The Ultimate Guide to Telling Your Brand Story
Connecting on an emotional level brings us closer together. Can you imagine a world without emotional connection? I don’t think I want to! Human connection is what makes us care, and it also makes us feel an affinity for—or a sense of loyalty to—the things and people we care about.
Apple knows this. Nike knows this. Harley-Davidson, Airbnb, IKEA—think of any successful brand from the last three decades—they all know this.
They’ve discovered the secret to enduring success, even in saturated markets, and can keep customers coming back for more. These brands evoke emotions to establish a deep connection with their customers.
And how do they do that?
By tapping into one of the most effective and innate tools we have at our disposal: stories.
Successful brands use storytelling to capture our attention—to make us sit up and take notice. They employ the art of storytelling to pull at our heartstrings and spark emotional reactions. They create a connection with their clients and customers that not only contributes to the growth of their brand equity but also encourages brand loyalty.
The ability to tell a compelling story is what sets successful brands apart from struggling ones. In order to drive their success and growth, they use stories that reinforce the core narrative of their brand.
Start paying attention and you just might notice that successful brands are routinely telling their brand story in one form or another. They implement it into their digital marketing efforts, the materials they distribute to the press, and even the product packaging itself. These brands build a powerful image in the minds of their customers through consistent, strategic storytelling.
Since stories are carefully crafted to resonate with a brand’s target audience, some people who consume these stories will start to identify with the sentiments and values a brand is communicating. As a result, a strong bond is formed between these consumers and the brand.
It’s this story-driven emotional connection that makes customers more likely to purchase a brand’s products or services—and stay loyal to that brand. And in this guide, we’ll show you how to tell your brand story to create a strong emotional connection with yourcustomers.
This ultimate guide to brand storytelling will cover:
Let’s dive in!
What is brand storytelling?
Brand storytelling is the practice of crafting narratives that communicate the essence of a brand and help people connect with it emotionally. It involves creating stories that are relatable, memorable, and evocative, then disseminating these stories through various marketing channels, including television or radio commercials, ad campaigns, social media posts, websites, webinars, and so on.
You can use brand storytelling to accomplish a whole slew of business goals. For instance, stories can be used to:
- Demonstrate how a product works.
- Differentiate your services.
- Show happy, satisfied customers.
- Illustrate how your business can meaningfully enhance the lives of your target audience.
For example, Nike uses commercials and glossy magazine ads to inspire people to push themselves and achieve more.
Nike’s brand narrative is different from other sportswear brands because it doesn’t just focus on sports and famous athletes. In fact, a large segment of its target market is regular folks like you and me who might hit the gym a few times a week, take our dogs for a walk, or simply prefer athleisure!
Their slogan—”Just do it”—drives home their values: energetic, proactive, spirited, aggressive. These values and this go-getter attitude are prevalent in all their brand storytelling.
The difference between brand storytelling and a brand story
While the term “brand storytelling” speaks to the larger effort of consistently sharing stories that build brand awareness, the term “brand story” means something a bit different.
Simply put, a brand story is a single narrative that conveys the essence and (usually) history of a brand. Your brand story packages your brand identity, values, and mission into a neat little box with a pretty bow.
You might make small tweaks to your story from time to time, but by and large, it never really changes. In most cases, you can find a brand’s story on the “About” page of its website.
In my opinion, your brand story is foundational to all of your brand storytelling efforts. It’s the cornerstone on which marketing stories are built. All the marketing stories you tell should be little breadcrumbs that lead your audience back to your brand story. They reinforce your brand and bolster its mission and values through varied-yet-related narratives.
Essentially, a brand story is the sum of the “whos,” “whats,” “whens,” “whys,” “wheres,” and “hows” of a brand. What a mouthful! Journalists are smart and simply call this the 5Ws and 1H framework.
Let’s break it down further:
- Who do you help?
- What do you do?
- When did you start?
- Where do you operate?
- Why do you do what you do?
- How do you help your customers?
Don’t worry about answering these questions now—we’ll do that later in this guide. For now, let’s take a quick look at the evolution of brand storytelling over the years to better understand its power.
One of the earliest companies to leverage brand storytelling to capture collective consumer attention was the Ford Motor Company. From its very inception, Ford Motor Company set out to produce affordable and reliable cars for the masses—emphasis on “masses.” Before Ford, a car was something that only the privileged and the affluent could afford, but Ford changed that.
How? They used their brand messaging to highlight Henry Ford’s humble origins. In 1903, when Ford Motor Company announced that it would bring an affordable car to the masses, people believed them because they believed in Henry Ford and could relate to his company’s brand values—which were imparted through its story.
Many other companies followed suit. Among them was John Deere. Deere began his career as a blacksmith, but he quickly recognized the power of developing meaningful relationships with consumers in a more personal way.
In the early 1900s, John Deere published stories in an agricultural magazine that emphasized the significance of putting in long hours and devoting oneself to a cause. These articles struck a chord with the company’s target audience.
For years, companies have used storytelling as a strategy to engage customers and build long-lasting relationships. Consider Walt Disney, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Nike, and Adidas. All of these brands crafted compelling narratives to build a massive consumer base—and they continue to use storytelling as a means to grow their business and maintain loyal customers today.
But storytelling doesn’t just work for the “big guys” like Disney. It’s an incredibly powerful tool for small businesses, online entrepreneurs, and individual personal brands as well. When you tell a well-crafted story, it sticks in the minds of your customers—even after they’ve scrolled past your social media ad or logged off your webinar.
5 benefits of brand storytelling
So far, I’ve sung the praises of storytelling and told you that it should be an integral part of your brand strategy. But let’s break down the tangible benefits of brand storytelling, shall we?
Whether you’re a solopreneur or business owner with a team behind you, it’s important to have a clear and differentiated brand identity that resonates with your target audience.
Consistently sharing stories about your brand will go a long way toward establishing and reinforcing your brand identity as well as shaping brand perception (i.e., the way customers see and feel about you).
With storytelling, you can build a strong reputation that stands out in the market and sets you apart from the competition.
Storytelling is a fantastic engagement tool. The act of storytelling invites people to participate in the storytelling process—as readers, listeners, and co-creators.
Have you ever noticed how telling a story often encourages other people to share their own similar experiences? That’s the magic of storytelling!
Stories make people feel like they’re part of something bigger—like they belong. This is a critical part of the human experience. And because of this, brands that use stories effectively (for example, on social media) reap the benefits of an engaged customer base.
You’ve probably heard it before: people like to do business with brands that they know, like, and trust. And, for all the reasons I’ve laid out so far, you can understand why brand storytelling is one of the best ways to build that “know-like-trust” factor.
Stories also humanize brands. When customers feel that they’re interacting with people—not just a faceless corporation—they’re more likely to trust the brand. Finally, stories can communicate authenticity and provide transparency, which are great trust-builders.
Every day, more and more small businesses are realizing the power of storytelling. Like their big business counterparts, they’re adopting the practice of telling stories about their brands to strengthen customer relationships and improve customer retention rates.
Because customer loyalty is an essential ingredient for success (i.e., loyal customers mean repeat business and referrals), business owners are always looking for new and innovative strategies to reduce customer churn.
You’ll have a much easier time retaining customers who know, like, and trust you—thanks to your brand storytelling efforts.
In a market full of copycats and wannabes (hat tip to the Spice Girls), it’s thoughtful brand storytelling that sets you apart from the crowd. By telling your story in a unique and interesting way, you can differentiate yourself from other brands in your industry.
After all, there’s only one you! No other person or brand has your exact story.
Talk about an advantage, am I right? This helps you attract new customers that feel like your brand is the absolute best fit for them, as well as retain existing customers who already feel that way.
Plus, when people feel emotionally connected to your brand, they’re more likely to forgive any mistakes you might make—and they’ll continue choosing you over the competition.
Discover the elements of effective brand storytelling
So, now you know the benefits of brand storytelling, but what makes your storytelling sing? Well, successful brand stories are enticing, engaging, inspiring, and persuasive. They leave a long-lasting impression by appealing to the emotions of your potential and existing customers.
While storytelling style and delivery may differ from brand to brand, you’ll find that great brand stories have a few things in common. If you can incorporate these nine key elements in your brand stories, you’ll be well on your way to crafting enticing stories that captivate the hearts and minds of your target audience.
A distinct brand voice is essential to creating unique, consistent brand stories. Voice is incredibly important to brand storytelling because it helps create a recognizable and authentic tone for your brand, which, in turn, creates a sense of trust and familiarity with the audience. When a customer feels like they know what to expect from a brand, they’re more likely to stick around and become loyal customers.
When telling a story, clarity is king. Clarity ensures that your story is easy to follow and that your message is communicated effectively. If your story is confusing or convoluted, people will be less likely to remember it and be less inclined to act on it. Confusion muddles the decision-making process, and when deciding becomes too difficult, we give up on making a decision at all (hey, it’s human nature).
If your brand story or its narration lacks conviction, your target audience just won’t buy it—no matter how clear or clever your message. Your ideal customers must be thoroughly convinced that your product or service can fulfill their needs and that it’s the best solution to their problem. And if you don’t believe that, neither will they.
When it comes to brand storytelling, emotional resonance is key. Brands that create an emotional connection with their customers can evoke a much stronger reaction—both positive and negative—than those that don’t. To foster an emotional connection with your target audience, carefully craft your narrative so that it includes hopes, dreams, fears, and pains that your audience can identify with.
The story you tell should be authentic and experience-based to connect with your customer base. A brand story is more than just a narrative—it’s also the way that you convey your thoughts and emotions. Oftentimes, the best way to tell a story is by telling it from a personal perspective, especially if you’re building a personal brand (i.e., you are the face of your brand). This will help you come across as genuine, and, as a result, your brand story will be more compelling.
People buy from brands that they believe understand and care about them. That’s why companies invest in marketing and advertising that conveys a sense of empathy—and that’s also why effective brand storytelling is so critical. Since stories are the best way to create an emotional connection, they’re incredibly effective when it comes to showing your customers that you know how they feel and truly want to help them solve their problems.
The best brand stories use relevance to cut through the noise and speak directly to their customers. Making your stories relevant ensures that customers know that your products or services are designed for them. So, how can you make sure your messaging is relevant? By taking the time to get to know your target audience—I mean, really understand their wants, needs, and motivators—then create story-based content that speaks to those very things.
A good brand story creates a sense of immediacy. In writing, immediacy is the ability to convey a message in a manner that engages readers so intensely that they feel as if they are present and part of the conversation. This helps trigger an emotional reaction and connection between your brand and your target audience. Immediacy is also necessary if you want to create a sense of urgency in your content. Why might you want to create urgency? To compel people to act, of course! For instance, urgency often shows up in the form of deadlines or limited-time offers, which leads to scarcity thinking and further ramps up the likelihood of consumers taking action.
Transparency is one of the most crucial elements of successful brand storytelling because it builds trust and credibility. How? Transparent brands are open and honest with customers about things like: where their products are made, their labor policies, pricing structures, values, and more. This is essential for creating a positive brand perception and building a loyal customer base. When customers believe they’re getting the most accurate information from your company—and that you aren’t hiding anything or operating in a shady manner—they’re much more likely to entrust you with their business.
Why does your brand story matter?
When a customer is considering making a purchase, what they’re really looking for is a way to meet a want or need, and it’s up to your brand to convince them that your product or service is the best way to fulfill that want or need.
This is where your company’s brand story comes into play.
As mentioned earlier, your brand story communicates the heart and soul of your company—your values and your “why”—and it’s important that your customers align with those factors.
But here’s where many small businesses drop the ball: while it’s true that a brand story is about your business and what you have to offer, you are not the main character of your story. Nope, your customer is! And it’s your job to make sure they know that.
Making the customer the central figure in your brand’s narrative means focusing less on the products or services you sell and more on putting your customers’ needs and wants at the forefront of your messaging. You must make sure your customers can see themselves in your story. Don’t worry—I’ll show you how to do exactly that in this guide!
When customers feel deeply connected to your brand story, they’re more likely to become ambassadors for your company (hello referrals and rave reviews!). They’ll also be more likely to stick with you through good times and bad—because they believe in what you stand for and prefer you to the competition.
Remember, also, that all of your marketing stories and story-based content are derived from your brand story. In other words, it’s of the utmost importance to get your story right before you pour too much time into marketing.
Brand story examples
Great brands have a story to tell. And, as we’ve established, that story plays a key role in helping them stand out from the sea of other businesses that offer the same products and services. The power of a solid brand story is undeniable, but stories can take many different forms (some are overt origin stories while others are more about conveying an essence). Here are a few brand stories you can use for inspiration while working on your own.
Mel Robbins is a wildly successful self-help author and motivational speaker. But things weren’t always sunshine and roses. According to Robbins, she battled severe depression while dealing with unemployment, failed business ventures, and massive financial debt.
One day, she was inspired to start launching herself out of bed every morning—within five seconds of waking up—and keep moving forward despite the hardships she was facing. This practice became the springboard to her success.
She published her first book in 2017, The 5 Second Rule, which became a New York Times bestseller, and now uses her story to inspire others to achieve their goals.
Disney’s brand story is about combining old-world values with new-world innovations to create something timelessly magical. The company’s website provides a history of Disney:
From humble beginnings as a cartoon studio in the 1920s to its preeminent name in the entertainment industry today, Disney proudly continues its legacy of creating world-class stories and experiences for every member of the family.
Disney is all about telling a good story that connects with people on an emotional level (so meta, am I right?). The brand has a clear target market and a goal that’s almost palpable: create magic, happiness, and laughter for everyone. Its focus on having a strong moral compass strikes a chord with its family audience.
The TOMS brand story sets it apart from most for-profit businesses because it focuses primarily on giving back. TOMS donates one-third of its profits to social impact programs and has a One for One® business model—for every pair of shoes purchased, a pair of shoes is given to a child in need.
The company’s story highlights the date they “gifted” their first pair of shoes and goes on to detail their journey of positively impacting over 100 million lives. TOMS carved out a unique niche for itself in the apparel market and built a community of fans and loyal customers along the way.
Ben & Jerry’s was founded in 1978 by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield. The company’s brand story starts with its humble origins—it started in a renovated gas station—and progresses through a timeline of significant milestones.
With a long-standing history of social activism and community involvement, the company’s story makes it clear that Ben & Jerry’s is not just about delicious ice cream—it’s about the people behind it, their values, and what they stand for.
Customers love Ben & Jerry’s for its creative concoctions, but they’re equally enamored with the brand’s strong stance on social, political, and environmental issues.
Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani activist, author, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who was shot by the Taliban in 2012 at just fifteen years old—and survived against all odds. Yousafzai’s story is one of courage and determination, and it resonates with girls and women who are underprivileged or marginalized as well as fellow activists who want to make positive societal changes.
How to write your brand story in 6 steps
As I said before, it’s important to nail your brand story so you can effectively implement brand storytelling across your content and communications. Earlier in this guide, I mentioned the 5Ws and 1H framework, and now we’re going to put that framework into action. In case you need a refresher, I’ve got your back—no need to scroll all the way back to the top.
5Ws and 1H stands for:
- Who is your target market?
- What do you do and what does your brand stand for?
- When was your business founded? Or when did you start in this industry?
- Where does your business operate? Locally, globally, online?
- Why do you do what you do?
- How does your business fulfill its mission? How does it help its customers?
Following the steps below will help you identify the primary points you must include in your story to ensure that connects your brand and your audience in a highly engaging, relevant, and purposeful way.
Step 1: Get clear on your target audience—who is your customer?
While your brand story is about you and your brand, in reality, it’s actually about your customer. Remember, they need to see themselves in your story and feel emotionally connected to it.
That’s why crafting your brand story carefully is important to ensure your customer is at the center. That’s the secret sauce—the magic ingredient, if you will—that will take your brand story from plain old poached eggs to delicious eggs benedict and leave an indelible mark on your audience.
Here are some basic prompts to get you started thinking about your hero:
- How old is your ideal customer?
- Where do they live?
- What are their interests and hobbies?
- What kind of lifestyle does your ideal customer lead?
- What are their primary goals or motivations?
Step 2: Establish your mission—what do you do?
It’s imperative that your brand story tells people what your business does. In other words, what is the transformation you provide? What do you help your ideal customer discover/achieve/etc.? For example, Google makes information free and accessible to people around the world.
If you’re a life coach, your mission might look something like this:
I help middle-aged women stop feeling guilty about self-care and “unproductive” downtime so they can finally feel rested, relaxed, and restored.
Try this formula for yourself, even if you decide to shake things up for the final version of your brand story:
I help ___[your target audience]___ find/feel/stop/etc. ___[what they want to do or change]___ so they can ___[the positive result of their transformation]___.
Step 3: Figure out significant dates—when are your milestones?
Your company’s founding date is an obvious way to answer the “when” question in your brand story, but it’s not your only option. You can talk about your years of experience, when the idea first took shape in your mind, when your interest in your field sparked—basically, anything that provides an element of time.
Time can be a marker of credibility (i.e., the longer you’ve been at something, the more you’ll be perceived as an expert). It can also communicate passion and values (e.g., I’ve been writing creatively since I could wield a pencil).
Whatever you choose as your “when,” just make sure your story addresses this “W.” Time acts as an anchor in storytelling, so it’s crucial that you provide that information for your audience.
Step 4: Let customers know you’re available—where do you operate?
I think it’s pretty clear why you need to answer the “where” question in your brand story, right? People should immediately know whether your products or services are available to them.
If you run a physical storefront in a small town in Iowa, that needs to be said (don’t let people go on a wild goose chase only to find out you’re six states away and don’t ship products). Same goes for legal firms that can only practice law in a particular state.
On the other hand, if your offers are digital and available anywhere an internet connection exists, it behooves you to say that, too. Whether living in Bali, rural Ireland, or New York City, your target audience can buy from you.
Step 5: Determine your purpose—why do you do this?
In brand storytelling, the “why” plays a pivotal role in evoking emotions and connecting with customers, so don’t even think about skipping this step!
There are many ways to get express your “why”—your purpose for doing what you do. What drove your decision to operate this business? Why is it important that this business exists?
One way to get to the bottom of your “why” is by sharing what your brand stands for. By this I mean: what are the values, beliefs, and worldviews you operate by and why do these matter to your target audience?
You can start exploring your beliefs by finishing these “I believe” statements as they relate to your target audience and business (or you can come up with your own):
- I believe that people deserve…
- I believe that nobody should have to…
- I believe that everyone is capable of…
- I believe that one of the most important things in life is…
Again, these are just a few suggestions to get the ball rolling. You may have to make tweaks to come up with your brand story beliefs. Here’s an example of what this could look like when applied:
We believe that one of the most important things in life is autonomy. We believe that employees deserve work-life balance and that nobody should have to sacrifice sleep or family time in order to make a living. We also believe that every workplace is capable of making a profit without running its team ragged—and reaping the rewards of a happy workforce in return. That’s why we made it our mission to help organizations and their employees work together to implement company-wide practices that benefit all parties and create a culture of fairness, respect, and collaboration.
You can also get more personal with your “why” and share an experience that led you to hold these beliefs. For instance:
Believe me, I know how it feels. I’ve been on both sides of the table—I’ve been the resentful, overworked employee and the overwhelmed, budget-minded business owner.
There’s no right or wrong way to share your “why.” The only requirement is that you do.
Step 6: Show customers the way forward—how do you help?
It’s easy to get caught up in telling your origin story and letting your creativity flow. And while it is important to paint an enticing picture of what you do and why, it’s equally as important to tell people how you go about helping them. After all, your brand story is still a promotional tool.
Your customers need to know whether your offers will work for them—for instance, are they a good fit for their budgets or learning styles? Here are some questions to consider as you explore ways to highlight the “how” in your story:
- Do you offer products, services, digital programs, or a combination of offers?
- Do you have a proprietary process, framework, or method?
- Do you have “high-ticket” or “low-ticket” offers? Or do you have a range of prices?
- Do you work with clients personally, or do you have a team?
Again, these are just suggestions! There are so many different business models that I couldn’t possibly cover every single scenario.
By addressing each of the 5Ws and 1H in the journalistic framework, you’ll have all the essential brand story puzzle pieces in place. Of course, you have total creative freedom to mix up these pieces to your liking, and you’ll want to spend some time tweaking and polishing to make your story shine.
Where to share your brand story
Once you’ve done the hard work of developing your brand story, you’ll want to share it far and wide. No really, I want you to shout it from the rooftops! What’s the point of having a powerful story that resonates with your potential customers if you don’t put it out there for the world to see?
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to do just that. Here are some of the best places for online entrepreneurs like you to your brand story:
- Your website’s “About” page
- Podcast interviews
- Public speaking engagements
- Sales pages
- Social media posts
- Email sequences (especially your “welcome” emails)
- Blog posts
- Launch campaigns
- Videos (like YouTube and livestreams)
Basically, you should be weaving your brand story into every customer touchpoint across every channel you use to connect with your target audience.
Leveraging your brand story to go even bigger
As you can see, brand storytelling is an excellent way to stand out, attract your target audience, and build a loyal customer base. But it can also help you take your business to new heights and grow beyond your wildest dreams. How?
With public relations! Or PR, for short.
By creating a compelling brand story, you have a better chance of landing PR features. Editors and podcast hosts, for instance, are always on the lookout for a good story to share with their audiences—they understand the power of storytelling to captivate, connect, and convert.
PR helps you get in front of hundreds or even thousands of your ideal customers with just one feature. Plus, using “earned media” rather than paid (i.e., advertising) can strengthen your brand credibility in a big way since consumers tend to be more trusting of businesses they see profiled in credible third-party sources (like mainstream websites or influential YouTube channels).
Obviously, this is great news for your ROI since advertising costs generally outweigh the costs associated with PR efforts. What’s more, your brand awareness has to potential to snowball as more and more people share your media feature. People love sharing stories—that’s why a lot of viral content you see online funny stories, shocking stories, inspiring stories…the list goes on.
In a world where content is king, storytelling is the queen that makes the king a thousand times more effective (I said what I said).
Telling a captivating story is an art, but it doesn’t have to be intimidating. With the right tools and guidance, anyone can unlock the power of brand storytelling to help their business reach its goals. Whether you’re just getting started or looking for new ways to improve your current stories, this guide was designed to equip you with the essentials you need to craft powerful, impactful narratives that connect with the heads and hearts of your customers.
If you found this guide helpful, don’t forget to bookmark this page and please send it to your entrepreneurial friends and colleagues!