Every brand has a story. But only great brands tell their stories in a way that makes them truly matter.
Think about a company that makes shoes. Maybe they’re cute and comfy, maybe you’ll try them on in the store, maybe you’ll buy them. You aren’t aware of any story behind the shoes or the brand, so you feel indifferent about them. Even if you did buy them, you may not remember the name of the brand, and you probably wouldn't go around telling your friends about them.
Now imagine the first time you heard the story behind TOMS shoes. This passage is taken directly from their website:
While traveling in Argentina in 2006, TOMS Founder Blake Mycoskie witnessed the hardships faced by children growing up without shoes. Wanting to help, he created TOMS Shoes, a company that would match every pair of shoes purchased with a new pair of shoes for a child in need. One for One®. What began as a simple idea has evolved into a powerful business model that helps address need and advance health, education and economic opportunity for children and their communities around the world.
There’s no denying this story sticks. And as a result, TOMS has gone on to sell 60 million shoes, donate 60 million shoes, and then expand to eyewear, coffee and bags.
Why is storytelling so powerful?
Humans are hard-wired for storytelling. A study done by Dr. Uri Hasson at Princeton University found that, when listening to a story, the same neurons fire in the listener as the storyteller. The listener’s neurons catch up with, and even start to anticipate the storyteller’s. You’ve probably heard of mirror neurons, but in this case, neurons not only mirror, they foretell. Meaning that we as humans all have a shared language that goes beyond psychology and neurology. Our brains are already wired for story structure, making storytelling an extremely effective form of communication.
Does your brand have to benefit a huge worldly cause in order to have an impactful brand story?
No. It just has to solve a problem. No matter the scale, if your company set out to overcome any type of issue with its products or services, then you already have a brand story. Now it’s just about telling it.
Here’s a simple formula for crafting your brand story:
I like to think of it as your podcast interview. Imagine you’re on a podcast being interviewed about your brand. You wouldn’t give a cheesy sales pitch and you also wouldn’t gloss over the hurdles you’ve faced. You’d start from the beginning, and tell the story as a human talking to other humans.
First talk about the issue you noticed in the world or in your industry. Did you have a personal experience with this problem? How did/does it affect you or those around you?
As an example, I’m going to paraphrase True Botanicals’ brand story:
After Hillary Peterson was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, she started to think twice about the chemicals present in her home. She has a family who she also wants to protect from the effects of harsh chemicals in beauty products.
2. Status Quo
Next talk about the way things were at the time when you started (or now if you’re just starting your brand.) Talk about the way in which things needed to change in order to solve the problem.
As it stood when Hillary was diagnosed with cancer, there were no safe beauty products that were also effective. If you wanted to choose toxin-free products, you had to compromise on quality.
Then talk about your idea. The name of your brand, and what differentiates it in your industry. Why is it great and how does it solve the problem?
True Botanicals is a line of beautifully packaged products that contain potent, natural ingredients and absolutely no toxins. They’re safe for us and safe for the planet. True Botanicals’ standard are unwavering, so consumers never have to choose between safe and effective.
4. Resolution + Potential
Finally you’re going to go big-picture. You shouldn’t wrap up your story with a resolution that feels like an ending. It should feel like a new beginning. What doors does your brand open? How are people responding to it? How is it solving the problem you set out to solve? And what’s next?
Since launching True Botanicals, non-toxic beauty products have become much more main-stream. Hillary Peterson didn’t want to stand alone in her industry, she set out to make a huge change in it and that’s exactly what she’s done. She hopes that soon other industries will follow suit, and she’ll be able to find cleaning products and makeup products that live up to her high standards of safety and quality.