The Best Brand Story isn't the Story of a
Company but the Story of Customers

December 31, 2020

How do you define brand stories? Someone will say it is the first time you tell your audiences about your core business principles. Others will argue that a brand story refers to the events and feelings built around a brand. They aren’t totally wrong. But how do you make sure you get customers engaged into the concepts, feelings and values that you want to convey?

A good brand requires excellent storytelling which enables audiences to know a brand, feel a brand and remember a brand instantly. In order to do so, we propose a more practical method - you have to talk about the specific experiences between the brand and the customers. A good brand story simply reflects a shared memory of what a good brand did for its customers every day.

For example, if a man passed by a scarf shop in a long and cold winter, the warm lighting and the home style interior attracted him. After he entered the shop, an old lady who is the owner let him sit, and gave him a cup of coffee. She started talking about her family-owned handmade scarf business. The reason why she started the business was she likes making scarf for her grandchildren and she found her talent in making scarfs. Finally, she became famous in her neighborhood, and wanted to share this family-like warmth to others.

The man was affected by the warm experience, and he thought the quality and the price are good. So, he decided to buy one. Then, he will tell his family members, colleagues and friends there is a scarf shop where you can feel so warm. When the customer experience becomes a shared memory, here comes a good brand story theme - nobody knows warmth better than a grandma.

What we want to indicate is a good brand story isn’t just about what your business is and how the founders make the business successful. The authentic interaction between the brand and the customers is the brand story that happens every day. What you need to do is recalling the shared memory of this interaction.

Telling a story between your brand and your customers is the clearest and the most direct method to influence your audiences. A brand story should be something that deeply entwines with your customers, and shows how this brand means a lot to their life.

Isn’t it simple? A good brand story is a story of your customers. But there are still some storytelling skills to impress your audiences.

1. Find a Unique Story

What makes a story different from an ordinary event? A story is an event or a series of events which are special enough to catch audiences’ attention and evoke their curiosity. It’s also meaningful enough to touch their mind.

For example, the Nike’s very first “Just Do It” TV spot in 1988 featured a shirtless older man jogging across the Golden Gate Bridge. He waves at a few cars, and as the camera closes in on a head-and-shoulders shot, he says to the camera, “I run seventeen miles every morning.” Then, we cut back to a black screen and the white letters announcing, “Walt Stack. 80 years old.” He follows this up with the joke, “People ask me how I keep my teeth from chattering in the wintertime . . . I leave them in my locker.” Then, it cuts back to the black screen and the white letters: “Just do it.”

This is a unique story between Nike and an old man who was still challenging himself. Unlike a young man wearing Nike’s locker which is an ordinary event, the 80 years old man jogging across the Golden Gate Bridge is the story that catches attention and generates meaning. This unlikely athlete doesn’t confine himself to the general perceptions of old people. The unique contrast to what we think about elders is consistent with the brand message of breaking stereotypes and start doing. Nike didn’t mention any concepts like “push the limits”, “be active” or “rebel against stereotypes”, but the user experience makes you easily get it and embeds a clear brand image in your mind.

2. Don't Lead the Narrative with Products

Another mistake that many people make is confuses a brand story with a product introduction. Please keep in mind that nobody wants to listen to a story of products. Audiences don’t want your products at all until your products can fulfill a need or a want.

Therefore, the need or the want of your audiences should be the thread of your narrative. And the content should be built around the model of discovering the need/want, identifying problems and solving the problems. Show your audiences you understand what they need or want. Depict the problems they face when they try to fulfill the need or want vividly and realistically. Remember don’t make the problems too easy to solve. The easy solution will make your brand look mediocre.

For example, if you make a story that a father gave his newborn daughter a doll, the plot looks ordinary. But let’s make the plot a little bit complex: the father passed a doll to his daughter who left home for years due to the inferior relationship with her father, and the doll is the same doll that he gave to her when she was born. Now, we can see the plot means something deeper, and the meaning of the doll is more important.

Your brand is like the doll. If it only fulfills a simple need, it doesn’t catch any attention. But if it satisfies a treasured want like reconciliation, it touches audiences’ mind. This also suggests that the levels of needs and wants which your brand satisfies is the core of narratives rather than your products.

Human brains are designed for remembering stories rather than products. Especially in this fast-paced, information overloaded era, it’s hard to get people’s second attention by repetitive advertisement. A brand with strong storytelling capacity will increase its exposure, discussion on social media and conversion rate. Let go of the company ego, and tell the story about your customers. You will get good results.

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