Successful companies all do one thing really well: tell powerful, compelling stories.
Stories are engaging. They help us form connections between ourselves and the storytellers.
This creates an opportunity for companies that want to build strong relationships with their audience.
The art of brand storytelling promotes the effective communication of your brand story, which is a summary of your company’s history, mission, purpose, and values.
In this article, we'll discover what makes a strong brand story, why your business needs to tell its story, and what steps you should take to build one.
What Is Brand Storytelling?
Let’s kick off with a quick brand storytelling definition.
Brand storytelling is the process of creating a series of plot points to build an emotional connection between a brand and its target audience.
A brand story is a summary of your company’s history, mission, purpose, and values, with a narrative structure that brings it to life.
Is there a difference between content marketing and brand storytelling?
Content marketing can channel brand stories, but not all content marketing is brand storytelling.
Content marketing involves creating educational or promotional content to attract new customers, engage existing ones, and increase brand loyalty. It is just one channel for telling your brand story.
Storytelling tools and techniques are used to create branded content that speaks the values and vision of your company and generates an emotional response.
Why Does Brand Storytelling Matter?
Brand storytelling explains your values and engages with potential customers who share them.
Psychologist Jerome Bruner found people are 22 times more likely to remember details when stories communicate messages rather than just facts and numbers.
Customers who share your values are more likely to be loyal to your brand.
A study in the Harvard Business Review found emotional connections are significant drivers of brand loyalty. They are also one of the best indicators of future customer value.
Besides, brand storytelling complements SEO strategies when it comes to getting your content noticed and ranked well by search engines.
Good stories surprise us. They make us think and feel. They stick in our minds and help us remember ideas and concepts in a way that a PowerPoint crammed with bar graphs never can.
For example, the UK-based price comparison website Compare the Market won customers by creating a compelling storyline for the fictitious meerkat Aleksandr Orlov.
Over years of TV commercials, potential customers followed Aleksandr and his family on a series of crazy adventures.
In the ads, Aleksandr exhorts viewers to use Compare the Market over his own website, Compare the Meerkat. Searching comparethemeerkat.com takes would-be customers to a page detailing the meerkat characters’ backstory on the insurer’s website, comparethemarket.com.
The Elements of Powerful Brand Storytelling
Here are some of the key elements to producing a brand story that sticks:
Empathy: Make sure your audience can see themselves in your brand story.
Attention-grabbing: Establish and stick to a distinct voice and personality for selling your brand story. By never wavering, your content will be instantly recognizable.
Authentic: Be honest about your values, your company’s unique features, and the challenges you face.
Relatable: Avoid using industry-specific or technical jargon, and show you understand who your customers are and what challenges they face.
Consistency: Your audience should know what to expect from you while still looking forward to what’s next.
Aligned with business goals: Your brand story should be aligned with your business goals and integrated into all areas of your business—including marketing, sales, and all internal and external communications.
Provoke action: Find a place in your story—as Compare the Market did with Aleksandr—to place your call to action and push the audience into becoming customers.
Map Out Your Brand Story in 7 Steps
Setting out your brand story will lay the foundations for your marketing strategy.
You can use your mapped-out brand story as a compass for content, communications, and marketing campaigns.
Grab the Semrush Brand Storytelling Template (it’s free!) and follow the steps below to build one successfully.
Step 1: Establish your origin story
We’ve all heard the term “origin story.” It’s where you and your company come from and the events that brought you to the present day.
Building your origin story is an important part of your brand storytelling and needs to include your personal goals and your values. Including your goals and values will help you understand how your personal experiences may influence your company’s goals and mission.
For example, Fire Department Coffee is a company founded by U.S. Navy veteran and former firefighter Luke Schneider.
Schneider has made his firefighter and veteran background part of FDC’s origin story. He was looking for a strong brew to get him through grueling shifts when the idea of launching FDC was born.
The company sticks close to its roots, often supporting veterans’ and first responders’ initiatives in the process.
Establishing your journey to the present day can help pinpoint specific personal experiences to use in your brand storytelling. It can also help create an emotional connection with your audience.
In the origin story of your company, think about these things:
- Why was it created?
- Who founded it?
- How was it founded?
- What is the company’s vision?
- What successes have you had?
- What challenges have you faced?
- How did you overcome them?
Step 2: Build your hero’s journey
The Hero’s Journey is one of the most popular storytelling templates that you can use for building your brand story.
The template follows an emotional arc that resonates strongly with consumers in marketing materials.
The hero—your brand’s would-be customer—and their behaviors are clearly defined. It explains what disruption they faced, how your solution solved their problem, and the end result.
Start documenting your hero’s journey by answering the following questions:
- Who is your hero?
- What are their needs and wants?
- What is their problem, and how are they solving it now?
- How can your brand step in to help them?
- How would they hear about you?
- What solution are you offering?
- What does transformation and a better future look like?
To illustrate, in 2018 Coca-Cola launched an ad that sought to challenge Islamophobia with an educational commercial about the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Part of its tradition is to follow a strict daily fast from dawn until sunset.
Our hero, a young Muslim woman, misses her bus and is forced to walk through a busy city. During her walk she gets thirstier and more tired, and encounters discrimination along the way.
A young jogger sees the hero struggling and buys two bottles of Coke. The jogger offers a bottle to the hero, who waits to take a sip until the sun goes down. The jogger, initially incredulous, understands what is happening and waits with the hero.
Finally, when the sun sets, both characters enjoy their Cokes together.
This is a classic hero’s journey, presenting challenges that are overcome to end in triumph, all the while promoting both Coca-Cola’s drinks and the brand’s power for uniting people from different cultures.
Step 3: Think about your brand personality
Now you can build your brand personality.
This must include applying human characteristics to your brand and will be based on the personalities of your customers and their preferences.
A well-defined brand personality will help you connect with your customers on a deeper level.
You can use the Brand Archetypes Framework below to help establish your brand personality.
Brand archetypes represent key personality types you can use to identify which personality is found among your target market.
The framework is a tool that was first developed by Carl Jung, based on 12 archetypes.
Each archetype has its own set of emotions and associations. Businesses can pick which archetype most closely matches that of their personality based on the wheel above.
You can align your brand archetype to the personality embodied by your customers. This will further strengthen your brand storytelling. You can find more information on brand archetypes in this blog post.
Let’s look at a real-life example:
GEICO, the insurance company, is one of the largest companies in the United States, helped by its brand storytelling.
By using memorable catchphrases and fun, fictional spokespeople—like the GEICO Gecko—the insurer established a brand personality and invited people to buy into its brand narrative.
Step 4: Define your brand purpose and values
Now you can define your brand purpose and values. They will serve as your compass when crafting stories, ensuring they highlight your brand’s greatest goals.
A brand purpose should be one sentence that communicates the value you create in the lives of your customers. It should be based on your brand story.
Here are some examples from well-known brands:
- Dove: To help women everywhere develop a positive relationship with the way they look, helping them realize their full potential.
- Patagonia: To build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to protect nature.
- Intuit: To power prosperity around the world.
You must also identify four to five values that matter to your company, specifying why that is.
Great brand values should set you apart from other brands. Try to keep them clear and concise.
- Adidas: Performance, Passion, Integrity, Diversity
- Cars.com: Accessibility, Convenience, Risk Reduction, Brand/Status
- Zara: Beauty, Clarity, Functionality, Sustainability
Step 5: Define your brand story and its purpose
Define your brand story and the messages you want it to convey. This can include the company story and brand narrative you want to build for your audience and what you want it to inspire that audience to do.
Potential goals to build your story around include revenue growth, organic traffic, increasing followers, or building more awareness of your brand.
In two columns, list your goals and the existing resources you can count on to achieve them. Those resources do not have to just be financial. A popular product or large social-media following are resources that can further your brand storytelling goals.
Let’s look at another example.
Blueland, which sells eco-friendly cleaning products, was founded by Sarah Paiji Yoo when she became a new mother. Once she realized how much single-use plastic she was using, Sarah was horrified to learn how microplastics can make their way into food and water she was giving her baby.
That’s when she created Blueland to sell eco-friendly products in reusable packaging.
Sarah published her mission on the company’s website, drawing on her own story and using it to appeal to like-minded people and convert them into customers.
Step 6: Write down your brand story
With this wealth of information, you are now ready to write your brand story. In 200 to 300 words, make sure your brand story answers key questions about your customers’ challenges and needs, why your brand exists, and your brand’s mission.
Here’s a few quick points to consider:
- What context does your customer operate in?
- What are their challenges and needs?
- Why does your brand exist?
- What is its mission—how are you changing your hero’s life?
- What future do you envision for your brand?
- What unique thing can your company deliver?
As well as these questions, dedicate time to establish your brand’s tone of voice. This can include thinking about brand style guidelines and writing guidelines.
To illustrate, let’s talk about Mailchimp - a marketing automation and email marketing tool.
When it launched, its cartoon monkey mascot Freddy and informal tone helped the service stand out to its target audience of small businesses.
When the company released its new all-in-one Marketing Platform in 2019, it wove the founders’ character arcs and the company’s mission statement into one blog post to widen that brand story and appeal to its base.
Step 7: Share and Develop Your Brand Story
Share your brand story across the entire organization. The brand story should serve as the narrative for everything in your company.
This includes using company storytelling to inform marketing and public relations campaigns as well as the way you run human resources and manage your sales teams.
Share your brand story with employees during onboarding, perhaps by way of an explainer video, to properly communicate the essence of your brand.
Your brand story should also form the foundation of your content marketing strategy. Use it as a starting point when creating content plans, producing content, and when bringing new writers and content creators into your company.
Make your brand story a “living document” that evolves with your company. Review it regularly and make sure it reflects feedback from your customers.
Whole Foods is one example of a brand that has mastered using storytelling in content marketing.
The multinational supermarket chain uses social media and its blog to share educational content, recipes, and helpful tips for parents to subtly promote its products.
Whole Foods tells its brand story so that it is about more than just food—it is about living a healthy life. The company uses storytelling to highlight its purpose—“to nourish people and the planet”—and its core values.
These include supporting a local experience and practicing environmental stewardship to motivate and engage its customers.
Use content writing tools like ContentShake to find topics aligned with your story and customers. Enter a topic relevant to your business and receive resonating content ideas for your website.
Many consumers view their purchases—and the brands they support—as extensions of their identities and values.
They want to feel like they are part of a community with which they share certain ideals.
This is why you must define your brand story and reinforce it via brand story marketing. That way, your brand will spring to your target audience’s minds before your competition does.
Your brand story must run through your content marketing. Whether it’s on your website, a blog, or social media channels, stick to that story, as well as your tone of voice.
Brand storytelling is one of the best ways to differentiate your brand, establish an emotional connection with your target audience, and build a base of lasting customers.