Your audience is programmed to crave and seek out great stories. They want to know your brand’s origin, missions, goals — your entire brand story.
However, since marketers spend a lot of time optimizing content for algorithms, it can be challenging to flex your creative storytelling muscles.
In this post, we’ve created a guide about the fundamentals of brand stories, including:
What is a brand story?
A brand story recounts the series of events that sparked your company’s inception and expresses how that narrative still drives your mission today. Just like your favorite books and movies characters, if you can craft a compelling brand story, your audience will remember who you are, develop empathy for you, and, ultimately, care about you.
When HubSpot started, we noticed traditional, interruptive marketing didn’t appeal to consumers anymore. In the digital age, people were in complete control of the information they consumed, and they were sick and tired of receiving direct mail, email blasts, and cold calls. People wanted help, so we created educational content to solve marketing problems.
Today, we’ve built a passionate community of inbound marketers, expanded our inbound marketing approach to the sales and customer service industries, and strengthened the inbound movement more than ever before.
This is our brand story — a simple, digestible narrative explaining why HubSpot began and how this reason still serves our purpose today.
Why is a brand story important?
A brand story is important because it helps customers understand who you are and why your business exists. When consumers relate to your why, they develop a connection with your brand and may be more likely to purchase your business. Customers who feel connected and enjoy your products are more likely to become loyal customers.
How to Write a Brand Story
1. Highlight your story’s conflict.
Check out the following story. Does it resonate with you?
A girl wearing a red-hooded cloak is strolling through the woods to give her sick grandma some much-needed food and TLC. She passes a wolf on the way, and they exchange an awkward soft smile-nod. She makes it to her grandma’s house, and they eat lunch and play Clue together. Grandma wins by deducing that Colonel Mustard killed Mr. Boddy in the Billiard Room with the candlestick. The End.
So ... what’d you think? Did this story keep you on the edge of your seat? Or does it feel … off? For some reason, it doesn’t work, right? That’s because there’s no conflict. Despite the intense game of Clue at the end, there’s nothing at stake. There’s no tension, and the wolf didn’t try to eat the girl. He didn’t even go to Grandma’s house. He barely acknowledged Little Red Riding Hood.
At their core, stories are about overcoming adversity. A lack of conflict means there’s no drama or emotional journey for people to relate to. Without drama or an emotional journey, it won’t hold attention, much less resonate and inspire.
Brands might shy away from revealing any adversity or conflict because a blemish-free story about growth seems like the best way to convince people they’re the best-in-class solution, free of imperfections. In reality, this is a huge misconception because everything (including companies) has flaws. Plus, people don’t expect perfection because they can relate to the experience of adversity, struggling through it, and overcoming it.
Conflict is key to telling compelling stories, so be transparent about the adversity your company has faced and own it. The more honest you are about your shortcomings, the more people will respect you and relate to your brand.
2. Don’t forget about your story’s status quo and resolution.
A compelling story has two other fundamental elements: the status quo and resolution.
The status quo is the way things are and have always been. A conflict disrupts this and puts something at stake, forcing the protagonist, your brand, to actively find a solution to the problem.
The resolution is how the protagonist solves the problem, giving your audience an emotional payoff.
In sum, your brand’s story structure should look like this:
- Status Quo
It’s as simple as that.
If you need an example to crystalize brand story structure, let’s go over the actual Little Red Riding Hood story, followed by brands who are nailing their brand story right now.
Little Red Riding Hood
Status Quo: Little Red Riding Hood walks through the woods to deliver food to her sick grandma.
Conflict: A Big Bad Wolf approaches her, and asks where she’s going. She naively tells him where her grandmother’s house is, and he suggests she picks some flowers as a present for her. While she’s distracted, he breaks into Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother's house, eats her, and puts on her clothes to impersonate her.
When Little Red Riding Hood gets to her grandmother’s house, she notices subtle changes in her grandmother appearance but ultimately ignores them. The wolf swallows her whole and falls asleep from a food coma.
Resolution: A hunter hears Little Red Riding Hood’s screams, bursts through grandma’s door, cuts open the wolf’s stomach, and frees Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother. They then fill the wolf’s body with heavy stones, and when he wakes up, he's unable to run away.
Wouldn’t you say that was a little more compelling and entertaining than finding out Colonel Mustard can wield a candlestick as a murder weapon? I would, too.
Many brands leverage this same structure to tell their story and generate brand awareness. Read on to learn how they do it.
Brand Story Examples
- Unthinkable Media
- Grado Labs
Patagonia is dedicated to creating hearty and durable products, whether it’s workwear clothing or warm socks. It’s extremely committed to environmentalism and doing what it can to slow the process of global warming. One of its programs, Worn Wear, is an excellent example of telling a brand story.
Here’s a great example of its brand story using the structure outlined above.
Status Quo: Thousands of global brands produce pounds and pounds of clothing items per year that customers buy and add to their clothing collections.
Conflict: Thousands of brands produce clothing items every year that people purchase. Clothing waste is also at an all-time high as people continuously buy new products and get rid of old ones, often in ways that harm the environment.
Resolution: Patagonia’s Worn Wear program gives new life to used Patagonia products and refurbishes them to a like-new state at discounted prices. It saves clothing from entering landfills and gives a high-quality option to someone who needs it.
Unthinkable Media produces original, narrative-driven podcasts for B2B brands. Its mission is to create refreshing, entertaining shows for clients that can actually retain people’s attention, not just acquire it.
The full story is fleshed out in one of the founder’s blog posts
Status Quo: As makers and marketers, we want our audience’s attention, and so for years, we focused our efforts on acquiring it.
Conflict: Today, thanks to multiple screens, ubiquitous and instantly accessible content, and endless choice in nearly every competitive niche, the buyer now has total control. They only choose experiences they genuinely enjoy, meaning more is needed to capture attention.
Resolution: The new mandate for makers and marketers is to hold attention. Focus needs to shift from impressions and traffic to subscribers and community. Everything we try to achieve becomes possible and gets easier when audiences spend more time with a business, not seconds. Don’t just acquire attention - hold it.
3. Grado Labs
Grado Labs is a third-generation, family-owned headphone and cartridge company. It doesn't believe in advertising, has operated in the same building for over a century, and even makes its headphones by hand. So why does it operate like this when huge brands like Beats by Dre, Sony, and Bose have celebrity endorsers and mass-produce their headphones? Check out our interpretation to find out.
Status Quo: Music is an essential part of the human experience. Without it, life just isn’t as colorful and exciting. Quality headphones amplify the pleasant, emotional experience of listening to music.
Conflict: In a market where every headphone brand has an enormous advertising budget, state-of-the-art facilities, and high-tech machines that can churn out as many products as they want, why not conform?
Resolution: Sound comes first. As craft-driven creators, prioritizing producing the best product over generating the most hype is important. By creating a better pair of headphones at the expense of publicity and growth, we can serve customers better and foster a passion for our product.
Drift is a conversational marketing platform that helps businesses connect with prospects through genuine, empathetic conversations and interactions. In 2016, it shocked the content marketing world by scrapping arguably the most reliable lead generator from its website — forms.
Even though it was initially anxious about getting rid of a lead generation machine, it knew ungating content on its website would align with its mission, put customers first, and offer as much value as possible, which would produce better long-term results. Here’s our interpretation of its brand story.
Status Quo: The crux of content marketing is treating people like humans. So, we’ve done what most other companies have done: create content to help and educate our customers. In exchange for adding value to their lives, customers will likely to return the favor with their attention, trust, and action.
Conflict: As much as we preach about putting the customer first, we don’t practice it. Instead of offering the most value at a baseline, we request contact information in exchange for what we offer. Are we actually being customer-centric?
Resolution: Getting rid of forms lets us practice what we preach — putting customers first and providing a more human and empathetic marketing experience. We should offer all of our content for free, with no strings attached.
Topical’s founder grew up without seeing her skin type represented in mainstream TV commercials and advertisements. This led to thoughts of her skin not being perfect because it wasn’t propped up as the “perfect” skin type. The brand was launched from this experience, and below we’ll outline an interpretation of its brand story.
Status Quo: Hundreds of brands offer skincare products and create advertisements targeted toward those looking to improve their skin regimen.
Conflict: Millions of people use skincare products that they discover in advertisements, but these advertisements overwhelmingly feature a specific skin type and skin color, which may give audiences unrealistic expectations for their own skin.
Resolution: A line of science-backed products that provide consumers with an excellent skin care option and a focus on mental health to ensure audiences know there is no “ideal” skin type or skin model and that good skin simply means someone is comfortable with their own skin.
Tips for Telling Your Brand Story
Below we’ll go over a few quick tips for crafting and telling an excellent brand story. For each tip, we’ll include questions to ask yourself that can help you dig deep and uncover what you’re looking for.
1. Find Your Why
Finding your why is finding why your brand exists and what it exists for. Questions to ask yourself can be:
- Why does your brand exist?
- What problem arose that inspired you to search for a solution?
- What is your brand’s mission, or what do you hope your brand will solve?
- What are your brand values?
- How do you contribute to the world, or what will you contribute to the world?
2. Know Your Product
Some questions to ask yourself to get to know more about your product and how to talk about it are:
- What is your product?
- How does your product work?
- How does your product relate to your brand’s “why”?
- How does your product relate to your overall mission and values?
- What makes your product different from what’s already on the market? What makes it better?
3. Know Your Audience
Knowing your audience and how your product, service, or business relates to them is a key pillar to telling your brand story. To uncover this information, you can ask yourself:
- Who is your target market?
- What do you know about your target market and their needs and pain points?
- How does your target market relate to your “why” based on their needs and pain points?
- How does your product relate to your target audience? Or, what is your product’s direct relation to your target audience?
Tell your brand’s real story, not its highlight reel.
Spitting out a highlight real, which many brands do, doesn’t actually resonate with people.
Instead, it’s important to tell the truth. What people relate to and get inspired by isn’t endless success — it’s the rocky journey of finding an idea, getting knocked down, and finding a path to success.