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How To Tell A Brand Story That Sells

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"Marketing is no longer about the stuff you make, but about the stories you tell." Seth Godin

What type of brand story are you telling? Is it emotional? Is it human? Is it powerful enough to move people to take action?

It's ok if you don't know all the answers. Most businesses are still wrapping their minds around why they need a brand story in the first place and how they're going to tell one that matters to their customers. The why is simple. People crave stories. 

Neurobiologists have found that humans have a biological need for storytelling. We become transfixed and invested in stories that capture our imaginations. It's through them that we relate to one another and find meaning in life. On a business level, storytelling isn't just a nice way to connect with customers, it's how stuff gets sold, profits are made, and start-ups become booming enterprises. 

Adam Gopnik from The New Yorker writes, "Everything—faith, science, love—needs a story for people to find it plausible. No story, no sale." Powerful brand stories don't just increase transactions, they also drive fierce customer loyalty and advocacy. People become emotionally invested in a business they believe in and want to support. 

"Storytelling as it applies to business isn't about spinning a yarn or fairy tale. It's who you are and what you do for others--how you add value to people's lives, ease their troubles, meet their needs. A compelling brand story gives your audience a way to connect with you, one person to another, and to view your business as what it is: a living, breathing entity run by real people offering real value" (Anne Handley).

What was my brand story?

Before I became a marketer, I was a personal trainer. To the general public, I sold weight-loss programs and strength conditioning training packages. But to those who knew my brand story (told by my clients), I sold something different. My stories didn't just sell my services. They sold acceptance, loyalty, honesty, commitment, and friendship. Losing weight and getting stronger were the by-products of helping my clients see their true worth and potential.

As a result, these were some of their stories. 

"I didn't think I could ever run a 5k. Now I'm run 10 half marathons and training for my first marathon!"

"When I started working with Melissa, I was immediately struck by her commitment to me."

"Melissa is honest, has a great knowledge base in nutrition and training, and has a passion and desire to see me succeed.  She is a great cheerleader and task master all at the same time. She has helped me to push through the hard times and achieve some difficult goals."

"The thought of getting back into the exercise arena after so many years (and pounds) was very intimidating to me, however Melissa removed that intimidation factor at our first meeting. She has a genuine passion for helping her clients get fit, and she truly enjoys seeing them reach and exceed their goals."

I also sold belonging. I wanted my female clients to feel supported by me and the other women in our group programs.

"I think one of the most successful aspects of the program for me was training with all the other participants. Working out with the girls was a huge motivating factor. They kept me honest and accountable. I also learned so much from them—their struggles, ideas, tips, and stories. We also celebrated our successes together and helped each other when things were tough."

I'm a firm believer that if you are who you say you are, you don't have to tell people. You show them, and your story will be told through the people you serve. Customers don't become fierce advocates simply because you provide a great product and service. They follow you because of your story—what you stand for, what you value, and who you are. 

How do you get your customers to tell your story? Create experiences worth telling. "People don't buy what you do. They buy how you make them feel and the story you give them to tell" (thestoryoftelling.com)

Create A Tribe. 

Create a place of safety, acceptance, and belonging. Soulcycle is a great example of this. They don't sell memberships to a gym. They sell memberships to a tribe—a group of like-minded people who share the same passions and goals.

"At Soulcycle, we aspire to inspire. We inhale intention and exhale expectation. We commit to our climbs and find freedom in our sprints...One right at a time, Change your body. Take your journey. Find your soul."  

In one brand story, a member wrote, "I love SoulCycle. It has helped me to change my own life. I am a proponent of SOUL. I am a defender of SOUL. I share the experience of SOUL with friends and family. I love that SOUL still surprises me."

Make The Customer The Hero. 

Customers are the lifeblood of Airbnb. Without them, the brand wouldn't have a story to tell. 

Airbnb created the page Stories from the Airbnb Community where customers to share their adventures. They tell stories about trying new foods, experiencing new cultures, and meeting new people. These stories have less to do with Airbnb itself and more to do with the experiences they are excited about as a result of using Airbnb. 

Barrie Seppings nailed it when he said, "Your brand is not the story. Your brand is IN the story." 

Provide memorable (and shareable) customer experiences. 

"Your story isn’t just what you tell people it’s also what they believe about you based on the signals your brand sends. The story is a complete picture made up of facts, feelings and interpretations, which means that part of your story isn’t even told by you" (The Story of Telling).

This was the key to my success as a personal trainer years ago. Providing exceptional service is one of the best ways to get people to talk about you. Imagine the impact you can have by making one person's day and them telling ten friends about it. It doesn't take a lot to make a difference. It's often the simple things that will do the trick.

  • Go above and beyond with helping a customer out of a tough situation.
  • Adopt an attitude of putting customer service before profits.
  • Provide a personalized experience that shows you care about them as individuals.
  • When a mistake is made, own up to it quickly, and fix it.
  • Resolve a pain point they didn't know they had.
  • Be responsive to their needs and concerns.
  • Know your customers inside and out.
  • Be proactive in solving their problems instead of reactive. 
  • Be part of a cause or movement for social good. 

Final Thoughts

Don't just think of brand storytelling as a critical business strategy to driving more leads and closing more sales. Think of it as an opportunity to show people who you are, what you stand for, and what you believe by the exceptional service and value you provide.  Ultimately, you may not even have to tell your own story. Your customers will be delighted to do it for you!