Human beings have been telling stories since time immemorial, from ancient myths told around campfires to morality tales that guided wayward children towards wise adult choices. So much is this part of our history, that stories are hardwired into how we interact with one another and we actively seek them out. We develop trust in something, or someone based on the story we interpret from each cue we are given and, in marketing terms, this fundamental human instinct is not something to skip over!
Creating a strong brand story is what allows a company to propel itself into not only the minds, but the hearts of its target audience. With a compelling brand story, customers are not only buying a product or service, but also an idea. This powerful tool is what makes brands iconic, but modern consumers of a savvy sort, so the process of building your brand story should be a careful construction. Let’s look at some leading examples of fantastic brand stories, and what strategies they have used to reach out and connect with their customers.
Here is a brand that you will most likely have heard of! The extraordinary ascent of Airbnb can be attributed to a brilliant concept married perfectly with a great brand story. This gargantuan hospitality brokerage company, that started out with some guys in San Francisco who set up their living room as a bed and breakfast because they couldn’t afford rent, is now a multi-billion-dollar company that features as the go-to of travellers today. What makes their brand story so compelling is that they focus on the user experience, painting a tantalising picture of potential for would-be travellers casting their gaze around the globe. From descriptive narratives that spur the imagination of users browsing on their website, to individual stories of the adventures of Airbnb customers, this brand has put its users right in the heart of its message, and in doing so created a loyal and passionate customer base.
Burt’s Bees began some thirty years ago when a beekeeper named Burt met an artist named Roxanne and they started making beeswax candles together. This practice evolved into the production of their iconic lip balms, and eventually into the huge international body care brand that we see today. From the beginning, the brand story of Burt’s Bees was a fantastically simple one; that nature holds all the answers that we need for self- care, and that simple products made from natural ingredients are the foundation of an earth friendly, effective wellness regime.
Their current tag-line reads “Responsibly Sourced. Sustainably made. Naturally moisturising.” and their range boasts no petrochemicals, phthalates, parabens or sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) as well as no animal testing. They also sponsor the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) Adopt a Beehive scheme. Their honest, morally driven approach drives a hugely loyal fan base of trusting customers.
This online marketplace set itself apart from its competitors with two simple strategies. Firstly, Etsy is only open to sellers who make products themselves or are selling vintage items, and secondly, as opposed to the approach of Airbnb who put users at the heart of their brand, Etsy put the sellers using their platform front and foremost. By encouraging sellers to provide their back-story, methods and manifestos, Etsy created a sense of authenticity behind the products they promote. This notion that shoppers are buying something unique, with tangible personalities behind each item, has helped to establish the site as a place where people can find things that they desired with so much more to offer than simple physical form. The result is easy to see in the pricing, where customers are more willing to pay higher prices for hand crafted or discovered treasures than they would for a generic off-the-shelf equivalent.
While placing customers in the heart of branding is deeply important, adding a face to a brand – or even leading with one can also work wonders. Delfina Delettrez is certainly retail royalty as a member of the Fendi family, but this extraordinary entrepreneur launched her own name-sake jewellery brand at the tender age of 20, taking intentional steps out from under the umbrella of her family’s dynasty. Delettrez designs modern, iconic jewellery that is hand crafted by skilled jewellers and sold at Fendi-esque prices. Her blazing success can be attributed to her decision to make herself the face of her own brand and maintaining a constant presence in the marketing of her pieces.
Delettrez has succeeded in skilfully crafting a public persona that inspires the aspirational consumers that her pieces are aimed at. So successful was her approach that strong female celebrities such as Beyonce, Tilda Swinton and Nicole Kidman wear Delettrez’s pieces with notable pride. Of course, not every brand will choose such an approach, and not every business owner would want such a public role, but a great deal can be said for the humanising element of introducing relatable faces as part of your branding, helping customers feel that they can connect with the brand they are buying from. A simple introduction to the owner of the company, or members of the team will help your target audience to feel bonded to your brand.
I’ll start with a forewarning that going for a gimmick as part of your brand story is not something to blunder into! Consumers sniff out dishonesty in a heartbeat, so mis-selling your brand is a no-go, but an intelligently constructed and evident gimmick can be a wonderful way of engaging with your customer base. Zendesk’s brand story is historically one of clear, honest marketing and useable tools, but in 2016 they created a hilarious viral campaign that featured an imaginary alternative rock band, also called Zendesk, who were struggling with being outshone by a software support company that stole their name. The tale unfolds with Zendesk (the band) needing the real Zendesk for their publicity, and ultimately writing a customer service concept album. This brilliant gimmick cemented Zendesk in the minds of a far wider audience than conventional marketing would ever have allowed!
This brand needs no introduction, and in fact was a market leader when it came to brand storytelling, leading the concept before much of the rest of the world caught onto the idea. This was back in the 80s when advertising was limited to TV advertising or magazines, and most other brands took the tactic of selling aggressively, Nike realised that pushing your product down people’s throats was not as effective as telling a story. This started with their 1984 collaboration with Michael Jordan, and a one minute long commercial that only featured the Nike logo and tag line on screen for the last two seconds of airtime. This approach seemed nutty in the era of the hard sell, but it paid off in a major way. They began to lead their marketing with iconic stories from inspirational figures, and elevation of their customer base by celebrating human diversity, from gender to ethnicity to body shape and age. These messages of empowerment, highlighted with snappy and memorable taglines, from the classic “Just Do It”, through to “Age is just a number”, and “Don’t change your dream; change the world”.
Lastly, Nike put their money where their mouth is with the Nike Foundation, funding programs such as the Equality program that supports organisations that provide services to underrepresented youth, and Girl Effect which works to support young girls around the world, enabling them to elevate their communities. Nike’s brand story has become one of inclusion and leading by example, which is relatable and inspiring to a wide audience.
What becomes evident as we explore this handful of brand stories, is that establishing a strong, loyal following is achieved by the combination of producing an excellent product and delivering an authentic story that customers can relate to. Well-formed ideas trigger an emotional response, and in telling the story of your brand you can forge strong connections with your potential customers, building authority, trust and longevity.