As you look into marketing for your product business, you’re probably going to hear the term “brand story” tossed around. But what exactly is a brand story? It’s the story that drives a customer to buy a product.
Think about the last thing you bought—it might have been a dress, a cup of coffee, or a tube of mascara. But driving that purchase was a story.
If you bought a dress, the story might have been about the way you feel in it, the experiences you want to have while wearing it. For a cup of coffee, it might have been about taking a few moments to indulge yourself. For mascara, you might have been fulfilling a long-lasting desire for fuller eyelashes.
Even the smallest purchases come from a story in the consumer’s mind
The best brands intentionally craft a brand story that tells their customers how to feel about their products and their company. They have the power to guide purchasing decisions by influencing the emotions of potential customers.
Read on to find out why you need a brand story and how to create yours.
Why do you need a brand story?
Your brand has a story, whether you write it or other people do. Every review and social media comment shapes that story. By intentionally creating your brand story, you guide the thoughts and feelings customers have about your brand instead of leaving it up to other people who aren’t invested in your company.
A good brand story can influence customers’ behavior by changing their brain chemistry.
Researcher Paul Zak studied participants’ brain chemistry before and after they heard a story about a child with cancer. They found that after the participants heard the story, their brains experienced an increase in cortisol which focuses your attention, and oxytocin, which increases empathy.
Then they asked participants to either give money to a stranger or to donate to a charity related to cancer in children. There was a direct correlation between an increase in oxytocin and the willingness of participants to donate.
That experiment shows how powerful storytelling can be. If you can create a compelling story, you can affect customer behavior.
Brand Stories and Loyalty
A brand story can also inspire trust and loyalty. When a listener hears a story, the listener and speaker’s brain waves actually mirror each other, which fosters trust. People buy from companies they trust.
They will also spread the message of a company with a story that resonates with them. Tom’s shoes is a strong example of this—they give a pair of shoes to a child in need with every purchase. It’s one of the reasons their brand is so widely known and talked about.
A brand story makes your brand stickier. One of the most sought-after qualities for a brand is memorability. When a story increases the cortisol in a listener’s brain, he or she is more likely to remember what happened in the story. Crafting an effective brand story will get people thinking about your brand more.
What Makes a Great Brand Story
Not all stories resonate with people. How do you create a compelling story that leads to trust, loyalty, and memorability? An impactful brand story strikes an emotional chord, is relatable to your target audience, and follows a story arc.
No matter what your brand story is, you want your target audience to see themselves in it. That means creating a main character that is like them and a story arc that mirrors their journey. If your product is designed to solve their specific problem, it shouldn’t be hard to make your brand story reflect their journey.
You need to center your story around an empathetic character. You can be the main character of your story if your brand origin story is interesting and impactful.
Or, if you prefer to stay in the background, consider having a customer be the character of your brand story. If your brand focuses on giving back, you could use a recipient of charity as your main character. If your brand is environmentally friendly, maybe you want an animal as your main character.
The Story Arc
Every good movie or book follows a story arc. There’s an initial goal or problem for the main character to overcome, obstacles that stand in the way, success in finally meeting the goal, lessons learned, and finally a “new normal at the end of the journey.”
Take Harry Potter, for example. He starts out as an unhappy orphan, then learns he’s a wizard. In each book, he must defeat Voldemort in a different way, meeting obstacles and challenges the entire time. In the end, he’s a new person—older, wiser, and stronger. He has learned how powerful he is, but also how important it is to rely on his friends and not take the journey alone.
Your brand story might not be as well known as Harry Potter, but if you can use a narrative arc, it will create emotion, investment, and loyalty in your customers.
There are three common narrative arcs that you can use in your brand story: defeating an enemy, personal transformation, or a journey.
Think about your brand’s arch-nemesis. It doesn’t have to be the epitome of evil like Voldemort. It can be a concept like poverty if your brand is altruistic. If you have a beauty brand, it can be brittle nails, oily skin, or unruly hair. If you have a health food brand, it can be fats, sugars, or GMOs. Take what you’re trying to fix and make an enemy of it.
You could also frame your story around transformation. Did you have a weight loss journey that led you to create a food company? Or a skin condition that you overcame before you started a beauty brand? Capture that transformation in your brand story.
Sometimes the journey itself is the arc. In books like The Alchemist and The Odyssey, the hero goes on a long quest for treasure or to accomplish a goal. Did you go through a great journey to create your products? That could be a compelling brand story.
Brand Story Ideas
If you’re still struggling to come up with a brand story idea, there are several places you can start.
Look at your company’s origins. Is there a story in how you started your business or why you chose to sell your product?
Think about why you care so much about your brand. What caused that passion? There’s probably an emotional story in that.
Share the struggles that you went through as you started your business. Struggles inspire a human connection and give customers the sense that you are honest and open.
Or think about your customers’ pain points. Consider Dove’s campaign, Real Beauty Sketches. A forensic artist did drawings of how women described themselves. Then he compared those sketches to drawings based on strangers’ descriptions of the same women. The women saw how much better they looked from the strangers’ descriptions. It made for an emotional story that many women related to.
No matter what product you sell or how you started, if you can form a great brand story, you can build better relationships with customers and become a more memorable brand.
If you’re just starting out or trying to level up your product business, check out our post Learn how to research and analyze your competitors next. Find out what others in your industry are doing and what you can learn from their business.