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Breaking Down Brand Storytelling

A D2C brand founder asks what exactly is brand storytelling and how do I get started?

Q&A Design Branding Forum

I hear the importance of story telling everywhere – but how does one do that? What are the questions the story should address? What should be the format? What clinches the emotions of a reader? Do help me break it down.

Divya Goenka, Founder, Pink Moon

Hey Divya,

We feel your pain. The marketing industry is full of lofty but ambiguous terms. Let us try and break it down for you.

1. What is Brand Storytelling?

To traverse the critical distance between being a product and being a brand, you need customers who will stay loyal in the face of competition and not choose you on purely functional considerations like price and range.

The only way to do this is to make your customers feel a certain emotion when they engage with your brand. How do they feel about themselves when they make a purchase or use your product or talk about it to their friends? Your marketing strategy should be focused on evoking that emotion. That’s the clincher.

Distracted boy

Example: Airbnb

Messaging without storytelling: It’s cheaper than a hotel to rent a room in someone’s house (Customer emotion: Sure, make me feel like a cheapskate)

Messaging with storytelling: Live like a local (Customer emotion: Now, I’m an interesting global traveller who shuns cookie-cutter experiences)

Example: Allbirds

Messaging without storytelling: A limited range of shoes made with natural materials (Customer reaction: Hmm, perhaps I need to check other brands)

Messaging with storytelling: The most comfortable shoe in the world, from a brand that’s focused on keeping it simple and sustainable (Customer emotion: Now I’m someone who aligns with that philosophy)

2. What are the Steps to Brand Storytelling?

Example: Pink Moon (Purely hypothetical)

Messaging without storytelling: A great range of plus-size clothing (Customer emotion: Great but I’ll also be checking out other brands)

Messaging with storytelling: Proudly plus-size because plus-size women deserve better (Customer emotion:Finally, a brand that understands how I feel)

We discussed the question with Lulu Raghavan, Managing Director of Landor & Fitch India, and here is her very insightful recommendation for you:

Divya, the key is to remember that Pink Moon should not be the heroine of your brand story. You should shine the spotlight on your customer. Make her the heroine. You are the guide that can solve her problem of not finding good quality, well -priced, fashionable clothes in plus sizes.

Show her the benefits of your product not its features. Let her see herself in your communication. Tell her a story of what life would be like after she discovers the wonderful creations of Pink Moon. It’s all about focusing on them – their needs, their aspirations, they anxieties, their feelings. You have to connect with your customer in the most emotional way possible to get into their hearts. When you adopt an outside-in approach, the relatability and relevance of your product will increase dramatically.

Take an example from a well established category. BMW’s can say “The ultimate driving machine” or “Sheer driving pleasure”. Which one attracts you to the brand more? Think of L’Oreal’s “Because you are worth it” and why it might have resonated with their target audience so strongly. The brand’s promise was rooted in the consumer’s desires.

Donald Miller has written a great book “Building a story brand” which I highly recommend. He has developed the SB7 Framework as follows which is very handy:

  1. A character: Who’s your audience? Demographic? Psychographic? What do they want? 
  2. Has a problem: Who’s their villain? What do they need to solve to move forward? What internal struggles are they going through? Is there a broad, philosophical idea that connects with the rest of their lives? 
  3. Who meets a guide: How can you show empathy? How can you show authority? Why should they trust you? 
  4. Who gives them a plan: What’s the plan you’re offering? What are the steps? What’s the agreement you’re making? 
  5. And calls them to action: What do they need to do to get on board? 
  6. That results in success: What kind of success will they receive with your help? 
  7. Or failure: What could happen if they don’t enlist your help? 

Just shift the focus from your product to your customer and you’ll be well on your way to telling better stories about your brand and connecting with your customers more deeply.

3. Where the Storytelling Breaks Down

In our experience, even after brands get their story right, they often fail to distribute to their audiences effectively.

Writing a blog that no one reads does not mean you are telling your story.

You have to drive your story home through every channel and every piece of communication.

Do an objective check on your social media: is it full of product-promoting posts only? Or does it have stories of the struggles plus-size women face? Does it have stories of them finding validation? Does it have tips and tricks? How are you letting your audience know that you understand them, besides making a product for them?

Most important, does it have your personal story? Why did you start Pink Moon? Founder stories are a great way to gain customer attention and trust.

A question that frustrated founders will often ask: “I’ve developed a great product – isn’t that enough?” Without a great product, you don’t have a business – no amount of storytelling can be a substitute. But to stand out in the clutter and get the customer’s attention, you need a compelling story.

The route we’ve suggested above is just that – a suggestion. There are many other stories you could choose to tell. Your story could well be about your product. We carried this case study on March Tee, a D2C brand that has created a cult-like following just based on the craft and quality of their product. Pink Moon could take a similar route.

Good luck! We’re rooting for you

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  1. This is so simply and effectively put. I also think good storytelling comes from mentally role playing yourself as the customer. If you were to stand on the other side and see how your brand’s presence makes you feel – you usually find the answers to how you can tell your story better. Everything from the colours, to the imagery to the way in which you write your content is constantly making people ‘feel’ something and once you figure what that is, you will intuitively know the spaces you need to work on or do more of!

  2. Very relevant. Story telling is a must in today’s world of over exposure to branding and brands.
    The story for Pink Moon can also be telling the extra (plus) benefits that the brand offers, over others.
    You deserve it.
    PLUS styles, PLUS quality, PLUS comfort. And yes, PLUS sizes too!

  3. I am a digital marketer and one point that Team THC has not covered is how this affects the efficiency of your marketing. You will hit a ceiling with product-based ads soon., You have to create organic traffic and the only way to do that is if people share your content. Dunzo case study by THC was v helpful on this point

  4. I found this very helpful – especially the part about how a story can be about your product. The great luxury Italian brands are all built on product stories. V often there is confusion that storytelling means mushy feel-good stuff only

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