5 essential elements of brand storytelling

brand storytelling

From Airbnb to Nike, all well-known brands have found success by telling a consistent brand story. A compelling brand narrative can help you build an audience that is truly invested in your product. Below, we share five essential elements of telling your brand story, and how to get started.

Since the dawn of time, humans have told stories. Stories help us to participate in conversations, build connections, and understand the world we live in. Psychologists have acknowledged that when we listen to stories being told, the sensory cortex of our brain lights up.

Businesses can tap into this by telling their own story. Brand storytelling is all the stories a brand shares and aligns themselves with in order to trigger an emotional response from their audience. Marketers believe that by humanizing your brand, this can lead to brand awareness, revenue growth, and also encourage customer loyalty.

Your brand story begins the second someone hears your brand name for the first time. It’s the service your brand provides, and what your brand ethos is. It’s your logo, your website, your About page, and your social media interactions.

Below, we look at the five essential elements of brand storytelling: Consistency and authenticity, knowing your audience, communicating the problem you solve, building your character, and connecting with your community.

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1. Be authentic and consistent

When thinking about your brand story, it’s important to start from the beginning, and ask yourself a few questions:

  • Why does the brand exist? What was the gap in the market that led you to start your brand?
  • What were the early days like? Whether you’re part of a big company or are still in the start-up phase, think about some of the magic moments that helped build the company.
  • What does the brand offer and why is it different from other competitors? Whether it’s a nonprofit model, the use of high-quality materials, or a pledge to being more sustainable, think about the unique value you bring to your customers.

Once you’ve asked yourself these questions, you have the building blocks required to create your story. This will help inform your About Us page, your social media bio, and it’s a great reference tool for your marketing playbook.

Another proven strategy for brand storytelling is telling an authentic story. While it can be tempting to make your company look highly successful from day one, being honest with your audience helps them relate to you—if you’ve had any setbacks that made your brand what it is today, don’t be afraid to share them.

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When thinking about how you explain your unique selling proposition, it’s best to have a simple phrase that helps illustrate this point. Maybe your brand is passionate about education; a phrase like ‘educating the masses’ helps paint a clear picture. Or, if you’re passionate about healthy and affordable food, a phrase like ‘making healthy food affordable again’ helps invoke a personal response from a reader or future customer.

Here are two of examples of major companies tackling big issues using authentic storytelling:

TOMS

toms, essential elements, brand storytelling

TOMS website clearly shows their brand's story.

TOMS uses clear language and visual hierarchy to clearly communicate their brand narrative. The business centers around the ethos of “improving lives”, and their About page is aptly titled “How we give”.

On this page, viewers are greeted with an image and bold text that informs them of what each TOMS purchase goes towards, "With every purchase, TOMS will help a person in need. One for One."

Next, TOMS provides a more thorough breakdown in “What We Give”. A simple scroll down the page will inform you of the charitable work TOMS does—providing shoes, sight correction, water, safe births, and bullying prevention to those in need.

Emotive imagery partnered with concise wording is used throughout to provide the customer with a holistic view of how the business works, and how their profits or revenue are used.

Design tip: Emphasize your mission statement or mantra by using large, bold fonts and contrasting colors. This will help the user clearly navigate your website.

Patagonia

patagonia, essential elements, brand storytelling

The Patagonia website is simple and clearly conveys their company's environmental mission.

Patagonia is an international brand with a brand story that is powered by an environmental mission. Their mission statement, “We're In Business To Save Our Home Planet” has informed not only the product but also the structure and content on the website.

A mission statement is a great place to start when you’re trying to craft a brand narrative and want to maintain consistency. If everyone in your business—whether it's your social media strategist, copywriter, or sales team—consults the mission statement regularly, you can be sure that your brand identity will remain consistent.

Worn Wear is an initiative that repairs, shares, and recycles pre-loved Patagonia products. Patagonia launched the program with the intention of reducing their carbon, water, and waste footprint.

Another way that Patagonia stands by their mission statement is the use of traceable down insulation. Traceable down ensures sound animal welfare standards are upheld. Both of these initiatives serve to show that Patagonia consults their mission statement to create products and programs consistent with their branding.

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2. Know your audience

An effective brand story is one that impacts your audience in every stage of their customer journey. One way to ensure this is through the use of research.

In order to persuade people to choose your brand, you need to know what makes them tick. User research and data help inform you how to tell your story—from your copy and design to the products you offer.

You can gather and interpret research in two different ways: Firstly by explicitly asking your customers what they want or who they are (social media and online reviews are a great place to start); or secondly, by obtaining customer data using the browser and purchase history to track preferences. With this data, try and build a picture of your primary audience, then you can get to know them better!

Some questions to ask yourself:

  • What’s your core demographic?
  • What are their tastes, ambitions, and dreams?
  • What issues are you trying to solve for them?

Here’s an example of how Spotify uses data to help improve their product and tell their brand story:

Spotify

spotify, brand storytelling, essential elements

Spotify harnesses user data to personlize user experience.

Spotify’s tagline, “Music for every moment” is incorporated into everything they do. It’s evident on their social media accounts, their About page and within the app. To live up to this idea, Spotify uses data to help understand how they can provide listeners with music for every moment.

One example of this is how they provide personalized playlists and give you more of what you want. Alexandra Tanguay, Spotify’s Global Brand Director, explained to Fast Company that by listening, talking, and interacting with their audience for hours every day, they discovered key information on what that audience of millennials wanted. Through these conversations, Spotify learned that their millennial audience wanted personalized music and content.

Through this example, we can see how research can help you not only adapt your product but also stay informed so that you are still meeting your brand ethos and assessing whether it what your customers want.

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3. Communicate the problem you solve

Part of telling an effective brand story is communicating the problem you solve. From simple things like household storage to ethically produced clothing, it’s important to incorporate this into your brand messaging.

Girlfriend Collective is an activewear brand that uses their sustainable angle to help market their business:

Girlfriend Collective

girlfriend collective, essential elements, brand storytelling, body positivity

Girlfriend Collective offers sustainable activewear for all female body types.

Girlfriend Collective solved a problem by first identifying a gap in the market. Their founders came to the realization that eco-friendly and ethically produced women’s sportswear was almost impossible to find without spending a fortune.

A problem they solved by producing ethically conscious fashion. Through a consistent social media presence and a compelling story on their About page—all of which emphatically mention the lack of eco-friendly alternatives—Girlfriend Collective informed their audience of the problem that they were solving.

The issue of affordable ethical fashion was also something Girlfriend Collective directly addressed with a Facebook campaign. The campaign was timed with the launch of their product—one that offered free leggings to every customer willing to pay the shipping cost. The campaign then became a major part of their brand narrative and image.

girlfriend collective, essential elements, brand storytelling

Girlfriend Collective offered free leggings for the cost of shipping. Image from the Girlfriend Collective Facebook page.

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4. Build your character

Effective brand storytelling requires a brand character that is relatable to your audience. If you work for a large corporation, perhaps the language would be more formal and authoritative in order to encourage trust. If you are a new brand that’s targeting millennials, you may opt into using witty sentences and humor as a way of communication.

Frank Body is a body scrub targeted at women. Founded by friends, they have chosen a very specific voice to help communicate the brand’s personality:

Frank Body

frank body, essential elements, brand storytelling

Frank Body tells its story in a friendly, conversational tone.

Frank Body adopts a voice that’s friendly, relatable, and easy to understand—something that leaves their readers feeling like they’re speaking to their best friend.

Upon landing on the Frank Body About page, readers are met with the concept of their brand and the mission behind it. However, they work this essential information into a friendly and funny narrative about the launch of the company. They have done this by using words like “babe” and keeping the language simple.

Their cheeky and relatable use of language extends beyond their online platforms. The brand also creates a personal relationship with their audience by including customized messages and quotes on the packaging of their products and sharing user-generated content on their social media pages.

Another example of this can be seen in their packaging. On their scrubs, they provide cute sentences that tell you the brand is fun.

frank body, essential elements, brand storytelling

Frank Body matches its packaging to its product. Source: Frank Body Instagram @frank_bod

As we can see above, the packaging says “Follow the call of the disco ball” with an accompanying illustration. To match, the packaging material is soft pink and reflective. This is a strong example of how brand voice and personality can be incorporated into every element of branding.

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5. Connect with your community

Building a relationship with your audience is a two-way street. While providing an exceptional product or service is important, this alone does not ensure that your audience will love your brand and keep coming back to you for more.

In order to foster a sense of connection, use your social media networks to respond to feedback, and interact with the customers who have taken the time to interact with you. Whether it’s reposting images, quoting and tagging positive customer reviews, or simply liking your comments, this starts to facilitate a relationship with your customer.

A great example of how a brand connects with their community is Everlane:

Everlane

everlane, essential elements, brand storytelling

Everlane believes in transparency, making sure it reflects in all they do.

Everlane is a San Francisco-based clothing retailer with nothing to hide. With a strong focus on ethics and sustainability, their claim to fame is their concept of “radical transparency”. One that means they offer their fans, followers, and consumers complete transparency over their brand and its narrative.

Their belief in transparency trickles down into everything they do. The company hosts a weekly Q&A series called “Transparency Tuesday” on their Instagram and Snapchat accounts. Here, their 639K followers are prompted to ask questions about the brand, their story, products, and even their job opportunities. Members of the Everlane team then answer these questions in a way that helps their audiences build a close relationship with the brand.

The brand also encourages their customers to send ‘snaps’ to their company account of them receiving and unboxing their products, which the team also responds to.

The brand has also hosted several stories around the festive season and coined them the “Five Random Acts of Kindness: Holiday Edition”. A few members of their team went around San Francisco and performed random acts of kindness for complete strangers. At the end of the story, they challenged their followers to perform their own act of kindness, record it as an Instagram story and ‘tag’ Everlane in the description. By tagging them, users were promoting the brand themselves.

As a small business, you might not have a big marketing budget. But you don’t need a huge budget to make an impact on your audience.

In fact, sometimes it’s the most affordable marketing ideas that give you the most bang for your buck and connect your audience with your brand story.

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