4 Kinds of Stories That Will Help Customers Identify With Your Brand

Marketing is not just about showcasing features and benefits; it's about telling stories. Seth Godin even renamed one of his best-selling books from All Marketers are Liars to All Marketers are Storytellers. If you want your customers to connect with your brand transactionally and emotionally, you have to communicate with them in story.

The hard part is figuring out how to adapt your brand, products, services, features, and value in story form. As the head marketer at Lean Labs, this is a battle I fight for every client - how do I capture their brand stories? Then I found a great resource that helped me compartmentalize story templates and apply them to brands. Here's what I found...

How to Capture Your Brand Story

I'm a book junkie, and I'm drawn like a fly to any bookstore within a 3-block radius. Confession, I buy too many books and read too few. A few months ago I was in our local bookstore, and a title caught my eye: Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins, by Annette Simmons.

bookI have no clue who Annette is, but she nailed a golden truth in the title. Telling stories is not about lying - be like Seth Godin do away with that stereotype now. It's not about lying to customers. But marketing is about telling brand stories, and doing it really well.

If you are not a good storyteller, you will lose to someone who is.

4 Stories You Should Tell About Your Brand

The book was excellent, and there are several types of stories listed in the book. I recommend anyone who is involved in content marketing buying Simmon's book and keeping it as a reference. But here are the four best types of stories that I am adapting to use for our clients.

1. The "Who I Am" Story

In the book, Simmon's mentions a New York Times/CBS survey in which they asked two important questions:

Question 1: Out of the people you know, how many are trustworthy?

The answer: 70%! Overall, when you are familiar with someone, you find them trustworthy.

Question 2: Of people, in general, how many do you think are trustworthy?

The answer: 30%!

You have only a 30% chance of strangers thinking of you as trustworthy. This is huge!

For the majority of brands, you are floating in a sea of strangers playing the losing game of 30/70 chances. When you craft your brilliant marketing slogan and pitch it to strangers, you only have a target of 30% and only a fraction of those will be interested in your offering.

If there has ever been an indicator you need to do inbound marketing it's this. The need to familiarize your market with who you are is enormous. It's critical.

Simmons sums it up like this:

 Who are you? What makes you special? What earns you the right to influence? Start looking for stories that demonstrate these qualities in a visceral way.

2. A Time You Shined Story

Okay, I'm tweaking her story suggestions a little with these next two. In her book, Simmons recommends four types of stories for every category. Under the "Who I Am" story type, there are four subcategories, A time you shined, a time you blew it, a mentor, and a movie or current event. But for me, this subcategory is good enough to be its own category.

Your brand is a living, breathing organism. You should identify it's core values, those things it strives to be.

At Lean Labs, we have seven core beliefs that drive us:

  1. Value Over Profit
  2. Continuous Improvement
  3. Positive "Can Do" Attitude at All Times
  4. Transparency
  5. Empowerment
  6. Process-Driven Art
  7. Founded and Grounded on the Word

There are instances, usually overlooked by us, where we shine in matching up to those core beliefs.

Just recently, we put a lot of effort into writing a blog article for a client. It was one of many, and this one in particular just turned out disappointing. It wasn't bad writing, and the topic was okay, it just didn't match up to the expectations of the rest of the articles.

So, we replaced that article, at our expense, with two more pieces that exceeded quality level and value our client expected. This is a time we shined on value over profit. We provided a little more value to our client at a little less profit.

This is just an example. Anyone can put core values on their website. But your potential customers have no clue if you live by those beliefs or if you just put it on your website for marketing speak.

Sharing the times you do something extraordinary to match to your core values builds trust, and shows your clients that you not only hold to your core beliefs, but you celebrate it when you do.

3. A Time You Blew It Story

Yes, this is another sub-category that I thought deserved its own attention. Carrying on from #2, there's another way to show your dedication to your core values and beliefs. It's sharing times when you made mistakes.

Out of all our core beliefs, the marketer in me loves #4 the best. Transparency is not only powerful, but it's also fun, and it helps you relax as well. Getting things out in the open and being transparent is freeing for a person and a brand.

Too many people try to put out this "We are perfect! We never make mistakes!" vibe and everyone knows they are lying. Nobody is perfect.

Every single brand is run by people. And people are beautifully flawed.

In short, people are bound to make mistakes eventually. Being a great brand isn't about never making mistakes, it's about what you do when those mistakes are made.

When you tell "I blew it" stories, it builds trust in your brand. People don't mind you made a mistake when you admit it and prove that you learned from it. In contrast, it builds even more faith in your brand when you are brave enough to share those stories.

For instance, let's say you needed a company to design your website. You had a hard deadline, and not meeting that deadline was not an option. So you set out to find a company you could trust to meet it. In your search, you find two businesses that match your budget and design style.

  • Company A has 5-Star reviews plastered all over their website. They are perfect, and they are so detail oriented they never make a mistake. That's great!
  • Company B has a great website as well, but a story catches your eye. They tell a story about missing a deadline, and how horrible it made everyone feel. And then they laid out the steps they take to never miss a deadline again.

Which company do you go with?

They are both great, but this one obviously has made that mistake before, and has learned from it. The other company... you'll have to ask them.

Buffer is one of my favorite companies in the SaaS world. They have pioneered transparency to a point, they are even publishing transparency posts about mistakes they made by being too transparent. It's ironic and funny, and you can read it here.

Here's one example from their head Happiness Hero, Carolyn. She took to her blog to be transparent about a customer support mistake she made, and the lessons she learned from it.

Simmons sums it up like this:

 Think of a time you really blew it or a time when you acted out of character. Counterintuitively, people will more readily believe you understand the value of a specific quality when they see how you talk about failing your own standards.

4. A Book, Movie, or Current Event

Some people call this newsjacking, but telling a brand story around something recognizable or trending can be powerful.

One famous instance of this was Oreo capitalizing on the power going out in the 2013 Super Bowl. Now I want to eat some Oreos.



One of my favorite motivational talks came from a MLM Marketing event. The speaker was trying to motivate everyone to put in extra effort now in order to enjoy the fruits of it later. To drive the point home, he played a scene from Braveheart.

To paraphrase the speech:

 Stay and fight and you might die. Run away and you will live. But years from now when you're on your death bed, would you be willing to trade all those days, from that time to this, for one chance to come back and say you will never take my freedom.

Doing what is easy may seem like a good choice at the time. But, the speaker was communicating, that when you get on the other side of all those years, just about everyone would like another chance to go back and do something that can change your circumstance.

This is an excellent way to communicate not only the values of your brand, but to do so in a way that people find interesting. The right story at the right time can make a huge impact.

People Remember Stories

When you tell someone a fact or make a statement, you activate a very small part of the brain. Most likely, they will forget what you said within a few minutes.

When you tell a story, you activate the entire brain, including the imagination. The imagination imprints on our brains like personal experience does. This is why stories are the most effective way of teaching.

Jesus, the God of the universe knew his creation so well he came to earth and taught by parables - stories. Why? Because tell me a story and it will stick with me. I'll imagine it like it's happening to me. And I will tuck it away in my brain as something that I have experienced. I'll remember it.

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