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Author’s note: this is part 1 of a 4 part series on brand storytelling.
A great product or service isn’t enough to fuel the growth of your business. It takes people who believe in your product to make your business succeed. In order for people to believe in your product, they need to trust you when you say that your product will add value to their lives. The concept of “value” can take many shapes and forms — for example, confidence, business success, improved communications, health, and happiness are all examples of non-monetary values people may expect from their investments in products or services.
Brand leaders know that how people make decisions about what products or services to buy is no accident. It is the result of a connection between the company and its customers. A connection that builds trust, helping to strengthen your customer’s belief in the promises you make about your products.
But forging a sincere connection with the customers is one of the greatest challenges any company can face. People don’t connect with entities that are perceived as out-of-touch, bland, too slick or gimmicky, or too sales-focused. They connect with personalities: the individuals and aspirations behind your company. The best way to cultivate that connection — to interest them in what you do — is to give them the who and how and why behind the what. Make your business personal in the best possible way: tell your story.
Brand storytelling is a proven method for relating to your customers on a more personal level. Stories help personalize your brand, build connections, and inspire trust. Not only does a more personal customer relationship help sell your products, it grows your business in the long-term by improving the reputation (and consequently the worth) of your brand.
People Connect with Story
Maybe this sounds intuitive to you. Maybe it sounds like hogwash. You don’t have to take our word for it; there’s actual science backing this up. Research has shown that people use stories to make sense of the world, integrating an emotional response into factual understanding. The meaning of everything we do and the memories we create are all developed in story form.
Customers are already creating stories around your products and brand, so why not get out in front and give them a story to work with? In the experiment cited above and conducted by consumer research and psychology expert Jennifer Escalas, different groups were given the same information about brands in a narrative and non-narrative format. Those in the narrative group came away feeling a greater connection to the brand. Not only that, they were also more likely to purchase.
Let’s talk about a jacket.
It comes in a number of colors. It’s made of sturdy material. It’s waterproof. It can keep a wearer warm and should last a good long while. Are you excited to buy this jacket yet or are you nodding off?
Now, let’s talk about Tommy. Tommy’s an adventurer. He’s passionate about climbing and feels a day braving some of the most difficult ascents in the country is a day well spent. Tommy’s the kind of guy who doesn’t see the point of a comfortable day on the couch when he could be embracing danger to earn himself a one-of-a-kind view from on top of a cliff he spent hours scaling.
That jacket we just talked about? That’s not just any jacket. It’s the same jacket Tommy has used to brave the elements on some of his most daring escapades. It’s the jacket that kept him warm enough to keep going, kept the rain from soaking him through and managed not to tear on any of the sharp rocks he encountered in his climbs. It’s a Patagonia jacket by the way, and Tommy’s one of their ambassadors.
The list of reasons the jacket’s a good jacket may say something about the product’s quality, but it isn’t going to make anyone sit up and take interest. Knowing it’s used and trusted by someone like Tommy, and has been tested in some serious outdoor scenarios (that you can read stories about on their blog), that’s the kind of thing that sticks with you.
Tommy’s exploits may be beyond the typical Patagonia customer, but that doesn’t mean they won’t connect to the stories. Patagonia isn’t content to be a company selling jackets and other gear. They aim to be the symbol of a thrilling, outdoorsy lifestyle — the sort of lifestyle you need to buy jackets and other gear for, naturally.
Another great example of using story to enhance and process otherwise mundane information is Tesla Motors, makers of luxury electric cars.
“Range anxiety” is the name for the main fear limiting electric car sales. Prospective buyers are afraid they’ll get stranded far from home, with no way to charge up. Tesla addresses this by providing a map of their nationwide “superchargers” network – with views showing its expansion over the next few years. Superchargers, as the name implies, allow for super fast charging. 170 miles of range can be added in about half an hour. By posting this map, they show their commitment to developing this network quickly.
This factual (and somewhat values-based approach) is supported by customer stories. One such post is a modern, electric version of the American classic – the cross-country road trip. The story allows prospective buyers to connect with Tesla Motors via their customer – while screaming “range anxiety, what’s that?” very loudly. All while a pooch sticks his head out the window.
People Trust Story
Customer trust is hard to earn and even harder to keep. Why? So many businesses perform poorly or unethically. People are wary, and rightfully so. Businesses have a high hurdle to clear; they must make a valuable promise, deliver on that promise, and then do so over and over. And in a world saturated with media, it is increasingly more difficult to get that promise heard in the first place. Story can help.
Story builds trust by showing customers the “why” behind what you do. Demonstrating — in a manner that’s easy to watch and easy to process and absorb — that your intentions are good, that you’ve considered your impact on the world and made deliberate choices to make it a positive impact.
One of the great recent examples of this kind of story is Chipotle’s The Scarecrow.
This brilliantly crafted video wordlessly tells the story of Chipotle’s commitment to Food with Integrity. The Scarecrow’s journey through the dystopian world of food production and into the light of fresh, natural cooking aligns with Chipotle’s stated commitment to organic, local ingredients, farmed in sustainable ways.
The emotional connection forged by the Scarecrow takes Chipotle’s principles and makes them real to the audience. And when we believe in Chipotle’s intentions, we have a reason to choose their burritos over other lunch options.
Story Builds Brands
As far as the people buying from you are concerned, your business is not simply what you do. It’s also how you do it and why you do it. Whether they realize it or not, your customers will internalize all of this as they form this relationship with your company. Gaining new customers and keeping existing customers is relationship-building, plain and simple, and demands that you be values-driven, positive and trustworthy, just as in your personal relationships.
Having said that, story alone is not enough. Talking the talk is great. The hard part is walking the walk. Your brand stories will contain promises about who you are and what you stand for, as well as about the quality of your product or service. You’ll need to fulfill those promises in order to retain this hard-won customer trust over time.
It’s a challenge for fast-growing companies in an ever-changing world. In fact, it’s a challenge for all companies. But we know what’s at the end of the rainbow: Brand ambassadors, long-term loyal customers who will promote your brand and your stories in public.
Have you come across any really compelling, memorable examples of brand storytelling? Can you think of a business that has succeeded in converting you to a brand ambassador through a combination of storytelling and stellar service? Maybe it’s yours. Share your stories and experiences with us in the comments below.
Be sure to stay tuned for posts 2-4 in this series in the coming weeks. As always, feel free to discuss by tweeting at us or leave us a message on Facebook.