How to leverage the power of brand stories

Stories are central to how we experience the world. From folk tales to Netflix, telling stories is as old as time. So, it should come as no surprise that they have big potential for building a powerful brand inside and outside of an organisation.

Research shows again and again that we are innately wired to respond to stories, remembering them up to 22 times better than ‘cold’ facts and figures.

When it comes to brand, however, not just any old story will do.

At Saffron, we are regularly part of developing stories that are elevated to play a strategic role in a business for both internal and external audiences. We find that many companies struggle to find a good story that uses emotions to move the brand forward towards success.

It’s important to be clear that brand storytelling may be content marketing but not all content marketing is storytelling. Brand stories clarify and advance the brand’s positioning by communicating a series of relevant, inspiring and easily repeatable messages that stick. While they don’t necessarily appear in an advert or press release, they do go beyond the tactical, one-off initiative designed for immediate returns in favour of a focus on brand building that pays off in the long run.

To begin, look for your story hero in a founder, employee or customer that represents the brand’s purpose, company culture or customer relationship. Next speak of what challenges your hero faces and how they find clever or dramatic ways to overcome them. Finally, present a compelling conclusion that will lend meaning and perspective to your brand story. Here are just a few examples of companies that have used brand stories to build legitimacy, traction and influence by doing so.

Tell the story of why your company came to be.
Warby Parker, the rebellious direct-to-consumer eyewear brand, offers designer specs at a low price, disrupting a $140 billion industry. It tells the story of how one of its founders lost his glasses and was forced to go without them for months because of the prohibitive price of buying a new pair. The story champions the right to see, backed by a social mission to distribute a pair of glasses to someone in need for every set sold. It lives and breathes inside and outside of the company, from its founders to being written in 100 words on the cleaning cloth that comes with its glasses.

Put your employees front and centre.
Zappos.com, the online shoe store, shows off its organisational culture, geared towards delivering “wow” service, through real accounts of its employees going to extreme lengths to help customers. It includes the story of an employee who received a call at 3 a.m. from someone who could not find a place still delivering food. The employee, somewhat disoriented by the request, went straight to work, found a number of open places and helped the caller arrange the pizza delivery.

Let your customer tell it.
Short-term home rental company Airbnb built a global brand using community stories. One story highlights Airbnb host, Tessa, who went from working 100-hour weeks as a film location manager to battling an illness that left her housebound. The story goes that being an Airbnb host not only gives her a source of income but also enables her to connect with people from all over the world, helping her to overcome the loneliness she experienced after her diagnosis. This and other brand stories like it give us an intimate glimpse into its purpose for people to belong anywhere.

Beyond creating a story that is intriguing and authentic, effective storytelling requires continuous management to keep the story or collection of stories alive and ingrained in people’s minds. Through physical symbols, events and other experiences that trigger or represent the message, the brand story can live on. Facebook has the word “Hack” written on its campus square in Menlo Park serving as a monument for employees of its humble origins and spirit of continuous improvement and iteration.

The objective is for these stories to be synonymous with the brand, communicating a strategic message that reinforces perceptions or attitudes needed to deliver on business priorities.

In short, a brand story reflects part of who you are, what you do, how you do it and where you are going. Managing it as the real asset it is can ensure it’s built to last.

By Amanda Calvo, Strategist.

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