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What’s a Brand Story, and Why Does My Company Need One?

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What is a brand story?

Many people think that this is the history of their brand, or something that you’ve workshopped in a marketing meeting. They’re not entirely wrong; this can be an essential part of your brand story. In reality, however, your brand story should be something much bigger.

A brand story is a cohesive narrative that encompasses the facts and feelings that are created by your brand (or business, if you prefer). Unlike traditional advertising, which is about showing and telling about your brand, a story must inspire an emotional reaction. Things that can influence your brand include your product, price, history, quality, marketing, in-store experience, purpose, values, location and–most crucially–what other people say about you.

This narrative exists whether you like it or not. Think of a pair of small mom-and-pop stores in a small town. Neither store advertises beyond a flyer or an occasionally updated Facebook page. But people will choose to shop at one or the other because of the story attached to each one. (Mark’s Diner has the best pie in town! Our kids are in soccer with Wendy’s son, so we always go to her café.) Businesses succeed because they differentiate themselves.

You are not the only author of your brand story.

Although brand storytelling has been around a long time, its newfound prominence is, I believe, directly linked to the rise of social media and to the very public conversations about brands, and experiences with brands, that social media makes possible. Marketing blogs, for example, are littered with examples of how brands stumbled badly on Twitter or Facebook. And this becomes part of a brand’s story. Traditional advertising was based on a one-way flow of information: from brand to consumer. Now, a brand sits in conversation with those who experience the brand. Authorship of your brand story doesn’t sit in the CMO’s office. It sits in the hands of your Facebook followers, your customers, your intern, your shop clerk.

Your voice – and your mission – matters.

And while you can’t control everything about your brand story, you can lead it. Insert your compelling, engaging story into the mix. Make it true, and authentic to your values. By doing so–by adding your voice to clarify your mission: what truly drives your business or brand–you’ll build emotional engagement. Furthermore, by defining your brand story, you can align your brand to the story. Apple does this very well. Look at the design of their computers. Think about the Genius Bar experience. Consider how they make major product announcements. All are aligned behind their brand story of innovators making beautiful products that challenge the status quo. They are successfully leading the conversation around Apple.

There are other benefits to telling your brand story. If you aspire to be a premium brand, you have to have a good story. Your story makes the billions of decisions that you make around value and luxury stick in the mind of the discerning consumer. Are you an ethical choice? Then use story to attract like-minded individuals. Story is often the secret sauce that makes a startup inspirational and a century-old company relevant.

Above all, telling your story is your opportunity to self-determination. Don’t pass it up.