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Brand stories matter. When done well they work. But there’s a method to the madness, which we cover in this article.
A number of episodes of the Business Storytelling Podcast discussed this topic and related topics. Let’s dive into what the experts taught us to to help us tell better brand stories.
The brand stories experts
Eric Fischgrund of FischTank Marketing on the Business Storytelling Podcast told me that he sees this as an important differentiator for brands.
Zach Messler, a messaging expert, focused on how to get the message for your product right.
Cory Bergeron, of Pitch Media, shared how brand stories can be uncovered and what players are needed.
Matthew Woodget of www.gonarrative.com joined me on a livestream to talk about the importance of sharing stories that include failures.
Drew Neisser discusses in his book “Renegade Marketing” how brands – specifically B2B brands – need to have a strategy to tell how they are distinct.
“I’m going to be a courageous marketer and find a strategy that truly makes a brand distinct,” he said.
Why are brands struggling sharing stories?
Sometimes team members overthink it. They want content to be perfect. Other times it’s inefficient workflows. The less time I have to focus on content creation the more likely it is that I won’t create any content. Other times, we think we don’t have time.
Time certainly can be a problem, but the real problem might be that we aren’t prioritizing tasks correctly.
Some brands may not have stories worth sharing and their story simply focuses around: We want to make money.
Cory and I discussed that this can be okay in some instances, especially when you get into a market first. But at the end of the day, telling a better brand story can help your brand stand out over your competitors.
Cory also mentioned that somebody has to get the brand story out of the founders, CEOs and leaders:
- Why did you start this company?
- What problem is it solving?
- How is it more unique than the competition, etc.
”It’s like a good ghostwriter interviewing them,”Cory said. “They get the details out of the person being interviewed.”
Sometimes the leaders didn’t know what those reasons were until they get interviewed and talk about it. You have to ask good questions.
And some brands don’t have a good brand story because they’re not truly passionate about whatever it is they’re doing.
”You will see that some of the most successful brands have been created by people who are very passionate about the culture they have created,” said Cory. “They have a deeper purpose behind what it is that they’re doing.”
Sometimes positioning and brand storytelling can be off when brands use the wrong words.
Zach mentioned the model of:
Context > Problem > Solution
It makes sense. We can’t help anybody if we don’t understand the context and if we don’t understand the problem and definitely not when we don’t have the solution. The complexity can also slow us down to actually tell good brand stories because we are still stuck in the product development so to speak.
What are brand stories anyway?
Brand stories are the experiences that prospects and clients associate with our brands. When Mr. Peanut died as part of a Super Bowl campaign that certainly is an example. Many people who had grown up with him posted about it on social media. That brand story resonated. Some of the best brands clearly circle around sharing stories that offer valuable information and their unique value proposition.
Often brand stories can be shared via:
- the website – like a blog for example
- social media
- podcast channels
- offline experiences
Zach explained it as positioning. “It’s about how you want to show up and be seen in the eye of your audience.”
How to create better brand stories as a brand?
Unfortunately, repetition matters. Brands need to share value constantly at the right intervals and through many channels. Let’s look at how HubSpot shares its brand stories:
- They publish a ton of informational blog posts
- They speak at conferences and have user group conferences
- They hold their own conference every year
- They have a podcast
- HubSpot Academy teaches marketers new strategies and offers certificates after passing exams. I’ve even earned some certifications myself, like Growth-Driven Design, Content Marketing, Email Marketing and Inbound Marketing.
- Social media
Most of the content HubSpot creates is highly information and educational. It helps marketers be smarter and explains certain things that happening in the industry. It also helps HubSpot be top of mind when you need a marketing automation software solution.
Eric also shared that finding content to share is easier than it’s often made out to be. There’s content everywhere:
- Share pictures from a company outing
- Share the PowerPoint from a presentation
- Share a PDF online
Slideshare is one way to easily share your PowerPoint presentations. I’ve shared almost 50 decks on their which have been viewed thousands of times. A pretty easy way to get additional mileage out of my PowerPoint decks.
”Many companies overthink it, that it needs to be perfect,” Eric said. “It is important to have high quality and you don’t want spelling mistakes on your corporate blog. But there needs to be a starting point in terms of output.”
Read next: How to get on a blogging schedule
Goal setting helps. Get people involved!
”Online reputation should matter to everyone,” Eric said on the show. “And the more content we put out there the more benefit we might have from a search engine optimization perspective.”
The other thing to remember is that campaigns take time. As they say “overnight success takes longer than overnight.”
“I see people give up after two months,” Eric said.
One way to get companies to commit is to appoint an owner of the project. This person will drive this forward. Here are the goals. Here’s how we collaborate. Here are the person’s resources and how other teams are expected to help.
It has probably never been easier to create and syndicate content. Mobile apps allow us to create on our phones. For example, I recorded the podcast with Eric directly in the Anchor app on my iPhone. I’m editing this article while sitting in my car waiting for my daughter. On my iPad.
Many of my articles are voice dictated now. That is an easy process. I’ve shared other tips from my trip to Vidcon in 2019. I’ve shared other tips from my trip to Vidcon in 2019.
Eric also mentioned animated videos which are relatively reasonable priced to produced now. Those videos can help you explain a complicated subject matter in a video format.
Instagram Stories also allow you to create videos with some animations. Instagram Stories also allow you to create videos with some animations.
Stand for something
Brand stories also should and can – at least at times – take a stand on something. Should brands insert themselves into every single debate out there? No. But taking a stands that aligns with your perfect customer match can help bind those customers to you.
Aside from issues, companies can also support nonprofits as a way to stand up for a cause. “We go out of our way to share their stories on social media,” Eric said.
Using the best words
There are no magic words out there necessarily that work in every situation. But as Zach mentioned some words can hurt the brand. So if you call your software
tool solution a tool first you have to realize that you are doing that. And that it could be hurting the brand.
Zach shared this example:
Many software companies describe their software solutions as “tools” as in “our tool does…” That can be a mistake because consumers might compare that to a hammer. Do most consumers really care about what exact hammer or what brand the hammer was made from?
”If I need a tool – like a screwdriver, I go to the hardware store and get the cheapest screwdriver I can find,” Zach said.
You can find better words by diving into your audience’s terminology. Use the terms that they use for services like yours.
This article is a good example. I know that marketers use the term “brand stories“ so this content circles around how you can create better brand stories. As opposed to “corporate storytelling“ or something else nobody uses in marketing.
Ways to determine the right terminology:
- Ask audience members
- SEO keyword research
- Social media keyword research
Read next: But what if the product is crap
Zach explained that it comes down to being market driven as opposed to product driven. Is your product actually helping your audience?
Being product driven is too self centered while being market driven focuses on the actual need that we can solve for our customers. Corporate marketing is much easier when we are market driven than when we’re product driven.
Understand your essence
On a basic level, understand what it is that your company does and how it helps your target audience. Then circle stories around that.
Understand your wider audience
Every helpful blog post tells you to know your audience. And that it’s fine but most only talk about the immediate audience. Like the main buyer-let’s say a chief marketing officer. In reality-especially in B2B-the buying and decision making usually happens as part of a committee. So your content needs to appeal to others involved.
”There’s really no simple way around this. You have to know your audience,” said Zach.
You may have to develop personas for all the different people involved and even potentially involved.
Do all stories need to be positive?
Matthew Woodget shared why it’s important to share certain failures as well in your brand storytelling.
It can show your company in a more human light. After all, humans make mistakes. Share those stories when they make sense. Not all stories need to be that perfect reflection you aspire to be.
That doesn’t mean we share all failures, but the ones that matter to our audience. For example, Matthew and I recorded the episode twice. The audio on the first try was horrible. We learned from our mistakes and moved on. Since listeners care about business storytelling this was a relevant failure story to share.
How to syndicate brand stories better?
Technologically speaking syndication has never been easier. Anyone can go into Facebook, Twitter or Google, add their credit card number and run a campaign. Anyone can schedule tweets for weeks out. The one-person content marketing team can drive audience like bigger teams.
That’s something to keep in mind. The competition is immense. But it’s hard to win when companies aren’t playing.
Brand stories should be syndicated on all the relevant channels. That includes your:
- Email list – a good email cadence does wondersgood email cadence does wonders!
- Social media (paid and organic)
- Paid campaigns
- Influencer campaigns
Remember that these campaigns take time and consistency. For example, I’ve closed project deals after somebody reached out to me after following me for years on social media. Those conversations usually go like this:
”I’ve been reading your stuff for years and I now need help with this same thing. Can you help?”
”Yes. Let’s hop on a call.”
Syndication can be taken to another level when we think of new ways to re-use content. Eric mentioned that his team took a pitch PowerPoint, scrubbed identifying prospect information and reused some slides for an email campaign. Those slides were then turned into PDFs and emailed out as an educational email.
”We even heard back from some people who wanted to learn more,” Eric said. “That’s content that already existed and it dawned on us that we should condense it and reuse it.”
Cory mentioned how plenty of people still buy products from TV commercials. So don’t forget about those channels.
Remember about traditional media
Journalism certainly has seen a hit and decrease in jobs over recent decades. Yet, there are still journalists working on stories and looking for sources. Eric mentioned that – even if you don’t hire a a PR firm – make it a goal to email 5 journalists a month.
I also follow Help a Reporter Out on Twitter.
Every once in a while I respond to a call for sources and have already talked to national magazines about topics that were covered in my book.
You can also use services like harohelpers.com to help you with the process.
The right time
The right timing of messages matters but of course can also be hard. For example, I offer event coverage to brands and sometimes reach out to sponsors of conferences. Sometimes people write back and say the message was spamming them and sometimes they’re happy to hear from me because they need help with a conference.
Zach explained that when I get a negative response back I wasn’t aware of the context or the recipient didn’t see themselves as having a problem.
In years past my message may have used terminology like:
- Imagine if you can get more out of your event…
- Picture this … which you can do with my help
Zach reminded us that those terms have been quite overused and often just come across as a sales pitch. If the recipient is in the right stage of the funnel it could work but to others it could be a turn off and actually hurt your brand story.
Cory mentioned that the practice of the pitch has changed quite a bit in the last decade or so. Today it’s much easier to get recommendations or do quick research online.
”Ads that are constantly pitching to people on social media actually create a negative connotation with that user,” he said. “The next time that user comes in contact with that brand it can resurrect those feelings.”
Taking a stand on issues can also help with syndication. People often share content that they really love or that they really hate. So when somebody strongly agrees with your brand they are more likely to share it.
Brand stories conclusion
Telling good brand stories and getting them in front of people in the most user – centric way can be very beneficial for brands and the bottom line. Of course it’s an art and science that is easier said than done.