A Month Spent Uncovering the Astonishing Secrets to Brand Storytelling
“If you do not tell the truth about yourself, you cannot tell it about other people” Virginia Woolf
( or “Why I needed to know more about storytelling”)
Would you build a house without foundations? No, that would be silly. You’d be building something destined to fall down. Yet trying to build a business without understanding what you really stand for can feel pretty much like that.
A short while ago I felt a hunger pang. It was a deep down yearning to go deeper into story, followed by a vast consumption of resources about stories, brand and storytelling (all listed further down this post). When it came to my own story I wanted to learn to #tellitbetter so that I could be even better at telling yours.
So, here’s everything I discovered, plus some incredible inspiration from those who are acing it in the storytelling department.
“There’s always room for a story that can transport people to another place.” JK Rowling
( or “What is it with storytelling and why do we need it anyway?”)
Here’s the thing. Stories drive emotion. The very word transports us back to children, jaws dropped and eyes opened wide as someone read a story to us. Stories help us to make sense of who we are and help us to escape, re-imagine, learn or feel inspired.
Let’s face it, we’re awash with choice and pretty things we don’t really need. A great product alone just isn’t enough to stand out. To quote Andrew Stanton, “You need to make me CARE.”
As artificial intelligence seeps into everyday life we’re asking more and more what it means to be human. Emotion is a huge part of that and in a world where we’re apparently better connected than ever, we’re also more distracted, lonelier and increasingly insecure.
This is the landscape where story comes into it’s own. Emotional storytelling is the weapon that stops us in our tracks and makes us feel human, even if just for a moment.
In the face of fake news we crave the truth. In the face of perfect Instagram flatlays, we crave reality. Bizarrely, capturing attention nowadays often looks like telling the truth. We need to listen to what our audience feels like and dare to show what life really looks like with all the drama and emotion that goes with it.
Julie Neumark, in her article about story, reckons that the magic lies in “the ideas of wonder, mystery, possibility, connection, and engagement.”
Brands that know this, and use it, are winning.
“Make the audience put things together. Don’t give them four. Give them two plus two.” Andrew Stanton
( or “What makes a good brand story?”)
So how are we going to stop just talking about story and actually start telling our own?
In his super-duper course on building your brand, David Hieatt, co-founder of The Do Lectures, tells us that “the story’s clear when it’s clear to you.”
Working out your own “big story” is best buddies with your big aspiration for your work. Ikea has a vision to make the everyday wonderful, letting their one big story drive their #wonderfuleveryday hashtag, their affordable pricepoints and every single product they make.
Brands often make the mistake of constantly showcasing products, but a product alone does not a brand make. A product is the souvenir or trophy of a brand, not the end game in and of itself.
To tell a story successfully is to let people become part of something bigger. It needs us to dig deep into our own backstory and community and listen hard. It needs us to act as the places where people with similar mindsets can connect, get together and listen to real, open and honest stories that move them.
“A great story comes long before a grand plan.” Bernadette Jiwa
( or “So how do I start to tell my story?”)
So here’s the practical bit in two parts. The first is a brief walk-through of how I uncovered my own story. The second is to share two new, inspiring brands who have completely nailed their own.
Set your values. The first thing I did to get my storytelling head straight was set some values for my own work. Read all about it here.
After that, I wrote a post about my values to really nail them to my own forehead - you can read that here.
Hop over to Pinterest. Words are great but stories need to come with visuals too. I went to Pinterest, found an image to reflect each brand value and created a secret board where I just pinned anything at all that stood out to me. It’s not secret any more.
When I later went back to take a deeper look at what I’d pinned I saw common themes. Many of the photos had legs in them (weird but true). I had picked out a lot of white textures on white and natural wood as well as photos with white space and delicate lines. I saw the same colours coming up again and again so I went to Coolors and created two palettes to keep a record of them.
Get expert help. I mentioned to you that I went on a heavy diet of storytelling resources and I’m listing every single one right here. I’m not sure I can attribute the specifics of this article to any one resource because it became one glorious melting pot. That said, they’re all brilliant and you should read the lot.
6 Rules of Great Storytelling (As Told by Pixar) by Brian G. Peters
If you’ve only got time for one, then it has to be Bernadette Jiwa’s ‘Story Driven’. Use her as your own personal story guru and let her work you through a whole list of questions to get to the heart of what’s what.
3. Now practice. Practice your story in words, in pictures and everywhere your audience is. Practice it on your blog, your out-of-office reply or your Christmas card to the bank manager. Practice it to the point that everything your brand says and does falls into line with your story.
“A great story is impossible to forget.” A.D. Posey
(or “Here’s who’s acing it in the storytelling department”)
To finish, I couldn’t resist two examples of new kids on the branding block who absolutely get story and are using it to devastating advantage. They’ve both had a big impact on me recently, so sit up at the back because we can learn a lot here.
Watching the story of Paynter Jacket unfold is truly inspirational. Brand-obsessed girl and boy meet in a barn in rural Wales before embarking on an adventure to re-make iconic jackets using the very best materials they can find.
The first collection of 300 limited edition, bespoke jackets sold out in under 15 minutes. Yep, because Paynter know how to capture an audience by letting them see every step they’ve taken to get this far.
3 KEYS TO THE BRAND STORY:
Being an Insider - you’ll pretty much only get to know about the jackets if you’re on the Paynter email list. This creates huge desire amongst a bunch of like-minded souls long before there’s anything to buy.
Sustainability & Quality - these guys are not out to make a fast million by piling it high and selling it cheap. They’re in this for the long haul and they’re telling us so.
Transparency - from the buttonhole to the label design to the factory, you get to see every single thing Paynter does. Daredevil antics on a tractor? Tick. Excited faces on the factory floor? Done. Transparency like this breeds trust, loyalty - and apparently a whole lot of sales.
In a world where we are (quite rightly) declaring war on plastic, BYBI has the environment at the core of it’s story.
Ingredients are vegan and natural with sublime packaging (recyclable and sometimes made from sugarcane, by the way) that spells out everything a modern beauty brand should stand for.
3 KEYS TO THE BRAND STORY:
Personality - Transitioning from a beauty blog to book deal to covetable brand, founders Elsie and Dominika are inspirational pin-ups for female start-up success. With their own skin as their very best advert, these gals are as unpretentious and naturally beautiful as the product they’ve created.
Transparency - BYBI have exfoliated the rules on a basic product description to tell us exactly who the product will suit, exactly what it contains and even how to recycle it. If you need to know it, they’ll tell you.
Consistency - This is a brand that gets that it’s not just enough to talk about what you believe in. From packaging to product to video to Instagram account, these girls are putting environment at the front and centre in everything they do.
Here are three big takeaways…
Telling the truth, being human and being transparent is the way forward. The bell is tolling for businesses that pull the wool over people’s eyes and present a fake reality. Remember, you need to move me to make me actually care.
Similarly, a brand is made when a business consistently lives its values. A brand culture is what’s happening when no one is looking (i.e. exactly the same as when everyone is still looking). Your reasons to exist aren’t there to stick up on the wall and forget about. They’re the things that get you out of bed in the morning and send you on your way to do the very best you can for the good of the world around you. Every single day.
And finally, true brands, the brands that matter and that stick around, don’t get made in isolation. They are built around a bunch of people who are like-minded in some way and will come together and connect across them.
So I wonder… Which bit of this giant investigation are the things that you need to take to build your business and tell your story? Thanks for sticking with me because I sure feel like I’ve written this storytelling thing out of my own system at last. And now, I suppose there’s just one thing left to do….
Let’s go storytelling.