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The topic of “story” can be misunderstood and confusing. Should you tell figurative or literal stories? Are you supposed to have some sort of fictional concept ready to go? What’s more important, your story or someone else’s?

Your brand is more than a collection of facts. It is your past, present, and future, the culmination of your values, mission, and purpose.

Storytelling is essential to a brand. Nobody likes a big untouchable brand with no human interaction. Story brings humanity back into the picture and allows your audience to feel they can connect with you on a deeper level.

In this episode, we get practical on why it’s important to have a brand story and some tips on how to mold your words, presentation, and audience engagement with the power of storytelling.

Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins
  • Your brand story isn’t actually about you, it’s about your audience, customers, and the people who interact with your brand.
  • Inviting people to be a part of something bigger is what grips their attention.
  • Story is about taking a customer or audience member on a visual, imaginative, and compelling journey.
  • Saying, “I’m all about you,” is the best way to get people to connect with your brand.
  • Brand story is all about making memorable moments and connecting with people’s hearts.
  • Story is what makes people care about you.
  • The most successful brands exist to make people better.
  • Creating a brand story is about designing a legacy.
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Show Notes
  • 03:12 Cory: We’re doing a two-part series on storytelling, and today we’re talking about your brand’s story. Part one is more the what/why of brand story and how storytelling fits into what you do as a brand, while part two will be on crafting a narrative. Story is very misunderstood and confusing. A lot of people ask me, “How do I bring in the idea of storytelling with my brand? Do I tell figurative stories? Do I tell literal stories? Am I supposed to say, ‘Once upon a time?’ What’s important?” You know how when you use words over and over again, they start to sound weird? I think story becomes weird for people and they don’t know what it means or how to apply it within their brand, and that’s what we want to pull back the curtain on today.
  • 04:50 Kyle: If story doesn’t necessarily mean “Once upon a time,” do you think it’s fair to say it’s more of an attempt to make others feel the way you do about what you’re passionate about?
  • 05:12 Cory: Yes, it’s a way to invite people to be part of something bigger. Every single person wants to be part of something that matters—that’s just the core of who we are has human beings. The feeling of not mattering or not knowing what your identity is is so prevalent in our world, so inviting people to be a part of something bigger or something that empowers their own story is what grips their attention. You want people to feel the same way about what you’re passionate about, but it’s also about you, as a brand, saying, “I care about you,” the customer or the audience. It’s all about saying, “I’m here to make your story better. I want you to be the best version of yourself.”

What Is a Brand Story?

  • 06:40 Your brand story is ultimately your past, your present, your future, your values, your mission, and your purpose. What are we all about? Where did we come from? What are we doing? Who are we doing it for? A lot of it seems like very basic stuff. Your brand story is what you’re about, who your brand is for, who your target audience is, where you’re going, what your purpose is, your mission, and your plan.

Your brand story isn’t actually about you, your company, or what you’re doing.

Your brand story is about your audience, customers, and the people who interact with your brand.

  • 07:54 It’s about the kind of value they’ll receive by interacting with your brand. You’re not the hero of anyone else’s story. We’ve talked about the idea of when you read a book or go to a movie, the protagonist is the hero of that particular story. The truth is you’re not the hero of anyone else’s story. Donald Miller owns a great branding consultancy called Story Brand and they help brands figure out their story based on their products. They get all the clutter out of the way so people can engage with those brands. One of his favorite things to say is, “You’re not the hero of anyone else’s story.” Your brand is about your customers. Your company is about your audience. Your Instagram isn’t all about you, it’s about the people who are looking at your Instagram. Brand story is about something bigger—it’s saying, “This is what we’re about and we’re about you.”
  • 09:19 Kyle: This is something I’ve struggled through and grown a little bit in over time, but I can’t imagine I’m the only introvert that struggles with this. I’m not saying it’s exclusively an introvert problem, but I know my personality type likes to get straight to the point and remove all the fluff.
  • 09:56 Cory: You’re a little more black and white than I am.
  • 09:57 Kyle: It’s tough for people like me to get into “story mode” and talk about something that seems as black and white as a product, service, or your brand as a whole. It feels like I should just say, “This is what I’m offering. This is why I offer it. Thanks, bye.” That’s not to be rude, but from the inside, that’s what I would perceive that I would want, but when I go to other places and they have a story, it does draw me in and speak to me directly. It’s tough to switch that mode on.
  • 10:45 A lot of the questions this morning are all about this and I know there’s a lot of people in the seanwes Community that are similar to my personality type, which is the Meyers Briggs INTJ. It’s no surprise that there were a lot of questions like: do I have a story? Should I try to make a story? Emily asked, “What if my story seems boring?” and she’s an INTJ as well. I think we have that problem of perceiving what we have to share as being black and white without a story behind it.
  • 11:35 Cory: What I want to acknowledge is that it’s really easy and a lot more comfortable to just talk about the factual things that make your brand unique. It’s easy to say, “I do this and here’s the price I do it for.” As someone who’s trying to craft a brand, it’s a lot more simple to come up with facts like an FAQ page. I want to highlight this because it is a struggle, but story is better. Story isn’t just about a figurative or literal “story”.

Story is about taking a customer or audience member on a visual, imaginative, and compelling journey.

  • 12:43 It’s about the words you write, the pictures you use, the colors you portray, the styles you have. It’s about what your business card looks like and the experience people have when they go to your website. It’s about taking them to another level that makes their minds start working a little bit more. I’m going to share two business taglines and you tell me which one is more compelling: “Our company creates speakers for your office,” or, “Saving the world from inferior audio.”
  • 13:34 Kyle: Definitely “Saving the world from inferior audio.”
  • 13:40 Cory: I searched for artisan speakers and that’s a real company’s tagline! “Our company creates speakers for your office,” is factual, but it’s not very interesting, it’s uninviting, and it’s bland. It’s a fact, but it doesn’t make me think about anything. “Saving the world from inferior audio,” is compelling, exciting, and speaks to a problem! I immediately get this picture of someone in a cape flying around battling this issue. I have a crazy imagination, but it brings about the idea that the world needs saving from bad audio. Inferior audio is the bad guy and these guys are going to help me save the world and my ears. It’s speaking to a problem but it’s also wrapped up in something exciting and interesting. It made my mind go to a deeper level. That’s what story is about. Story is about not just allowing your audience to read through what you have to say, it’s about engaging with their mind and giving them a spark so they’re interested, drawn in, and captivated—it makes them want to read more.
  • 15:10 Kyle: I think a key thing to point out with the example you gave is that what you just read is about what you were looking for. It raises awareness of inferior audio, or it’s more of a call to action for someone who goes to their site that already knows they need better speakers. A brand’s story has clarity about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. I’ve seen sites where it’s talking about things you enjoy doing, like a dating website where you write out things you like to do. People don’t come to my site focused on icon design and expect to see a story on why I like music or what coffee shops I go to. They want to see something they can relate to. Yes, my about page is about me or my brand as a whole, but it’s relatable. It’s meant to bring about the feelings they’re hoping to feel by coming to that site.
  • 16:49 You searched for artisan speakers and you got someone who instantly appears to be well-versed in audio. The desire to consume high quality content or the passion they have for their craft are things I want to reflect in my own brand as a story, but it’s their story. It’s putting the ball in their court and they realize those are all things they want to get behind.

Why Is My Brand’s Story Important?

    17:37 Cory: Keshna asks, “If no one cares about me and my story, why is my story important?” I say this all the time:

You make your audience care about you by proving you care about them.

  • 17:51 Kyle: I think the key word there is “my”. It’s not about your story, even though you do have to highlight that and you speak from your experience and profession. Your goal is to bring someone into your story. Like with adventure photographers, they’re bringing people into their story even though they’re going places, doing things, and sharing it with the world vs. the rest of the Instagram world where people share what they’re doing that day. Successful adventure photographer accounts are meant to weave a story constantly and make you feel like you’re where they are. They’re externalizing the internal.
  • 19:05 Cory: It’s about resonating with where those people are at. Your audience is going to know when all you want to do is talk about yourself. If I’m trying to hire someone or find something I’m interested in, and all that person can talk about is themselves, I become very uninterested. I’m looking for the solution to my problem and the value that’s going to come to me. Nobody goes to your about page first. Nobody types in first, ever.
  • 20:05 Kyle: I had an experience with this the other day. We talked about this topic the other day and I mentioned that I’ve had some struggles with it so I decided to do some research to be up to speed with where Cory’s at with all of this. I started searching for articles about storytelling and one of the people I ran across wasn’t about storytelling, he was a prolific person in the marketing or business space. I had never heard of him and his site was all about his name, what he’s done, what his successes are, and how he can help you. It wasn’t about me, it was about him and all these things he’s done.
  • 21:18 As the reader, I felt like this guy was way ahead of me and all he wants to do is tell me how far ahead of me he is. I don’t want to read his stuff. I don’t feel like I can learn from him. I feel like he’s just going to hypothetically put me down in his stuff. That wasn’t a good story, even though I think his intention was to share his expertise and experience. It was like he’s up here and I am but the lowly person that has the opportunity to read things from him. It even said, “Now he’s sharing his expertise for you,” as if he normally doesn’t do this type of thing.
  • 22:10 Cory: At some point he could have said, “Here’s what I’m going to do for you. Here’s the value you’re going to get from hiring me or listening to me speak,” but he didn’t do that. He started with himself. You’re not the hero of anyone else’s story. He could have started out with something basic like, “Take your business to the next level. Engage with your audience deeper by doing XYZ,” and then came in to tell us why he’s going to help us do this with his experience, then bring in social proof to show the people he’s helped with my same problem. Because he starts with himself, it’s uninteresting. Make me care first.

Story is what makes people care about you.

  • 23:12 When the story is about your audience and their problems, they immediately say, “Wow! Yeah!” We get the question a lot about nice-to-haves, like illustrations, art, clothing brands. People say those aren’t necessarily solving problems, but you’re engaging with people, helping them to become better versions of themselves, and connecting with their personal story. People connect with art because it touches their heart or mind. It makes them think, recall a memory, or think about something that could be. Art is about connecting with people who resonate.
  • 25:03 Kyle and I could see the same painting and have totally different reactions to it because our stories are different. Art, illustration, and nice-to-haves all have story because you’re providing something for your audience to resonate with. You’re ultimately saying, “You’re so important to me that I’m going to take my talent and skill to create something that’s going to help your personal story flourish and be full of life.” That’s what people connect with. They want to connect with something deeper and if all you’re saying is, “I want to make your logo,” nobody will care.
  • 25:24 Kyle: You always hear, “Your art is most valuable after you’re dead.” There is that idea that you grew a name for yourself because people enjoyed your art and now you’re gone, so it’s worth more because there’s scarcity. If you really pay attention, a lot of times when people are trying to sell art, they tell the story of the artist, what the artist was going through, and why they painted it this way. Maybe the person had lost their vision, so when you see the painting, you think it’s blurry and weird, but then they tell you that the artist painted went blind. All of a sudden, you’re drawn into this incredible story. Story goes a long way into selling things like art and people aren’t sharing that.
  • 26:42 You might say, “I make products and there’s not really story behind that,” but there is! There’s the story of why the thing exists and where you were at when you made it that people can connect to. Clothes are not a nice-to-have for me and I would rather wear clothes that have meaning and purpose behind them than clothes that just look nice. I’m willing to pay more for something that has some kind of story behind it. A while back Cory made some shirts and I wear a shirt of his, so now I can tell people about the person who made it and why he did. People will ask me where I got that shirt and I can tell them more of a story than, “I picked it up at Target.” I like Target, but they don’t have a pamphlet telling why this shirt says what it says.
  • 28:02 Cory: There’s a really specific word that underlines the purpose of brand story and that’s “personality” (Related: e004 Understanding Brand as Personality and Why It Matters). You don’t want to have a bland brand. Having personality behind a brand is what makes people connect with you. The reason Kyle and I connect is because our personalities are compatible, even though we’re not the same personality type. Brand story is about the personality of the brand, and that’s what makes it so interesting and engaging. That’s what people are looking for. They’re not looking to be marketed to or for salesy ads. People are looking for stories with enormous personality and something that has character.
  • 29:46 There’s a guy in the Community named Brent Galloway who’s a t-shirt designer. He recently did a refocusing on his website and I love what his landing page says, “T-shirt design that helps your brand stay creatively relevant.” That’s not about him! That’s the people he wants to work with. He goes on to say, “Your message is powerful and the owner of your t-shirt becomes a part of your brand. What do you want your audience to feel, represent, and say? My name is Brent Galloway. Let me help you communicate the right message with your next t-shirt project,” then there’s a big button that says “let’s get started.” I don’t even want a t-shirt and I want to work with this guy! He’s telling me that he’s all about me.

Saying, “I’m all about you,” is the best way to get people to connect with your brand.

  • 31:00 Kyle: Brent has started a brand around making shirts and honestly, there’s hundreds if not thousands of places you could go to get a t-shirt designed, but because Brent is telling a story and he’s connecting with you, you’re much more likely to go to him than a site that says, “We will design a shirt for you. You can upload your custom graphics.” I would go to that site if I wanted something fast or cheap, but if you want something that has meaning, purpose, or is serious about what you’re doing, you’re going to go to someone who’s a professional like Brent is projecting, because he’s telling that story and appealing to your exact desires. Maybe that’s why you feel that way, Cory, because even though you’re not wanting a shirt, you have a design background and you can connect what what Brent’s saying.

Make Your Brand Memorable

  • 32:18 Cory: Amy asks, “What are some examples of some brands with great stories? What are they doing right and how are they using their story to connect with their audience? What is it about their story that their audience relates to, and how does that translate to brand equity, sales, etc.?” Coca Cola is one of the first brands I consider to be doing story correctly. Coca Cola is a world-wide brand and the immediate image that comes up in my mind is the old school Santa Claus character who’s cracking open a cold Coke. The next thing I think of is the Polar bears in their commercials and branding, because it’s ice cold Coca Cola. They’re doing story so well.
  • 33:18 I’m pretty sure that the modern day Santa Claus with the red and white coloring is because Coca Cola wanted to make that vivid matching color. When they launched the Santa Claus campaigns to the red and white of their brand. Now, when I think Santa Claus and I think Coca Cola and when I think Coca Cola, I think Santa Claus. The story they’re telling is happiness. They’re trying to communicate that something is magical about their drink—there’s mystery there. Thinking about Polar bears in Antartica drinking Coca Cola sparks the imagination and makes it more than, “We have a soft drink, drink it.”
  • 34:56 Another one I thought of was Sony, specifically their PlayStation campaigns. I used to be a gamer back in the day and I love their commercials where the player is in the game. They’re walking around and all of a sudden the world turns into the dystopian future where buildings are falling down and magical creatures come out. Suddenly the player is in the game. They’re crafting these commercials to say, “You’re going to be so developed in this game console that you’ll feel like you’re actually in the game.” People watch these commercials and think, “If I get a PlayStation, it’s going to feel so real.” Again, they’re taking it deeper.
  • 35:57 Kyle: They did this in the Star Wars Battlefront commercials. They have these people that get sucked into the game and they’re giving this impression that you’ll have a better experience in the game than you will in real life. It shows them looking stupid in real life making these moves and then in the game it looks totally natural because they’re fighting things. It’s interesting how they try to pull you in my telling you it’s an extension of your story.
  • 37:16 Cory: Another brand we could talk about for years is Apple. They’re doing story right, just look at their commercials. A lot of their commercials have 30% or 40% about the device and the rest is about lifestyle. When they came out with Apple Watch, they said it was “the most personal device we’ve ever made,” and they showed people running or doing business. Suddenly, everyone from different avenues of life are looking at these people thinking, “I’m that person! I’m totally connecting with this. This is the most personal device I could ever get.” It’s all about story. We could go on and on about the way they create their content and write their copy. They’re fantastic.
  • 38:04 Kyle: A really specific example there was the iPad. I remember there were a bunch of rumors about the iPad, then the iPad was announced, and at first, people were thinking it was just a big iPhone and it’s not going to be helpful. All of a sudden, there was this simple commercial with a woman sitting on the couch with her daughter reading a story. They showed her swiping across to flip through the pages and they didn’t say what processor it has, how big the screen is, or how much ram it has. It was very simple, just a lady reading to her daughter on the couch, and at the end it says iPad. Suddenly a light bulb comes on for people. They realize it has a use that can’t be done on their phones.
  • 39:16 Cory: It’s memorable. In that moment, it made you feel something and it made you wonder. Brand story is all about making memorable moments and connecting with people’s hearts, and having a framework that allows your audience to feel a certain way. Ultimately, that’s what brand is: how people feel about you, what you’re doing, and your business. Everlane is another company I thought of and I’ve mentioned before. I love their idea of knowing your factories, know your costs, and always asking why. It’s all about authenticity, transparency, and honesty—that’s what people connect with. I think Everlane is killing it.
  • 40:13 Kyle: Someone in the chat asked for examples of smaller businesses and off the top of my head I think of the seanwes store. Cory McCabe, Sean McCabe’s brother, made some awesome videos for the Recharge Hoodie and Anchor shirt. The Recharge Hoodie video did a really good job of showing someone wearing the product and sketching. It’s not about the product—the type of print or fabric, etc. It was about, “Here’s what we hope you can feel from owning this product.”
  • 42:21 Cory: In that particular case, it’s ultimately about lifestyle. It’s about connecting with someone’s lifestyle and making their story better.

The most successful brands exist to make people better.

  • 41:39 Sure, there’s profit, money, equity, and revenue, but the most successful brands exist to make peoples’ lives better. Juan asked, “Where does your story begin?” and I said, “At the beginning,” and then he asked, “Where does your story end?” If you do it right, never. Creating a brand story is about designing a legacy, and in some sense, becoming a myth or a legend. The best stories are the ones you can recall from memory. Will people be able to recall yours? Are you creating content, developing a product, or are you a business people will remember because of the way you were reaching out to them?
  • 42:45 It’s all about becoming memorable, and you do that by speaking to the problems of your audience, creating content they resonate with, and by saying, “I get you and I’m for you. I want you to be the best version of yourself and I want to help you do that.” That’s how you craft a fantastic brand story, get people to become loyal, and to get people to give you word of mouth referrals. That’s how you get them to care about you—proving that you care about them.