Imagine that you’re on a first date. Okay, we know it can be a little nerve-wracking, but stay with us. Think of everything you do on a first date: There may be some nervous laughter, some playful banter, telling of jokes. But most importantly, it’s you divulging information about yourself. Your date leaning over the table, looking intently at you, trying to determine details about your life before asking, “So, what’s your story?”
It’s straight out of rom-com, but it’s a broad enough question that invites the answerer (you) to take unlimited paths. How do you want to present yourself? What will be the first thing you’ll share? Will you talk about your strengths, your affinity for books, how close you are to your family—or will you start slow with the basics?
What details you share and how you frame them is your story. Sharing parts of who we are is an intimate act, and it’s one that helps us grow closer to one another. And if your business shares its story with your audience, they will feel more connected to your business.
If you don’t have a brand story, we’ll touch on how to craft one in a bit. For now, we’ll continue with the why.
One of the oldest forms of art, stories have been around for centuries. We’ve shared them to pass along our history, make each other laugh, and attempt to relate to one another. Our natural curiosity makes us more inclined to listen. Stories tug at our heartstrings and make us cry. They can make us feel happy. They can inspire us to make a change or make an action. But for any of this to happen, there has to be a “why.”
Simon Sinek is a motivational speaker and organizational consultant. In his popular Ted Talk, “How great leaders inspire action”, Sinek talks about what he calls the “golden circle.” It explores, the what, how, and why. Essentially:
What do you do?
How will you do it?
Why do you do it?
The “what” and “how” are easy enough: You know what products or services you offer, and you probably know how you do it (Sinek gives “differentiated value proposition” as an example). But the why is more difficult for the majority of businesses. The “why,” Sinek says, is not “to make a profit.” Because isn’t that the point of any business pursuit? Instead, your “why” is your purpose.
Patagonia sells clothing (everyday wear and outdoor attire) and accessories and outdoor gear (like sleeping bags and water bottles). When you look at Patagonia’s mission statement (their “why”, or reason for being in business), you won’t read:
We make exceptional clothing and gear so you can be ready for all your outdoor adventures. It’s not terribly inspiring, is it?
It hardly scratches the surface of the “why”; instead, it tells us “what” they do with some excess language. But fortunately for Patagonia, their real mission statement gets to the heart of the “why”:
We’re in business to save our home and planet… At Patagonia, we appreciate that all life on earth is under threat of extinction. We aim to use the resources we have—our business, our investments, our voice, and our imaginations—to do something about it.
For individuals who love the outdoors, hearing that a company—especially one that sells sporting gear—is active in protecting the environment makes you want to support them in turn. Because, Sinek enlightens us during the middle of his talk, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. If you talk about what you believe, you will attract those who believe what you believe.” Patagonia got it right by sharing their love for the earth and their desire to protect it—because their consumers feel the same way.
No matter how many companies sell wedding dresses, cooking utensils, or school supplies, and regardless of how many plumbers, electricians, or carpet cleaners you can find, none of them will have the same “why”. Like people, each company has a different story. And it’s important that you craft this story and share it with the world so you can attract like-minded consumers.
You know you need to tell your story. You know you have a story. But how do you pull it from the mind, mold it, and make it consumable for your audience? Sometimes you’ll have a story right away; sometimes, it isn’t as obvious at first and may require some more work. Here are steps you can follow to craft a story that works for your brand.
Think about your company’s beginning. Where did it all begin? Was your company’s conception based on the spark of an idea at a coffee shop? Was it an accident? A coming together of the minds? That’s your story. Tell it like it happened. It’s raw, honest, and most importantly, it’s the truth. You’ll find customers who have been in the same situation or experienced the same feelings—and that similarity is what is going to connect you.
Don’t have an inspirational story? Don’t worry. You still have a “why,” but it takes some more brainstorming. If your company is new, think about what issues you hope your product or service will resolve. Think about the impact it can have on peoples’ lives, whether individually or on a large scale.
If your company is seasoned (and you’re thinking about your brand story due to a re-brand or other strategic move), think about what you’ve done and the feedback you’ve gotten from customers. How has your company evolved from what it was at the beginning, a year ago, or five years ago compared to today? By sifting through this information, you should be able to find your “why”.
Write your story. Grab your tablet, your laptop, your notebook, or your phone. It’s time to let words flow. Now that you know your story, what you’re about, and why you do what you do, you can begin to craft your story. The key to writing your story is being honest. That’s easier said than done when your story is based on an actual event (“I was working on a research paper when I read that Styrofoam takes 500 years to ‘forever’ to decompose. I knew there had to be an option that was better for consumers and the environment.”)
But what if nothing really “sparked” your company’s creation? Or, if something did, but the “true” story is dull and not engaging? You can take some liberties, but the truth must still shine through. But how do you do that?
Let’s say you came up with an idea for a product, but you didn’t really have a reason for coming up with the product. It sort of just happened. In a case like this one, think about your product (or service) and its potential. What do you envision it could do? Your story doesn’t necessarily have to revolve around the impetus of your company’s start. Instead, it can focus on why you’re continuing to run the company. Sure, because you believe in the product, but there’s some underlying reasoning there (that isn’t money). But you may need to go into the deep end to find it.
Share your story with everyone, everywhere. Repetition and recognition is key. People need to associate your brand with your story and your story with your brand immediately upon hearing one or the other. That’s because your story is your brand, and your brand elements are how you’re going to convey it to the world.
When it comes to sharing your story, keep these items in mind:
Be consistent: The only way to build your brand and strengthen your story is by telling it the same way each time.
Honesty is key: We said it earlier, but it’s worth repeating. Your customers want to do business with companies that they identify as trustworthy. Your story can help establish this trust by being truthful.
Reiterate your offering: You always want your customers to know why you’re in business. Do they have a problem that you can solve? Tell them. Is your product or service better than competitors, not just because of its quality but because of your company as a whole? Prove it.
Now comes the challenge of staying honest and true to your company’s story (the “About Us,” the “Why We’re in Business,” the “Our Story”). You’ll have to use your brand to share this story with your audience because it’s one of the best wants to connect with them.
Crafting the story (and brand) that fits your company isn’t an easy task because it’s one of the most important elements of your company. A consumer will visit your site and view your products or services. And then curiosity will strike, and they’ll want to know more about you. They’ll search for the link to the page that answers a burning question: “So, what’s your story?”
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