This article originally appeared on Column Five.
Content marketing is one of the best ways to tell your brand story. But many marketers are confused about what that actually means. Here, we break down what a brand story is, why you need to share it, and how to communicate it through every piece of content you create.
WHAT IS YOUR BRAND STORY?
Despite the word “story,” a brand story is not a linear narrative. It isn’t even confined to the written word. It is an amalgam of your brand’s existence; it’s your essence. Your brand story is:
• Who you are: How your company came to exist, as well as your vision, mission, values, and culture.
• What you do: The product or service you provide.
• Who you do it for: The people you want to help.
• Why you do it: Your larger goal; not just what product/service you provide but how that benefits your customer (e.g., your app helps book vacations so that your customer can truly relax).
• How you do it: Visibility into your product, production, or process.
• Where you are headed: How you are evolving and working to create the best product/service for your customers.
In some ways, it can be hard to quantify a brand story because it is not one single thing, wrapped up in your website’s About page. To your audience, your brand story is both tangible and intangible, formed by the sum total of their interactions with your brand.
It’s in everything they see, read, hear, touch, experience (sometimes even taste) when they encounter your brand. It’s your website UX, the way you banter with them on Twitter, the way your customer service reps answer the phone. Your brand story is a powerful entity that functions as a conduit between you and your audience.
WHY BRAND STORY IS SO IMPORTANT
Consumers have become increasingly resistant to interruption marketing, the paradigm in which brands interrupt consumers to sell, sell, sell. Consumers don’t want to be treated as a faceless dollar bill, and they don’t want to feel preyed upon by corporate interests. But the traditional dynamic, which is inherently a one-way conversation, has made them feel this way.
Unsurprisingly, the 2014 Edelman Brandshare survey found that the majority of consumers are suspicious of brands’ intentions.
Consumers are not inherently opposed to brand communication, but they don’t want interruption. They crave engagement marketing, a dynamic in which the brand-consumer relationship is built on trust, mutual respect, and common interests. They want to connect and interact with brands, to be acknowledged as unique individuals.
Unfortunately, although there are more ways for brands to communicate with consumers than ever, consumers largely think that brands are dropping the ball. According to Edelman, the majority feel there is an imbalance in their relationships with brands.
To build a better dynamic with consumers, brands need to actively cultivate relationships. This is why sharing your brand story is so vital. It’s a friendly introduction, a way to build a relationship beyond a blanket media buy.
Your brand story tells your audience who you are, why you want to help them, and why they would enjoy working with you, helping you make an authentic, genuine connection at every stage of the buyer’s journey.
Letting them behind the curtain also helps you demonstrate both confidence and vulnerability, which makes audiences more eager to trust you and accept your expertise.
Now here’s the part that many marketers hate to acknowledge: You don’t have total control over your brand story. Your story is part what you communicate and part how your consumer perceives what you communicate.
While that may be frustrating, it’s important to take control of the part of the story you can communicate it. With no brand story, your customers can write their own narrative—or worse, disregard you entirely.
COMMUNICATING YOUR BRAND STORY THROUGH CONTENT
So, how do you share your brand story? Content is one of the best tools at your disposal. Every piece of content you create supports your story, from the simplest tweet to a full-on white paper.
It’s a steady IV drip, a way to deliver your story to multiple audiences, on multiple platforms, in many formats. Storytelling content can include:
These communication tools are also versatile and flexible. Your story isn’t static; it changes as your company grows and expands, as you bring on new team members and break into new markets. While your website may not change much, a new initiative can spawn an article, infographic, and social content to send your story far and wide.
6 WAYS TO TELL YOUR BRAND STORY
Many brands get so excited about content marketing that they push any and every idea out the door, eager to feed the content beast. This instinct is well-intentioned but destructive. The only thing worse than no content is content that is disjointed, off-brand, or inconsistent.
To ensure you’re telling the right story and setting your content up for success, follow these 6 tips.
1) CHOOSE THE RIGHT SUBJECT
Consumers want to work with brands that “get” them, that are invested in helping them solve a problem, do something better, or enhance their life in some way.
Unfortunately, too many brands are focused on what they want to create, not what their audience needs. To help you come up with the right ideas, create audience personas, which detail exactly who your audience segments are, their pain points and struggles, and how you can help address them. (Try this easy exercise to help you create personas in less than an hour.)
You can use those personas to vet all your ideas, ensuring you are giving your audience truly valuable content that demonstrates that your brand is a useful resource or helpful friend.
Example: LinkedIn Marketing Solutions is all about mobilizing marketers to grow their audience, create more effective content, and, ultimately, achieve their goals. To help their audience get better results from their marketing, we helped them create a useful e-book packed with tips, stats, and deep dives into the world of native advertising.
2) PRESENT IT IN THE RIGHT FORMAT
The most important goal for every piece of content is to communicate your brand story as efficiently and effectively as possible. Therefore, choosing the right format is vital. You might get caught up in trying to produce the flashiest, trendiest types of content, but this is a disservice to your audience.
Whether content is meant to inform, delight, or entertain, show your audience you value their time and attention by presenting it in the right package.
Example: Warby Parker is known for their tremendously creative annual reports, packed full of personality. Each year, it’s an engaging interactive report with hidden surprises, such as the opportunity for readers to create their own personal annual reports.
3) USE YOUR BRAND VOICE
It is way too easy to default to boring marketing speak. (See our marketing gibberish generator if you want to see what we mean.)
Your brand personality and culture are what makes your brand unique. This should be reflected in your brand story through a strong (and human!) brand voice.
Don’t know what your brand voice is? It sounds like your company conversations, Google chats, water-cooler jokes. It’s influenced by who you are and who you strive to be.
Pro tip: Once you complete a piece of content, give it a second pass for word choice and tone. These are the easiest ways to color up your content and make sure you’re speaking to your audience appropriately.
Example: This Intuit interactive uses simple, helpful, and friendly language to guide small-business owners through the process of preparing employee W-2s.
4) DESIGN WITH YOUR VISUAL LANGUAGE
Your visual language is the aesthetic experience of your brand. Everything from your logo to color palettes can affect how your content is interpreted. Whether it’s a brand video, infographic, or interactive, a consistent, on-brand visual language creates a cohesive experience.
If you don’t already, your brand should have a formal style guide. (This allows any designer to preserve brand style and integrity.) Make sure it includes specifications for:
• Color palette
• Design system (such as hierarchy)
See our step-by-step approach to building a powerful visual language and find out what four things your brand style guide should include.
5) MAKE IT SHAREABLE
You don’t want to be the only one telling your brand story. Encourage your audience to share your story by making it easy to do so. Working social buttons, proper dimensions, SEO optimization, hashtags—consider anything you can do to foster engagement.
For more tips, find out how to optimize your blog for your publishing and how to optimize your infographics for SEO.
6) MAXIMIZE EXPOSURE
It takes a lot of work to create a great piece of content, so you should try to reach as many people as possible. Your owned channels are a great starting point, but it always helps to elevate your visibility through publishing partnerships, syndication, or cobranded work. The larger the reach, the more people will hear your brand story.
Example:We partnered with INC to create an animated infographic showcasing 3 exciting infographic trends for infographics. This gave INC a great piece of visual content and allowed us to showcase our expertise and design skills to a larger audience.
ALWAYS STRIVE TO TELL BETTER STORIES
As your brand story evolves, you will have more opportunities to connect with your audience—if you stay up-to-date on how to tell the best stories.
Going forward, continue to educate yourself, refine your brand story, and experiment with different ways to communicate your brand story. Remember: No one can tell it better than you.
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