Using stories in marketing and sales is not a new concept but crafting a good story that serves business objectives requires skill. Learning how to write a brand story that effectively communicates your idea, brand value, and boosts referrals isn’t quite so simple either.
Brand stories play a vital role in shaping people’s perceptions of a brand. Here is why –
The prominence that brand stories are receiving is in large part due to the public conversations on social media about brands and experiences with brands.
Traditionally marketing and advertising were based on disseminating information to consumers with little or no dialogue.
Nowadays the narrative of a brand story is no longer governed by a select few in the marketing department, but rather in the hands of your employees, customers, and vendors amongst other stakeholders.
To create a brand story that is consistent, persuasive and that drives referrals over the long term requires the ability to build trust, evoke emotion whilst providing value.
To gain insights into how to write a brand story that drives referrals I put the question to speaker, author, and consultant Ben Baker of Your Brand Marketing. Listen to our interview or read below to discover how.
- Why create a brand story vital for your personal brand and company brand?
- Why your brand story needs to impact your employees first
- How to create your brand story
- How to write a brand story – a simple framework
- Are brand stories driven by personality?
- Examples of companies killing it with brand stories in the B2B space
- Who you need to be talking to and have involved in this process?
- How to prove to stakeholders that an internal marketing program is worth investing in
- How to engineer quick wins to get leadership invested in the process
- The mistakes that most businesses make in creating their brand story and how to avoid them
- How to use a brand story to attract the right sort of clients irrespective of the platforms that it is shared on
- How to evolve your brand story to keep it relevant and updated while speaking to your customer segments
- How to ensure your brand story is reflected in touch points with vendors and customers
- How to get customers to share your brand story
- The key element to make a brand story successfully achieve your objectives
- Why companies need to recruit based on culture fit and resonance with their brand story
- Craft your brand story to boost referrals
- Watch the episode with Ben
- Some topics we discussed include:
- Links and resources mentioned
- Connect with Ben
Why create a brand story vital for your personal brand and company brand?
Let’s first look at this from a company brand point of view; it is not uncommon to see too many organizations have mission, vision, value statements that nobody knows about. Nobody knows what they mean, and nobody can recite them. That’s a problem.
A brand story takes the value of the mission, vision, and values statements and turns it into a story format because we, as people, relate to stories.
When someone shares a story, more often than not people lean in and they listen, they internalize it and then ask – how does this affect me?
Brand stories, however, are about genesis moments –
- Where did you come from?
- What was the genesis of the company?
- Why was the company started in the first place?
- Where are you today?
- What are the challenges and what were the opportunities that got you from your genesis point to where you are today?
- Who do you serve?
- Who are your customers?
- What do you do for them?
- What makes you different from your competitors?
- How do you add value?
- How do your employees matter within that situation, and, more importantly, where are you going?
If you can turn all of that into a story, and tell that story continually through the company, then chances are that every single employee can not only remember it, they can recall it, and they can retell it in their own way.
They may not remember the exact story, in the exact order and every single word, but they’ve internalized it and, when they do so, all of a sudden it becomes part of the culture.
The implications of it becoming part of your culture include avoiding things that don’t align with your culture, avoiding going off on tangents, or avoiding bright shiny objects that have nothing to do with your core values and core mission statement. In other words, it aligns everyone in the organization, from the CEO down to those who do shipping, around key principles that the organization holds dear.
On a personal level, it’s the same thing.
Leaders need to have their own brand story. They need to have their core beliefs around questions like:
- What do they believe in?
- Who are they?
- What’s the value that they believe in, and
- What are the things they’re willing to stand for and things they’re going to stand against?
Answers to those questions lead to brand stories which in turn help you build trust. Help you build relationships. That’s also how you build great teams because people know who you are.
They know the value that you bring and they’re willing to stand beside you and work with you to help those objectives get moved forward.
So, as you can see, a brand story can impact employee advocacy and your internal marketing.
Why your brand story needs to impact your employees first
Ben says that companies, depending on the size, need to have a chief customer experience officer who is looking at the company both internally and externally. Someone who can look at the brand and ask – how do we take care of our customers, both inside the company (employees) and outside? They need to be able to communicate effectively to answers to questions like:
- Why do we do it?
- Who do we do it for?
- What’s the value that we add?
- How do we treat our employees?
- How do we empower them?
- How do we give them the tools necessary to make our customers’ lives better?
Most companies market externally.
However, they never let people know internally why they do what they do. But, it’s the why you do what you do that is vital to the success of both external and internal customer advocacy.
How to create your brand story
The brand story is similar to the hero’s journey and if you are not familiar with the hero’s journey think – Lion King (it doesn’t matter which version).
Your brand story is not a highlight reel of your brands’ life, it’s the highlight reel of the things that have got you to where you are. This includes challenges and tragedies and how you’ve come back from those – that’s what makes you interesting and relatable.
Ben shares a simple process of creating your brand story, assuming that you have clarity around your vision and mission.
Step 1 – Find out if everybody from the shipping clerk to the C-suite in the company is aligned. To that end, you can run workshops to uncover this by seeking answers to questions like –
- Who are you as a company? What do you do?
- Who do you serve?
- Who are your customers?
- What value do you bring to them?
- What’s your onboarding process?
Use a graphic recorder to record answers and then put them up so you can determine how similar or different they are. More often than not, they are quite different
Step 2 – Figure out what story you want to tell.
- Where do you want to be positioned in 10 years’ time?
- What do you want your desired audience to think about your brand?
Step 3 – Create a brand that is authentic and communicates your true intrinsic value. What is your vision? Think – where do you really want to be and how do you want people to talk about you when you’re not in the room? That’s the story the business has to live.
Note – making money is a dividend that comes about from delivering value to your customers, taking care of them and your staff.
How to write a brand story – a simple framework
No matter what the brand and their brand story, it conceptually boils down to a simple framework –
- Conflict or problem
Simple stories are more trustworthy. Simple stories work better and science backs that up. Not every story needs the complexity of Lord of the Rings saga. The simple 3-part framework carries the essence of the brand story in natural progression.
- Beginning: Conflict or Problem. Highlight the conflict or explain the problem that you set out to solve.
- Middle: Solution. Describe how you solved it
- End: Success. Describe the impact the solution has had
Note – The ending should not be like the end of a bedtime story but rather it should suggest the beginning of more to come and the unfolding of more success.
Drift has made a name for itself by creating a category around the term “conversational marketing”. In 2016 they made the decision to ungate every piece of content (something that served as a major lead generation mechanism for them). Why? Because it would be in line with their mission of putting customers first and offering value upfront.
Here is how their story could like in broad terms while using the simple framework.
Conflict: As much as many companies talk about putting customers first, not many practice it and instead ask their audience for their contact details in exchange for things that were promised as free. Emails and calls then follow until they unsubscribe or buy. This isn’t being customer centric
From Drift’s point of view content marketing is about treating people with value and offering content that aims to help and educate their audience. The belief being that their audience would return and take buying action.
Solution: If we really want to practice what we preach – It makes sense to ungate all content and offer it for free.
Success: Conversations led to increased sales velocity, more leads and increased pipeline activity. The results were revealed in this post and summed up in the figure below.
Are brand stories driven by personality?
In a Forbes article, Susan Gunelius says:
Brand stories are not marketing materials. They are not ads, and they are not sales pitches. Brand stories should be told with the brand persona and the writer’s personality at center stage. Boring stories won’t attract and retain readers, but stories brimming with personality can.
Listen to Ben’s perspective in the video below.
Examples of companies killing it with brand stories in the B2B space
Examples that come to mind for Ben include – IBM and Dell.
The one company that Ben says doesn’t have a good brand story is Progressive Insurance. They say give us 15 minutes of your time; we’ll give you 15% off.
All that’s doing is saying we as a brand are going to be cheaper.
It’s not saying anything about the brand itself or its quality or reliability; it doesn’t say anything about whether they’re going to be there to take care of you.
That is bad brand positioning.
Who you need to be talking to and have involved in this process?
You need to be talking to all stakeholders – customers, vendors, C-suite, various people within various departments, in order to get an amalgamated view.
Because you don’t know what you don’t know. People tend to see situations and issues based on their viewpoints and biases. So, it can be very difficult to get a panoramic 360-degree view.
In a company, no one person has all the information and the right perspectives, so the more people we can talk to, the better the picture we piece together.
You can ask key customers –
- Why do you deal with this company?
- What intrinsic value do they receive from you?
- Give me some stories of how they’ve really supported you
- Tell me some stories of how they’ve disappointed you.
It’s the same with vendors.
- Why do you deal with this company?
- Where do you think that you can add value to them and how do they add value to you?
- How would you describe your relationship?
By asking such questions, you can paint a picture of what the brand truly is today, and then look at where the brand needs to be. You can then start building a bridge to get to where the brand needs to be.
How to prove to stakeholders that an internal marketing program is worth investing in
Consider the following stats (in the pre-Covid environment):
- Inc magazine says that 70% of employees are disengaged to some extent or another.
- Forbes says Fifty percent of employees today are out there, either actively or passively, looking for another job
- In the US economy alone, that’s costing about $450 to $550 billion a year in lost revenue and on an employee and a company basis says Gallup.
- Every employee that you lose is one you have to replace. The loss of an employee costs you a hundred thousand dollars from the minute they leave. So the minute you get the new employee up, trained, onboarded, involved in the culture and ready to go, it’s a hundred thousand dollars for that process. So, we’re talking far more than nice to have. If you lose 10 employees a year, that’s a million dollars off your bottom line, let alone all the residual effects.
Even in a world impacted by Covid, there is no reason to expect the above figures to have changed significantly with all other factors remaining the same.
How to engineer quick wins to get leadership invested in the process
The best way to get leadership invested is to start small, say with one team or department. Focus on what’s happening within that team or department, their policies, procedures, etc. Test one theory and take the results of that, if successful, to your leadership to secure buy-in.
If you have 50 offices or departments, again start with one or conduct test tours to test a couple of theories and to compare results. Find what the hot spots or areas of grief are and address those.
Ben says he tells people –
your brand is only as valuable as your unhappiest employee on their worst day.
The mistakes that most businesses make in creating their brand story and how to avoid them
Ben says –
From a corporate viewpoint, what makes a really good brand story is sharing where we came from. This is where we are today. This is what makes us who we are today. And, by the way, this is where we’re going. Then asking – Do you want to come with us?
That’s how people get to identify with the brand and the journey it’s on. That’s how you rally the troops, both inside the company and externally.
How to use a brand story to attract the right sort of clients irrespective of the platforms that it is shared on
To attract the right clients, it’s about taking the elements of the brand story and sharing them in snippets and vignettes. It’s about creating those series of vignettes through things like LinkedIn stories, Facebook stories, Instagram stories, etc.
Consider how you can move people through the series of vignettes. Then, all of a sudden, they have a much better view as they look back from moving forward, just like when you’re bringing new employees on board.
How to evolve your brand story to keep it relevant and updated while speaking to your customer segments
Ben says he views brands as a living, breathing thing.
Brands change, brands evolve. Take Apple, for example, and compare it to where it was in 1984 versus where it is today.
Where the company has gone since 1984 is a complete story unto itself. Look at how the company has evolved, and, while almost any company that’s been around long enough is going to evolve, what is important is to recognize what the milestones were. It could be three-year milestones, 10-year milestones, etc.
It’s also important to have someone in the company, whether it’s your chief marketing officer, VP of marketing or someone else, who is actually a branding officer and is the keeper of the brand story and is looking at it asking:
- How have we evolved
- How have we changed?
- How have our customers changed?
- How’s our product offering change?
- How do we deliver?
Your evolution doesn’t change daily, but, as the company grows and as the company evolves, as you go from two employees to a hundred employees, to 500 employees, to 10,000 employees, it’s going to evolve.
But, if you have that brand story, it allows each new employee to be able to have something to hold on to. And that becomes the culture of the company.
How to ensure your brand story is reflected in touch points with vendors and customers
Ben says that to ensure your brand story is reflected in every touch point with vendors and customers, you need to invest in ongoing communication. This communication needs to go beyond regular scheduled conversations and reviews to questions designed to reveal what is not so obvious to the business.
Questions like – Is there something with a particular policy or procedure that’s keeping you from being able to be effective in your job?
Asking those sorts of questions is great, but you also need to empower those people to look into the viability of solutions they propose and give them the leadership ability to help fix problems they have identified.
This way, you’re making people feel like they have a meaningful role within the company. One that reflects the overall brand story and values. In other words, we are trying to bring people together around a common cause or a mission.
If you’re not really connecting by sitting down with clients every 90 days, chances are you are doing your clients and your company a disservice.
These meetings should not be product or service related. They should have nothing to do with making money. It’s about having a real conversation with the client, saying –
- How can we serve you better?
- How are we doing given where we are at with our mission, vision and company values?
These are the things that are important to us.
Are we emulating that at every touch point with you?
How to get customers to share your brand story
Any good company realizes that their customer is always their hero.
They always ask –
- How does this affect our customers?
- How does this impact our customers and are we making our customers’ lives better?
Do customers need to buy into the story, not just the product?
Ben says – people buy products. They believe in brands because products will change.
Take a look at Procter & Gamble for example.
People buy into the Procter & Gamble family. They don’t buy all the products, but they believe in the brand. They believe that the brand is there to provide healthy, safe products for you and your family.
People realize the brand products may change, they may be removed, formulas may change but it’s the brand itself that people believe in, not so much the products themselves.
If your customers believe in the brand, they’ll buy the products.
The key element to make a brand story successfully achieve your objectives
Ask your employees – what is our brand story?
Listening to the response you get will give you a good indication of how well your brand story resonates with them.
Why companies need to recruit based on culture fit and resonance with their brand story
Ben says that –
Everybody needs to have an understanding of who they are, what they do, and why they do it.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking to get hired, whether you’re looking to get promoted, whether you’re looking to go from a VP to a C-suite position, whether you’re talking to a customer or putting together a marketing plan and advocating for a budget.
Ultimately you can only get your sale if people trust you and let people know who you are. They’re going to trust you if you are consistent – you do what you say you will do when you say you will do it by and always follow up. You always make sure that the people that work for you are taken care of. You are always out there helping lead the charge and rallying the troops. People respect that.
That’s what we need to be hiring for.
Craft your brand story to boost referrals
Stories are powerful. In learning how to write a brand story that boosts referrals you do not need to spit out a highlight reel but rather a reality reel. One that is honest about the challenges your business has faced and how you are overcoming it to achieve your mission and vision. That is what people relate to.
Your brand story should serve as a catalyst while offering value even in the present. In other words, brand stories keep on evolving, and keep on connecting with people.
Keep your story alive by impressing your employees and customers with the best experience possible. Then capture their narratives to feed your brand story. That’ll give you the best chance of driving referrals.
Watch the episode with Ben
In this episode, Ben Baker, founder of Your Brand Marketing (an employee engagement firm) shares how we can write a powerful brand story that boosts referrals.
Some topics we discussed include:
- How companies get employee engagement wrong
- Is employee advocacy a subset of internal marketing
- What is a brand story
- Who needs a personal brand story and why
- How to write a brand story
- What distinguishes good brand stories from the rest
- What a brand story should include
- Brand story examples from companies that do it well
- The biggest mistake people get wrong with crafting a brand story by using the hero’s journey formula
- How to write a brand story and repurpose it
- How can you factor your brand evolution into writing your brand story
- How to get customers to tell a version of your brand story
- Are brand stories driven by personality
- Is their truth to the saying that customers must buy into the story, not just the product
- How to help a company, discover and create their brand story assuming that they’ve already got their mission and vision
- How to persuade customers and vendors to be interviewed and gain their perspectives
- What could businesses do to create a quick win and prove to their leadership that is worth investing in
- Why brand story resonance is important
- How to reiterate and reinforce the brand story at various touchpoints
Links and resources mentioned
Check out Your Brand Marketing
Connect with Ben
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