Selling through Storytelling: How To Craft a Strong Brand Story
Consider a story that you are passionate about: a documentary, a podcast, or a novel. What is it about this story that makes it so special? It’s possible that it made you feelsomething.
Many of the same elements are present in a brand story that draws you into a book or movie. It serves the same purpose. It features characters (you and your customers), a conflict (personal pain point or customer pain point), rising actions (your journey to fix that problem), and a culmination (the launch! It leaves viewers or readers with a feeling.
You can think about brand storytelling as just storytelling. This will allow you to let go of the limitations of what a brand story should look like and give you the freedom to tell the story you want. There are no rules, but there are guidelines that experienced storytellers use in order to keep their audience’s attention. Don’t be afraid to color outside the lines!
Meet the storytellers
The story of a brand is often tied to the founder’s vision for their company or one that they discover along the way. They are often the only ones who can share their brand’s history. So I reached out to the practitioners, founders who have used storytelling to build their audiences and grow their businesses. They share their stories and best practices for creating compelling brand stories.
Author, esthetician licensed, co-founder of Soko Glam, and Then I Met You
Charlotte had never owned a business before she launched Soko Glam in 2012. At first blush, she seemed unlikely to be a founder. Charlotte’s unique approach is what made her brand so well-respected.
Soko Glam is in many ways Charlotte’s personal skin care journey. As her business grew, she took her audience along with her. She shared her struggles and built a loyal following by sharing them. She launched her own skincare brand, Then I Met You in 2018, which was based on a personal ethos.
Lauren moved from Canada and worked as a plus-sized model in New York before moving to journalism, where she became a well-respected expert on plus fashion.
Lauren was dismayed at the lack of clothing options for her size and launched Henning in 2019, her own plus brand. She carefully built a community around her brand story for six months before releasing any products. Her personal experiences are tightly integrated into the brand’s “why”.
Mother, Registered Nurse, Photographer, and Owner of The Bee & The Fox
Ashley is a nurse by profession and her online t-shirt company was an accident. The brand was born from a creative partnership between Ashley and her best friend, who visually documented their lives as well as their travels. The Bee & The Fox started quietly with t-shirts for children, but it gained a lot of attention when it launched its Mama Bird shirt for ladies. Ashley is now a full-time mom and Ashley has the business as her full-time job. Every touchpoint is a reflection of her story as a mother and passion for speaking out, even on the shirts.
I also consultedKarlee Bedford, Head Brand MarketingShopify’s Brand and Communications team would love to hear from you. Karlee brings more than a decade experience in building and growing brands within the advertising industry to her role at Shopify.
What is a brand story?
Karlee says brand storytelling is the first step to brand storytelling. “Brand elicits feelings,” she says. She uses Seth Godin’s definition of brand, which is “a set or stories, expectations, memories, and relationships that have an impact on a consumer‘s decision about whether to purchase a product or service.”
Let’s look at two very similar examples: Nike & New Balance. Karlee says that while their products might not be very different functionally, they “behave differently and have very differing perspectives.” “Consumers on the market for sneakers have different feelings about each brand’s offerings emotionally.”
A brand is more than a logo and a guideline document. A brand elicits emotion.
Brand storytelling is a way to communicate your brand’s essence to customers. It’s a combination of facts (the who and what, when and how) and emotions (the why) that communicate to the world your brand’s values and why they should care. A brand’s values are infused with a good story: What do you stand for?
A brand story can be the North Star of a growing business; it can guide what a company does and not just what it says. It can be the foundation for a set brand guidelines to keep your message, voice, and mission consistent as you grow.
Like any great story, your brand story should be compelling, relatable, and honest. It should inspire people to do something. This feeling becomes the catalyst for desired actions: join, donate, follow up, sign up and buy.
Why not use storytelling?
The 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life tells George Bailey’s story. He gives up his dream of doing the right thing only to end up broke and miserable. Then, it happens! Poor George is facing a very difficult time. We meet Clarence, an angel sent by God to aid our protagonist. It was a Christmas miracle! Clarence shows George a world that doesn’t have George. It is far worse than the one without him. It was a wake-up call. Bedford Falls is a sight to behold. Fin
This film has been seen at least twice a dozen times. It is a family tradition that Christmas wouldn’t be the same without it. For me, the story is the magic reindeer dust that makes Christmas magical. It’s not eggnog or rum that induces warm fuzzy feelings, but the power of storytelling. Neuroscience concurs.
One Berkeley study discovered that when people hear or watch a moving story, their brain releases a neurochemical called Oxytocin. Higher levels of oxytocin are associated with feelings of compassion and empathy, while higher levels can lead to trust and generosity.
Storytelling can be used to connect emotionally with customers.
This is good news for a brand. Karlee says that storytelling is a way to connect emotionally with customers. Karlee says that storytelling offers consumers more than a product or service. It gives them an experience.
Lauren’s personal experiences are integral to her brand story. It’s rooted at her most vulnerable moments. Her launch came just months before COVID-19 was announced and the escalation in the Black Lives Matter movement. She says, “Right now, we need to become deeply human.” Because Henning was founded on this premise, it was only natural that the brand would use its voice. It makes sense to put emphasis on conversation and community.
Cody C. Delistraty, a historian and writer, says that storytelling can “can affirm our beliefs and perceptions but more often it challenges them.” This is the cornerstone of The Bee & The Fox. A brand that aims at inspiring conversation, it is this. The content is the heart of the brand. It’s what we stand for. Ashley says it’s the charities we give to.”
Trust and authenticity
Karlee says that relationships between people take time to develop, as does those between brands and customers. It takes time spent together, sharing experiences, having discussions, and building trust over the course of time.
Lauren believes that the people your brand serves must have a seat at a table and be able to make decisions. She says that the main reason plus-sized brands have failed so often in the past is because they aren’t founded or managed by plus-sized people. It’s obvious that Lauren is her customer so she can share an experience with them. Her brand story and visuals reflect her authenticity.
Soko Glam and Then I Met You both feature Charlotte as her authentic self. She found that trusting others meant being honest about her lack of credentials. She says that most people purchase skincare products because they are dermatologist-tested. “Hey! I didn’t wash my face for a few years.” Charlotte started blogging to share the lessons she learned from her personal skin care journey. This vulnerability was embraced by a growing Korean beauty fandom.
It is impossible to sell authenticity, and it is even harder to teach it.
Charlotte is a hard worker and has accumulated valuable experience, including writing a book about skincare and getting her esthetician license. But she still maintains an engaging level of transparency with her audience. She says that she speaks out about her stress levels for Then I Met You’s launch.
Karlee says that one of the most common pitfalls when building a brand is to “invent brand benefits, instead of mining and uncovering their true purpose and values.” It is difficult to conceal insincerity. Bold statements and firm stances will not be perceived as authentic, no matter what buzzwords are used. Ashley says, “You can’t sell authenticity. You can’t even teach it.”
Your brand and you
Your brand is created by you, the founder. But, let’s not forget that you are not the main character. You are the storyteller, the supporting character, and the story device that allows the main character to shine. Who is your customer? She is the one who leads.
Your story is the framework upon which your customers base their stories.
Your role is crucial. Your customers will write their stories based on your story. You’ve given them a place in the story of your brand if they can see themselves in your triumphs and struggles.
It is personal decision to place your name and face in the middle of your brand story. You may prefer to be further removed for many reasons. Although Ashley’s About Us page at The Bee & The Fox tells a touching and personal story, her name and face are not shown. Instead, the brand’s photographs show the diverse customer profiles captured.
Lauren tells me that Henning needed a face in Lauren’s situation. “Our business is very emotionally driven. She says that plus-sized fashion, which is for people who have been marginalized in this industry, is even more emotional. It required empathy, warmth, understanding, and community.
Answering your “Why”
Every great story has a “why”. It is the main character’s motivation d’etre. It is the driving force behind the journey to get to the what or where. The “why” in a brand story could be a problem, a need or a passion. Your story could start with the answer to “Why did I create it?”
Lauren worked as an editor and met some of the most prominent names in fashion. She wore clothes that did not express her style, but made her feel confident. She says, “I only had cheap, crappy clothes.” “I literally had wardrobe malfunctions at work, and I was skipping meetings because of my embarrassing clothes.”
Lauren understood Lauren’s frustrations. They were not only hers but shared by many plus-sized women. Her “why” was to ensure that other women don’t experience the same. She says that plus-sized women who only wear one style of fashion are unable to express themselves and are therefore mentally handicapped.
The principles behind telling captivating stories are the same regardless of medium. The quality of the story is more important than the format.
It is possible to learn and use the same storytelling techniques as film directors and novelists to grab their audience. It may be decades since you last had to decipher The Old Man and The Sea. It is helpful to have a list of the elements that make up a well-told story.
What are the components of a great story? A narrative generally consists of the following:
- Exposition: Characters, setting, and other details that aid the reader to visualize the story
- Conflict is a situation or tension that can change the character’s course.
- Rising action: The lead-up to the climax
- Climax: The defeat, rebirth or aha moment, the beginning of something new
- Also known as denoument or resolution, falling action is also called “denoument” or resolution
Let’s take Henning’s story as an example.
- Characters: Lauren, plus-sized professional woman (her customers).
- Setting: New York offices and places where professional women work
- Conflict: Lauren couldn’t find clothes that represented her inner self outside of herself.
- Rising action: She began to experience wardrobe malfunctions, miss meetings, and her lack of suitable clothing choices affected her psychologically.
- Climax, resolution: She was fed up with all the options available in plus fashion and launched her own brand. Henning built a loyal following based on her authenticity and dedication to creating clothes for plus-women, by plus-women.
The Hero’s Journey is a well-known story format that reflects the journey of many entrepreneurs. It may be a good choice for you. It’s A Wonderful Life George Bailey went on a round trip and ended up back where he began, having been changed by his experiences. Then show the destination, then show the beginning, and then connect the dots.
Another way to map your story on Disney’s story spine is to use it as a guideline. This framework is used in many Disney films.
Once upon an time…
Up to one day…
Since that day
The moral is…
Stories from your past will be the best source of inspiration. What are your favourite movies, books and podcasts? What are they sharing in common? Which storytelling techniques do they use to incite emotion?
The customer is the hero
Keep your attention on the central character of your story: your customer. When crafting your story, keep your customer in mind. Let their pain points and needs guide you. Joey Ng, a marketing professional, says that if you don’t communicate who your brand is and who the person would identify with your core value system, you won’t sell it.”
Then I Met You has thrived by incorporating our customers’ interpretations of our brand.
Your brand’s integration of customer stories will grow as you develop. As long as you have a dialog with your audience, and they start to share their experiences, these stories can be used to help you build your own. Lauren had this vision for Henning long before she had a product to market. She was aware that customer opinions would shape the brand’s foundations and now she includes some of her most loyal customers in photoshoots.
Charlotte chose to be the curator of stories that her customers were telling. Charlotte discovered that her customers were creating their own art, unprompted, around her brand and products. She says, “They sometimes take better pictures than we do!” The art competition was launched by then I met you recently to showcase some of the work featured on the brand’s website. She says, “Incorporating customers’ interpretations of our brand has been such an important cornerstone of Then I Met You that it has allowed us to flourish.”
Form is more important than format when it comes to great storytelling. The best medium for your brand is the one that supports it: Could you tell your story via video, audio, photography or design?
Lauren believes visual storytelling is crucial to Henning. Henning’s customers are women who want to be seen as successful and present themselves in a stylish and sharp manner. “I wanted to make a brand that women would instantly recognize as their own.”
The brand speaks to a group that was historically ignored by fashion industry. Customers need to see themselves in Henning’s story. Lauren says that fashion images have long influenced how women in this culture view themselves. “When only one type of woman is in fashion, i.e. thin, white, Eastern European, young and tall, everyone else suffers from negative psychological effects.”
Where and when to use story
An About Us page is the best place to tell your brand story. This is a space on your website that’s specifically designed for this purpose. It can be used to present written narratives, videos, or visuals on a blank canvas.
Great marketing is about connecting with your customers wherever they may be, even before they buy. Stories are a powerful way to build brand loyalty and trust, especially at the earliest touchpoints such as ads or social media posts. Don’t forget to remind your customers why you support them. Tell your story on packaging, and add a personal touch in your customer service communications.
Here are some examples of brand storytelling that will inspire you:
- Social media posts and bios (examples are: Henning, BLK MKT Vintage)
- Website About page (example Tipu’s Chai).
- Website homepage (examples are Mission Mercantile, Pearl Morissette)
- Product page (example Boy Smells).
- Shipping materials and package inserts
- Email communications
- Guides for internal brands
- Training and staff hiring (job descriptions, internal resources learning)
- Interviews and media materials
- Blog or publication (examples are Wealthsimple and The Klog By Soko Glam).
- Podcast Audio
- Video: Produced or livestreamed (example: NIKE).
Storytelling at scale
You are the founder and you create the first draft of your story. This ensures consistency in your message. As your brand grows, you might start delegating some of the storytelling tasks to freelancers, agents, staff, or partners. How can you make sure your story and voice remain consistent and true to your vision?
Ashley realized this problem when she started working with a marketing department. It became apparent that communications from her brand were appearing in her feeds, but she felt they were coming directly from another person. It was an area of her business she could not let go. She says, “I need to have that control.” Ashley now has a stronger relationship with her marketing team.
Ashley decided to hire a neighbor for customer service because she felt it was important that this crucial touchpoint be handled by someone she was familiar with.
I felt it was very important to have a strong reference. We are very aware of the North Star.
Lauren was able to anticipate scaling. The brand was in her hands for many months before it was launched. She created assets such as a brand style guide, which helps to align everyone she brings on the team. She says, “It was very important to me that I had something to refer to.” “The North Star is very clear for us.
Charlotte has found scaling up and growing the number of voices who represent her brand to be a positive experience. She says that the brand is still small. Charlotte remains involved in the brand’s messaging. In some of her blog posts and videos, however, other voices and faces have begun to emerge. She says, “My curation videos were used to be just myself.” “But now, I have people from my team come and host alongside me.”
Tell your brand story
This is your story. It could be dangerous to delegate the whole task of creating your brand story. While professionals may help you polish your brand story, it is best to be involved. Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart, entrepreneur and activist for, says “We can’t outsourcing our voice.” It’s our story, it’s the heart of our lives.
What is your brand’s belief? What is your brand’s belief? This will allow you to identify the core desire of your audience and create an emotional offering that meets that desire.
Louis Richardson, a storytelling pro, presented a workshop to me in 2019. He said, “It’s about getting them to believe.” Let’s start writing.
1. 1. Start with the basics
Karlee says, “Define your convictions and purpose.” What does your brand believe in? What is your brand’s belief? You can then define the core desire of your audience and create an emotional offering that meets that desire.” She says that only then can you get into the finer points like tone and voice.
2. Ask questions
Start brainstorming exercises if you aren’t a natural storyteller. The following questions can be answered (point form is acceptable at this stage).
- Your brand/company exists because of these reasons. What motivated you to start this company?
- What is your personal story? Include any relevant information about your entrepreneurial journey and the creation of your brand.
- Who are your main characters Who are you? Who is your target customer? Mentors? Partner?
- If applicable, what is the setting? What is the importance of place to your brand? What is the reason? This is especially important for brands that are inspired by travel or focus on local communities.
- Is there tension? What was the next step? Which problem are you trying solve?
- What is your mission? What are you trying to achieve with this brand?
- Who is your ideal customer or audience? Give details. Be specific. After engaging with your brand, story and message, what do you want them believe?
- What would you describe your brand to a friend or colleague?
- What are your values? What are your personal values and beliefs? What will your brand reflect these values?
Access our worksheet for a simple template:
3. Listen to your community
Lauren says that your story should be authentic, relevant and honest. Your brand story shouldn’t be written in isolation. She says, “It shouldn’t be just driven by you.” “Get out and speak with your community to gain a better understanding of the collective experience that the people you want to talk to.”
Our community was able to understand our values through storytelling. This is how we live our ethos of giving back.
4. Not a list of facts, but a story.
Marketer Melyssa Griffin says, “Your About Page is a interview.” What would you say about your brand to a friend or employer? To connect your answers to the questions above, use the basic story structure described in this article. It is easy to follow and can be used to create a conversational, engaging, well-paced narrative. Do you think this is how you would talk? Ashley says, “Infuse what you believe in.” Your passion for your story will show in your writing.
Charlotte weaves personal stories into Then I Met You campaigns and product development. The honeydew lip balm’s ingredients are a result of Charlotte’s grandmother who used to give the fruit to her as a child. She, like many entrepreneurs, decided to support the COVID-19 victims. Inspiring by her father, who is a grocery worker, she focused her efforts on helping grocery workers. She says that storytelling helped her community understand what she cared about. “How we actually live our ethos to give back.”
5. The moral of this story is… The moral of the story is…?
Many stories are good because they end with a lesson or moral. Consider any Disney film. This is a call for action. Every story should have an actionable takeaway that the reader can use.
The story’s goal doesn’t always have to convince someone to buy. What other actions do you want them to take? Do they have to follow you? Take a survey. Learn more about the causes that you support. How can you keep your audience interested and continue to nurture them in your story? Perhaps the takeaway is a feeling that you want them to have.
“People will forget your words, people will forget your actions,” Maya Angelou once stated. “But people will never forget how they felt.”
Get feedback and know when to act.
A great way to make sure your voice is heard professionally is to work with an editor. Even if you don’t have enough money to hire a professional editor, a second pair of eyes can help. You can also share your draft with friends, who will give honest feedback and people who are similar to your ideal customer.
Your brand story may be out there, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is set in stone. Get feedback from customers often. This feedback can be gathered in many ways:
- You can run surveys and polls via social media, your website or email marketing.
- Be attentive to feedback and comments shared on your channels.
- Social content is a way to ask your audience questions directly. It’s less formal than a survey or poll.
- Free consultations via chat or video – your customers will benefit as much as you from the experience.
It’s important that you listen to feedback and know when to act. You don’t have to be your best customer or their biggest advocate. It is important to be able to recognize when you must stick to your values.
Ashley’s brand encourages conversation around topics that are important for The Bee & The Fox. Sometimes things can get heated. She says, “I always keep my brand open to free speech.” Sometimes, a comment can cause problems for her core community. She says that people will ask her to block the commenter or take down the comment. “And that is something I will never do. I am fine with division.”
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