The Art of Crafting a Brand Story
Powerful ways to reinvent your brand in the new year
By Jasmine Bina | The stories that change over time are the ones that matter. Family histories, legends, fables, cultural narratives, identities–these are all stories that change with each new telling by adapting to new audiences. We change our personal stories to resonate with who we are today because, at their most fundamental level, stories are devices for self-discovery, irrespective of time and place.
Your company’s brand story also needs to evolve if you want it to stay relevant. Markets and consumers are changing faster than ever, and with each new competitor, the overall story of your space shifts. A static story simply cannot survive in a dynamic world.
If you want your brand to matter, ask yourself if the story you are telling is one that lives. Can your users make the story their own? Is there an emotional connection between the story and your audience? Does the story give your company a platform for growth and expansion, or has it tied you to unchanging expectations?
If your brand story isn’t growing with your company, it’s time to make a change in 2019. Reinventing a narrative can be very powerful; it’s risky, but also highly rewarding if done right because only when stories change do they come to life.
Here are a few things to keep in mind to guide your metamorphosis into a new, robust and successful brand.
Start in the future and work backward
Many people start with their current brand story and try to move that narrative into a new one, but the best way to do it is, in fact, the other way around. It’s imperative to keep a strong connection between your present and future stories, but as long as today is your starting point, you won’t be able to break free of the beliefs, biases, and paradigms that may be holding your brand back.
Instead, look at the landscape two to five years from now. Who has your user become? How has the competitive playing field changed? What does this new world look like? Taking these considerations into account, what is that one resonant story that can stand unique and defensible against all others?
Tesla isn’t about the car, market, or even technology. It’s about science fiction. Elon Musk has created a tangible vision of what his world looks like and every action he takes, Tesla or otherwise, is a step toward forcing that future into reality. He didn’t start with the story of the car, but a snapshot of what the world will look like . The car is only a natural extension of it.
Gently walk your customer into your vision of the future and show them your brand can take them there. What your user wants, more than anything else, is a connection to an ideal tomorrow.
hims’s brand is built on the belief that “men are allowed to want to take care of themselves.” Photo courtesy of hims.
Offer a revelation
The majority of brands reveal something about their company or product to the audience, but few reveal something about the user to themselves. It’s a subtle but profoundly significant difference.
If you pay attention, you’ll see that today’s winning brands understand the customer’s story is the only one that matters. Your most important job as a brand is to show people whom they can become with your product.
Great brands know this and understand they are in the business of helping people realize their potential, regardless of what the product or service is. Any brand, from laundry detergent to medicine, is capable of offering a revelation if they’re smart about their storytelling approach.
This revelation is what stays with people long after your brand touches them.
When Airbnb rebranded in 2014, they already had a phenomenal six years of effective travel branding behind them. They were an alternative to hotels and spoke to utility-focused users who wanted more in the way of cost savings, easy booking and availability.
Even at that time, Airbnb had the foresight to see that they needed to move from utility-focused, feature-based messaging to something that is fundamentally more stirring. They needed to offer a revelation to the consumer, causing them to not see Airbnb as a hotel alternative, but an entirely new form of travel.
That’s when they launched their ‘Belong Anywhere’ campaign. Travel was no longer about amenities, but belonging and feeling at home, no matter where you came from or how far you wandered–an especially appropriate angle if you’re a disillusioned Millennial in search of identity through travel.
This revelation changed the playing field. It wasn’t about Airbnb. It wasn’t about the product. It was about the user.
Go somewhere new and create tension
Venturing into unknown territory creates tension, and tension creates a reaction. This reaction is what indicates whether your brand is heading in the right direction.
Brand stories that carry tension create lovers and haters–people who are immediately drawn to the brand and become diehard loyalists, and people who are turned off and quickly walk away. The last thing you want is to be somewhere in the middle, where consumers ultimately do not care. The story in the middle is irrelevant, will cost you much money in customer acquisition and churn over time, and does nothing to protect your brand down the road.
Tension is good, as scary as it sounds. Lean into it. Tension is what attracts the early adopters who will evangelize your brand, and lead the rest of your market into the future you want to create. It forces conversation, content and movement, and tension will inevitably force your competitors to react.
Hims, the direct-to-consumer men’s wellness startup that sells skin, hair and personal care products, has used tension masterfully to position their brand on a single, compelling principle: men’s taboos are hurting the men who believe in them.
While other men’s brands like Gillette, Degree, and Old Spice continue to portray the alpha male which is limited in its identity and definition, Hims attempts to create a new context around gendered personal care products. They’re starting a conversation that destroys old biases and gives men a chance to explore a side of themselves they may not have had the emotional freedom or social permission to explore before, even though these products have always existed.
Every story that matters is one that creates tension in its time. This doesn’t mean you have to be controversial or employ shock value. On the contrary, it means you have to make a statement about the world and force people to choose a side.
Today’s leading brands all have a belief about the world and its future. This is a powerful position to take in any industry and is the kind of move that breaks through the noise and earns respect.
Great brand stories aren’t merely told. They are earned. Every action you take, from sales and communications to partnerships, needs to tell that story over and over again. Your users come to know your brand by reading between the lines.
If you decide to reinvent your brand story this year: be bold. You have the opportunity not only to move yourself, but your users, peers and the entire industry.
About the Author
Jasmine Bina is the Founder and CEO of Concept Bureau, a brand strategy agency that works with international brands and growth-stage startups. She has spent the last decade working with global companies from a variety of industries, with a special focus on reaching Millennial, Gen X and Gen Z consumers. Her research on emerging consumer and behavior trends is regularly published in national outlets, and she frequently speaks on the topic of brand strategy in Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, New York, and international brands and universities.