your business grow without compromise.
Now, let's look at one of the content pieces from their blog.
The blog post is titled "How to Create a Marketing Plan With These Free Templates."
First, the purpose of the post is to teach their audience how to create a marketing plan, which ties into what they do. It's clear to see that this piece of content serves as a piece to a bigger puzzle.
Second, the content is created around a conflict: it's created for a reader who doesn't know how to create a marketing plan.
Third, it offers a resolution straight from the title: free templates that will solve the reader's problem.
Let's return to our Asana example.
Here we have Asana's brand story: why they do what they do, and how they do it.
Now, let's look at a piece of content from their blog:
Each month, Asana does an interview with one of their team members (such as this one with team member McKenna Farrar) where they ask questions about their experience working with Asana and using the product.
In these pieces of content, we hear the individual stories of Asana team members that fit into the company's overall brand story (smaller pieces to the bigger puzzle, right?).
These content pieces are targeted towards readers in the consideration stage of the buyer's journey and are written around the character element of storytelling instead of conflict.
Zillow's brand story is easy to see. Their "why" or "purpose" is to help people find a place they'll love.
Under their "Tips & Advice" page on Zillow Porchlight, Zillow has a ton of informative articles targeted towards people looking to buy a home. In this example, the blog post is titled "Buying a Home? Plan for These Hidden Costs."
It's obvious from the title that the target audience is people looking to buy a house. The article is written around conflict: the hidden costs of buying a home not many buyers know about.
The blog post ties in perfectly with the purpose of Zillow: to help people find and buy a home they love.
Start Using Brand Storytelling to Win Your Audience's Affection and Their Buy
Content writing isn't all about selling. It's about connecting.
If you want to stand out amid the 1 billion websites online, incorporating stories into your content, web pages, and business is essential. It's the one thing that not a lot of people are already doing.
Whether your stories come in the form of case studies, success stories, personal stories, or creative stories, your content can (and will) benefit from them.
Simply use your buyer personas, your business's "why," and the 3 stages of the buyer's journey to create killer content that wins your audience's emotions, and just maybe their buy as well.
Need help creating content that tells your brand’s story?
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