By Iain Hunter, MGA Group Head of Client Service –
What is a Brand Story?
Search ‘brand story’ and you’ll quickly find an extensive list of articles talking about the importance of having one. But let’s take a step back for a moment and consider what a brand story actually is. What does it do?
How does it differ from a value statement or brand positioning?
We see brand stories as central to building a rich, emotive and consistent foundation in your customers’ minds, from which value statements and positioning can grow.
There’s a lot of discussion around B2B organisations needing to develop emotive pulls for their brands, rather than focusing solely on the rational benefits of their product or service. This marks the difference between what a customer understands on a cognitive level and what they instinctively believe. As Bernadette Jiwa explains, “Your story isn’t just what you tell people, it’s also what they believe about you based on the signals your brand sends” (the Story of Telling).
We believe the most compelling brand stories are created through blending emotionally engaging content with rational evidence.
Why do I need one?
There are many benefits of having a strong brand story, some of which are listed below. Importantly, these can be utilised and measured not only in relation to an external perspective of your brand, but also that of your employees.
Brand storytelling can:
- Create a solid, unwavering understanding in the minds of your audiences.
- Drive internal engagement, loyalty and belief throughout your organisation.
- Inspire that initial innovative spark from which creative and messaging can be built.
- Help build consistent communication, both internally and externally.
- Become a draw card for stronger team recruitment.
That sounds great but how do I achieve it?
The benefits of strong brand storytelling have been discussed at length, however much less has been written about how to actually achieve it.
So how do you unearth this fabled brand story of yours? And will the process end up being complex, time consuming and costly?
Here’s what we suggest
Unearthing the hidden gems that make up a company’s story is something MGA has being doing for a long time. There are many different ways to approach brand storytelling and we’ve tried and tested our fair share.
Here are a few parts of our approach. These have worked well for us and have helped us break down the barriers to creating great brand stories.
Gather employee insight
First, we recommend diving deep into your organisation and immersing yourself in the views and opinions of your employees. By speaking to people right at the rockface, you’ll uncover genuine, passionate views about your organisation – front-line beliefs that are invaluable. Seeking opinions from every corner of your business will also inject a level of credibility into your research. Your sales teams have access to your customers’ honest opinions, and this doesn’t just mean glowing testimonials. Knowing what doesn’t work is just as important as celebrating what does. As Paul Cash suggests in a recent B2B Marketing article, “Those avoiding conflict in their story risk stripping it of interest and authenticity – it’s these struggles customers can relate to”. Armed with positive and negative customer insights, you’ll be able to create anecdotal evidence that truly resonates with your team, who will deliver those messages with a stronger sense of passion and belief. In turn, the messages themselves will be tangible and relevant, as opposed to something created in a distant boardroom far from the customer conversation.
What’s more, a consistent brand story will infuse every level of your organisation with a sense of who you are as a whole, why you’re doing what you do and where you’re heading. In turn, like-minded individuals will be attracted toward your business, resulting in more effective recruitment. This joined-up understanding leads to an increased sense of loyalty, engagement and purpose, across all areas of your business.
Mine for gold
Another great way of uncovering your brand story is to look for those unique nuggets of information, which make your organisation what it is. These could be linked to your brand personality, the company heritage, or its
founders. Our client Pavlina Papashimova, Group Marketing & PR Manager at Murphy describes them as “the core which inspires the brand’s different facets”. Pavlina suggests that once identified, brand owners
“develop the brand story around this core, aligning all messages to it”.
Ask yourself why the business was established in the first place. What was its original purpose? Question how decisions are made within the organisation and examine how they relate to those core values and intensions.
Often it’s the small ideas, sparked at the outset, which later develop into larger concepts and eventually, brand stories. Debbie Williams suggests that answering these types of questions “often reveals those vital nuggets of
information about what makes you different, compelling, and interesting to others” (Content Marketing Institute). When digging for these unique, internally focused insights, it’s easy to become so immersed in your own
company messaging that you’re no longer able to view it from the perspective of your customers. When you can’t see the wood for the trees, a fresh pair of eyes can be invaluable.
During a recent positioning exercise for our own brand at MGA, we made a point of speaking to some external influencers to help us gauge our own brand story.
A lengthy narrative isn’t the right fit for every organisation and for us it made more sense to distill everything down to a single, core idea. Gathering opinion from outside the company was incredibly powerful as it allowed us to
deconstruct and reconstruct our story until it was absolutely perfect. In the end, following this very process that we complete for clients helped us uncover our own story outline: ‘extracting the extraordinary’. In return,
we’re able to provide the same third party perspective for many of our clients, such as Murphy, who we helped to stand out from a crowded construction market.Once you’ve identified the hidden gems within, it’s time
to turn your attention outward and take a good look at your audience.
Engage on a human level
We’ve found that this exploration process requires a certain level of drive and energy. There’s a feeling that the best and most powerful audience insights might still be waiting to be unearthed and that’s what keeps us digging for them. Omar Kattan advises continually asking the question “What keeps your customers up at night?”. Kattan suggests that the answer is infused within your brand story and will differentiate the successful from “those who simply plod along hoping that somehow
their message will click with an indifferent audience” (Brand Stories). Take a close look at your target market and find out what drives them to choose one brand over another. We’ve established that emotion plays a primary role and as Phil Shaw asserts, “The brands that people want to use and buy are those that build emotional connections through integrity, clarity and leadership” (Ipsos MORI). Taking the time to understand what makes your audience tick will enable you to identify the elements of your story that resonate on a human level. Our client Peerbridge Health is a great example. Having developed wearable technology to monitor body function and heart rate,
MGA worked with them to create a brand story which taps into our desire to ensure the health of our loved ones. Art Bertolero, President of Peerbridge Health, says “Our work with MGA has helped us to create a human
connection with our audience, by developing the emotional aspect of our brand story”. For some organisations, it’s necessary to connect emotionally with a diverse market. As Pavlina from Murphy asserts, “Companies which operate in complex
and rapidly changing environments often have to be multifaceted to reach and resonate with their very diverse and different stakeholders”. Whilst consistency is an essential element of all brand storytelling, these companies may require a story that’s both consistent and adaptive.
In a recent PR Week article, our client Sue Garrard, Senior Vice-President for Sustainable Business & Comms at Unilever, talks about selling a fabric conditioner in third world countries where women use large quantities of water to wash their clothes by hand. Sue explains, “That conditioner reduces by two-thirds the volume of water they need. We do not tell them to buy it because it is better for the environment, but because they have to carry less water from the nearest well”. This approach demonstrates an understanding of the needs of different market demographics. Whilst the ‘sustainability’ story remains consistent the message is adapted accordingly for different audiences.
The end result
The best brand stories identify evidence-based capabilities within an organisation and distill them into an accessible narrative that resonates on a human level.
Having recognised the key trends in your market and analysed your competitors’ work, your story should be authentic and unique, setting you apart from the crowd.
It’s true that this is no small task. However we’ve found it to be not only achievable but also incredibly beneficial for all of the brands we work with.
Some Key takeaways:
Here are five key points to consider, when cultivating your
own brand story:
- Your story should be the central hub from which brand positioning, content and evidence can grow.
- Gathering employee insight will generate internal support and enthusiasm.
- Forensically examining your company can help unearth the hidden insights, which make you unique.
- An outside perspective can help to cast a different light and add balance.
- Create a story that’s consistent and adaptable to different markets and challenges.