Every aspect of a brand's voice should be telling a cohesive story about its vision and purpose. Here's how to build that story into your current marketing efforts.

4 Ways to Use the Power of Story to Build Your Business

Every aspect of a brand's voice should be telling a cohesive story about its vision and purpose. Here's how to build that story into your current marketing efforts.

Staff Writer

Authenticity is attractive. While most people are inherently suspicious of brands, 80 percent of consumers say that authentic content can compel them to engage with a company. In a world increasingly filled with “fake news,” “alternative facts,” and a deluge of marketing messages, people yearn for what’s real. As a brand, you have the opportunity to cut through the noise and reach audiences by telling an authentic story.

Your story is far more than just a sales pitch. It’s your brand voice — the way you talk to audiences and your internal team. It’s revealed in the imagery and words you use on your website, in your store, and even in marketing collateral. Ultimately, it influences the way customers and potential customers think and talk about your brand.

Ben Horowitz, partner and co-founder of renowned VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, says, “The company story is the company strategy.” What Horowitz and many others have observed is that a brand’s success hinges on its story because that story drives everything from marketing to product development to hiring and beyond. As such, it’s critical that you get it right.

Here are four ways to do exactly that:

1. Create a cohesive brand narrative.

Whether you’re building a brand from scratch or working to reposition a brand that’s more established, your storytelling strategy must be anchored by a cohesive narrative — one that captures the essence of who you are and why you exist as a company.

Author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” Your brand narrative serves both as a framework for external communications and as a beacon that attracts audiences who share your values.

Of course, telling a compelling brand story isn’t easy. Fortunately, there are plenty of people who can help you do it correctly. Erin Berman, founder and brand storyteller for Blackbeard Studios, uses a multitude of tools, including industry and audience research, customer and employee interviews, and more, in an effort to help businesses build their stories. She and her team then use those brand stories as focal points for inbound marketing programs that increase lead acquisition and brand awareness.

If you’re struggling to get started, consider utilizing storytelling specialists. They’ll be able to help you measure the ROI you get from communications and optimize accordingly.

2. Share a consistent story across channels.

To achieve maximum impact, you must tell the same cohesive story across all media you use to engage with audiences. Social media is a great starting point for getting your narrative out, but it’s only the beginning.

Partnering with events or other companies that share your values and align with your brand’s purpose will allow you to reach a wider audience while further developing your narrative. For example, Red Bull and GoPro recognized that their brands share more than just common aesthetics; they share a common audience. By partnering up, the two brands have been able to offer that audience completely new experiences.

The partnership works because it’s based on common values, and it allows both brands to continue developing their unique brand stories.

3. Include your story with your product.

Product sales aren’t just a way to increase your bottom line; they’re also an opportunity for customers to become a part of your brand story. TOMS famously launched its footwear business on the premise that for every pair of shoes customers buy, the company will donate a pair to someone in need.

Seattle-based glassblowing company glassybaby has used a similar model to build its brand. Founded by Lee Rhodes in 2001 after her seven-year bout with cancer, glassybaby donates 10 percent of company revenues to charity and has given more than $6 million to more than 350 nonprofits since its inception. The glassybaby website allows customers to choose from categories such as cancer research, children’s health and wellness, and environmental health. They can see the organizations that glassybaby chooses for each charity category to help them decide where their donations go.

4. Empower your audience.

Your brand story becomes even more powerful when your customers tell it. Like product reviews or customer testimonials, user-generated content has the power to resonate with potential customers in a way that traditional marketing messages can’t.

Famous electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla is known for producing innovative automobiles, but its marketing strategy is arguably just as innovative as its products. Tesla has been able to compete with venerable companies like Ford and Toyota — which often spend millions on a single television ad — without spending a dime on traditional advertising. Instead, it relies on word of mouth and user-generated content, including some pretty phenomenal spec video ads, to reach audiences. The strategy perfectly aligns with the brand’s singular focus, which is building cars. When your brand has an authentic story, your customers will often be more than happy to share it.

Brand stories are authentic when they reflect the daily actions of your brand. You don’t just tell a brand story; you live it. The more your actions mirror your messaging, the more that messaging will resonate with audiences.

You won’t complete all of the steps above in a single day, but brands aren’t built in a day. Ideas spread over time through storytelling, and if you start with a cohesive, authentic narrative, you can begin to craft a story that people will be telling for years to come.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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