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Developing a Strong Brand Story

*This article was originally published on MaRS Discovery District.

This article discusses incorporating narrative with your brand and gives tips for storytelling. It is aimed at entrepreneurs and marketing team members looking to craft a more persuasive, engaging and exciting brand story to help them humanize their offering, build brand affinity and drive sales.

Crafting a clear, concise and strategic brand story is no easy feat. Between the buzz words, a wealth of complex technology and a range of disruptive new business ideas, startups can struggle to communicate their value in an exciting and engaging way.

Why tell engaging stories?

Our minds are naturally wired for stories. Research shows that a strong, descriptive brand story builds trust and connection between startups and customers. How so? When a story presents a problem, it triggers the release of cortisol, a stress hormone that drives us to focus on the challenge at hand. Showcasing a solution or answer releases the happy hormone, oxytocin, which promotes a sense of connection and empathy with our business.

Above and beyond, a strong brand story builds affinity and breeds ambassadors. Think about the millions of people out there who proudly wear the Nike or Apple logo on their sleeve. These people aren’t just buying a pair of sneakers or a computer; they’re believing in a bigger idea. One that ultimately drives sales.

Building a strong brand story

So how do we develop a strong brand narrative that resonates with customers and conveys our message in meaningful way? Follow these tips.

1. Houston, there’s a problem. (Summarize the challenge.)

Every successful business addresses a key issue or problem. This is where your story begins. Set the scene for your audience by summarizing the challenge you’re tackling. Be specific and really call out the key pain points that affect the category.

Use data and testimonials to demonstrate that the issues live well beyond your own personal experience.

2. Focus on “why”

Marketer and strategist Simon Sinek advocates for “the power of why.” He states that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Why did you set out to tackle the problem you outlined earlier? Why do you get out of bed in the morning?

Customers want something to believe in. Empathy and emotion persuade customers more powerfully than products and features do. Think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We strive for self-actualization, love, acceptance and security after we meet our physiological needs.

Start by letting customers know why you do what you do, before you get into the details of your product and explain how you can solve their problem.

3. Be a guide, not a hero

As a company, our role is to act as a guide. Like Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, we’re here to assist customers on their journey with the right resources, tools and products to ensure their success.

It’s the customers who are the heroes—they are the ones setting out on a journey to overcome a specific challenge. Note that these individuals don’t start out as heroes; initially, they lack the necessary skillset. It’s only at the end of the journey that they transition to being a “hero.”

As guides, we’ve been through the challenge our heroes face. We understand what it takes to overcome the tasks at hand and possess the right products and expertise to get the job done.

4. Keep it simple

As startups, we have a tendency to overwhelm consumers with overly complex terminology. Everyone today has a proprietary algorithm, uses artificial intelligence and leverages machine learning algorithms and natural language processing technology. And nobody cares.

All your potential customers care about is how you’re going to help them. These individuals are time-poor and need answers yesterday. Focus on your product’s benefits and how you can help customers. Keep the message simple and provide the answers people need in an easy-to-understand and accessible way.

Keep the brand story clear and focus on your customer’s point of view

Developing a strong brand narrative takes time. Focus on telling a clear, concise and simple story that starts with a clearly articulated problem. Set the scene and tap into your customers’ pain points before you introduce your business, the reason to believe in you, and the solution you’ve developed. Act as a guide for your customers, providing the necessary resources, knowledge and products to help them succeed.

Common challenges in building a brand story

It helps to know where startups typically get stuck in building their brand story, as then you can avoid these pitfalls. Often, it’s because:

  • They don’t define the problem clearly: When presenting the problem they address, companies often describe it too broadly or get bogged down in the details.
  • They focus on themselves (“me, me, me”): Avoid the trap of focusing on how great your company is. Remember, it’s about your customers and their needs.
  • They lack linear thinking: Ensure your messaging doesn’t jump around. Have your presentations and brand stories follow a linear narrative.

Tactics to overcome these challenges

  1. Think about the two to three major pain points that affect your customer (e.g., the current situation is costly, inefficient, inaccessible, etc.).
  2. Zero in on your customers and how you can help them. Focus on relieving their pain.
  3. Employ linear thinking. Step back and look at the bigger picture and narrative you’re trying to tell. Does it follow a smooth and seamless flow? Or are you jumping around?

Additional resources

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