brand stories: beyond marketing

The thought of public speaking makes them weak in the knees. They prefer to stay in the background to avoid having to risk embarrassment. They don’t like going out of their comfort zone. Sound like anyone you know? Or perhaps a brand you know?

Brands, like people, can suffer from social anxiety disorder. Unfortunately, by their very nature, brands are supposed to be in the spotlight, speaking to the public everyday. Every chance a brand gets to show its personality is vitally important, yet many brands waste the opportunity by hiding who they are behind boring facts.

In contrast, the very best brands let their unique personalities shine through. They get out in front of the crowd unashamed and unafraid of how others will judge them. They understand that all of their weaknesses will be on display, but they also have unwavering confidence that their strengths will completely overshadow their deficiencies. Most importantly, they are prepared with a brand story to tell; one that is much more substantial than their most current advertising campaign.

A story is not only the best way of earning an audience’s attention, but its heart as well. It breaks down barriers, allowing people to understand you and forgive your weaknesses because they can see how your story relates to them. More than this, an established story is memorable and should encapsulate what the brand ideals are, and should be the blueprint for how the brand is marketed.

The real secret is choosing the right story for your brand. Just like any person, a brand can have any number of stories that defines it. These stories can range from seemingly insignificant, to monumental. Last year we were engaged by the School Improvement Network for strategic and creative services. During the 5d Processwe realized that they had the perfect story to tell, and suggested they place it front and center on the new Web sitewe created. Their simple story of how two teachers started what would become a very successful company makes a powerful connection with their target audience, the education community.

The reason this story is important is because it’s sticky. Those who read it will come away with an impression of the company based on that story, and will bring that perspective to all other communications with that brand.

Chip and Dan Heath, authors and columnists for Fast Company magazine, expounded on what makes an idea (or story) sticky, and it’s a lesson that all brands can benefit from: Like School Improvement Network’s story, it is simple (current training wasn’t effective), unexpected (the need was filled by two public school teachers), concrete (they fixed it by taking matters into their own hands), credible (supported by research-based best practice), and emotional (the results are better teachers, and a better education for children). Not all stories have all these elements, but the more they have, the more effective they are.

Admittedly, finding that “sticky story” to stand out and connect with your audience amid so much clutter, may be daunting. For every good story out there, there are dozens of completely forgettable ones. All the more reason to put the extra effort into finding and telling a good story. If good brand story is worth having, it is worth working for.