How to use storytelling to connect with your customers

We connect with each other through the stories we tell.  Today, storytelling is being used across many different types of media by brands seeking to leverage its power, create a deeper connection with their customers, and communicate their values.

So, what is your brand story? And how should you tell it?

Authenticity is king

There are different ways to tell a story, of course.  But at its center, there needs to be a truth, the kernel of an idea.

Your brand has to stand for something before you can tell a story about it.

Your business must have started with a strong idea, insight or passion. Brand storytelling is about connecting with that truth and telling it with such simplicity that it resonates with your customers.

But this isn’t something you can just make up for the sake of a killer “about us” page.  As Dino Burbage, Head of Innovation at agency WCRS, states on a video about commercial storytelling produced by business magazine Campaign:

Social is vicious, if you try to pretend you have a story and you haven’t, they’ll find you out and then it’s all over.

The value of storytelling

UK-based smoothie company Innocent is one business that has nailed storytelling.  It was founded in 1998 by three friends who went on to sell a 90% share in their business to Coca-Cola for £320m (approx. $445m) in February 2013.

What’s amazing about their story is that in the four years prior to the deal with Coca-Cola, business was declining. Yet, Coca-Cola saw something in the brand and its story that made it an attractive investment.

The Innocent folks tell the story of how the three founders were working in advertising when they dreamed up their healthy low-sugar drink business.  To test out their idea, they invested £500 in fruit, taking it to the Jazz on the Green festival in London’s Parsons Green and asking the festival goers what they thought.

Here’s how Innocent tells it:

We put up a big sign asking people if they thought we should give up our jobs to make smoothies, and put a bin saying ‘Yes’ and a bin saying ‘No’ in front of the stall. Then we got people to vote with their empties. At the end of the weekend, the ‘Yes’ bin was full, so we resigned from our jobs the next day and got cracking.

Sweet, simple, compelling. Exactly how a brand story should be told.

Of course, it helps that they also had a strong brand, employed creative guerrilla marketing techniques and had a community focus—but these characteristics all coalesce around the core story.

The different ways to tell a story

Once you have identified how to tell the story of your brand, you can ensure that that story is told in different ways through your advertising, communications, promotions, and other marketing activity.

Your story doesn’t have to be complex; in fact, it’s better if it isn’t.  Your story doesn’t have to be about a struggle against the odds or a long family dynasty.  It simply needs to be your story.  And sometimes simply telling the story about your passion for making something useful or beautiful is enough.

If you still aren’t sure where to start, consider approaching it from another angle. Let your customers tell it for you—through testimonials and story sharing environments. This is something AirBnB does well through its Stories platform.

Try this, and you will probably discover that once you hear your customers tell their story about your brand, it will inspire you to find your own voice.

If you aren’t sure what your story is, a strategy consultation can help. It is true that sometimes you can be a little too close to your business to clearly see its uniqueness.

Management consultant and brand strategist for small teams. Fan of dark tea, thick books, peace, and unity.

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