FIVE QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR BRAND STORY
Updated: Mar 4, 2019
It’s your story.
Your brand is a story. If it is a good one, it is a story that people remember and tell later to their friends after work over beers or bring up around the table at a family meal. It will be a story that inspires great work, that fires the blast furnaces, and one that kick-starts a revolution.
But what if your brand is an industrial solvent?
This is the old chestnut that those of us charged with creating content on a daily basis get hit with every morning at 7:56 am and close our laptops on at 3:06 of the next morning. Anyone can write a noble story about a noble cause or a breakthrough work of genius that will fundamentally affect the way we see ourselves in the universe. Stories like those write themselves (well, almost). The adjectives flow; all the verbs are active and bold. We feel the urge to Use Capital Letters everywhere – but we restrain ourselves.
A brilliant and inspirational brand is one that rallies the weary and marshals legions of wordsmiths.
The reality is, however, that these brands are few and far between. On a typical day, a copywriter may dash out paragraphs about a new kind of paperclip, a tax claim service provider, or a new kind of cat food that Your Cat Will Just Love. So how can we wax eloquent about products we may barely even know or services we may only remotely understand? What is the magic formula for gripping and emotion-filled content that will get the world excited about epoxy glue?
Learning the Ropes
If we have to write about ropes, then we should first learn about them. A piece of copy that tells you how many fibers make up your rope and their composition (nylon, high modulus polyethylene, and aramid) will have most of the world sleeping well ahead of their bedtimes.
The stories are not in the products themselves. Brand stories surround them, encapsulate them, and wrap them in a context to which everyone may relate. When we set about learning about Roger’s Red Rope, we will want to learn about Roger – what happened to him when he was six years old and his best friend fell down the old well out back? How did he manage to get him out? When did he begin to dream of a better and more reliable way to help the ones he loved?
We will also want to learn about Buck (the friend in the well), who later went on to become a world-champion rock climber, thinking of his pal Roger every time he planted a piton.
We will look at all the applications that involve rope and how Roger’s Red Rope can be folded into the telling of those stories.
In the case of Roger and the well, Buck and the mountain, and any number of others, the essential part of the story is the emotional drive behind it. Specialists and nerdy enthusiasts will be impressed by the low aramid content in RRR, but otherwise people care about people. It’s that simple.
Five Story Questions
Behind every brand, no matter how commonplace or banal it may seem, there lies a great story waiting to be told. If it is your brand, how do you bring these stories out?
1. Ask yourself: why your brand is important?
Why is water with sugar and flavoring important? To Coca-Cola, it is important as a way to unite the world in happiness. If your brand is a tax service, it is important because it empowers people. If you are promoting a new kind of shoe, it is because people have great places to explore and great distances to traverse. Find the importance of your brand.
2. What are the moments in which you turn to your brand?
We reach for Roger’s Red Rope in times of crisis, when something needs doing, and we need something to rely on to save our piano from plummeting onto the sidewalk or to keep Buck fixed to the mountainside. The moment just before someone reaches for your brand is fraught with usable stories and emotion. When your son graduates from NYU and all the festivities of the celebration have run their course, you want nothing more than to sit back and savor a cup of Earl Grey. There is a moment of mounting desire that precedes the use of a brand – this is where your story is too.
3. Who or what kind of person will use your brand?
Does Scarlett Johansson wear your heels to the Oscars? Does Jennifer Lawrence wear them to the flea market? Perhaps not, but the kind of person who wears your brand of ladies fashion shoes may be like one of them. Is it an elegant woman from high society, a stay at home mother, a congresswoman, or an army sergeant? The people who use your brand, real or imagined, have stories themselves. These are your stories.
4. How will you feel after using it?
When you finally finish the grueling work of balancing the company books and you close your laptop, you have a feeling of relief and satisfaction. That comes from hard work well done, but also from the help of your trusted companion by Toshiba or HP or Apple. It may also come from a degree of gratitude for Microsoft. Whatever and whomever is with you in your moment of triumph, they share in your moment. They are part of the story.
5. Are you proud of your brand? Why?
This is a tricky one. Many engineering-led companies are indeed proud of their products for very real and tangible reasons. A sign-making machine from Gerber Technology is the result of product design, engineering, and technical achievements made by real people. But as a brand are you proud of the object or what the object can do for others? Gerber makes machines, but they really help people “reach their optimum” in whatever they do. That is something to be proud of, and it is the stuff of a story or two.
Stories are important because we remember them – they trigger the sympathetic nervous system, create associations with your memories, and become part of you. A brand may have a striking logo or a creative-sounding name, but without the story behind them, they will pass quickly onto the trash heap of other information that we lose every moment.
And we only lose it because it has not attached itself to anything within us. It needs a story to stay.
Chris Farmer is director of notapipe brand consulting, a branding agency based in Belgrade, Serbia. He also teaches master’s level classes in luxury brand management in Paris and Shanghai.