Ideas and insights to take your marketing to the highest level

October 22, 2014
Simon Mainwaring

6 Steps to Building a Brand Story That Customers Want to Share

With the amount of data that consumers now volunteer and the growing number of channels through which it’s captured, it’s easy to see why many marketers feel overwhelmed when trying to manage their social storytelling, or feel compelled to outsource it to expert vendors. In truth, the timeless art of storytelling has changed little despite the arrival of new technology. The currency in which we still trade is emotion, and without that emotional connection, brands won’t be able to command their customers’ attention, or to inspire them to buy their products or share them with others. Marketers shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we are still human beings sitting around a campfire telling stories that make us feel connected to one another.

Here are six critical steps to help tell your brand’s story effectively and engage and inspire today’s media-savvy consumers:

1 Define your products and services. As trite as that may sound, many brands have not defined what they sell in a way that’s simple for consumers to understand. Instead, they’re anxious to be all things to all people, either to capture as much attention as they can, or not to lose ground to competitors. As a result, marketers aren’t defining their brands’ offerings in a way that empowers existing customers to talk about their products to potential customers across their social networks. Only when customers understand exactly what you have to sell can they amplify your brand story.

2 Identify the benefit to customers. Many companies, especially those that are small or in a high-growth phase, are so consumed by the daily tasks of running and growing their business that they lose sight of the importance of clearly defining their products’ benefit to customers. The benefit must be simple, proprietary and compelling, and must factor in differentiation from competitors. Without this, companies risk being misperceived as a “me too” brand with ineffectual marketing.

3 Frame the conversation that your product benefit inspires. Even when brands define their customer benefit in proprietary terms, many still fail to recognize that how they share that benefit is critical. Approaching today’s marketing tools with purely a broadcast mentality yields poor results at best, and generally leaves business owners and marketers wondering why all of their efforts and precious advertising dollars yielded such poor sales. Today, there’s so much competition for consumers’ attention that it’s harder than ever for a brand to be relevant and meaningful to a customer’s life, especially when he is so tired of marketing (and even more so when it appears in his social networks). Brands must identify the larger conversation that’s relevant to their product benefit and join in a two-way dialogue around this conversation.

4 Build awareness by shaping culture. Leading a cultural conversation is not an end in itself, but rather a way to demonstrate your brand’s authentic commitment to an issue that’s meaningful to your customer’s life. Brands can no longer simply tell their stories. Now, they must take action that makes a measurable difference in the real world, and demonstrate the authenticity of their commitment. By doing so, a company can earn the credibility that it needs in a marketplace that demands ever higher standards of authenticity, transparency and accountability, and, in turn, can earn consumers’ trust, goodwill and loyalty.

5 Address a global stage. With social media bridging the global gap, it would be a mistake for a brand to limit its conversation to anything smaller than the global stage because that limits its relevance to potential customers and, potentially, the sales of its products and services. By leading a conversation that shapes culture with a global view, marketers can tap into the universal human experience. Such global relevance presents an unprecedented opportunity for small and growing companies to play on bigger stages, and for global brands to expand into emerging markets while maintaining the integrity of their brand stories.

6 Localize your telling. Having framed a cultural conversation that speaks to a universal experience of being human, it becomes critical for marketers to localize their storytelling to make it as relevant as possible to each community of potential customers. This allows those communities to bring their own personal point of view to discussions of your product’s benefit. When the conversation takes on this personal dimension, customer engagement and sales are practically assured.

It’s easy for marketers to become distracted by new tools and the wealth of data that they provide. It’s critical, however, to take a high vantage point and embrace the overarching strategies that every marketer must employ to position his brand story for relevance in an increasingly crowded and increasingly social marketplace. By building this communication architecture, marketers can talk about their companies, products, employees and social contributions all in the context of a larger cultural conversation that doesn’t smack of advertising.

Every company today faces the challenge of engaging well-informed and easily distracted customers, so you need to tell a brand story that’s simple, compelling and consistent to command their attention over the long term, and to inspire them to build your business with you.


Simon Mainwaring is the founder and CCO of We First, a Venice, Calif.-based brand consultancy with clients including Coca-Cola, ConAgra, Toms and VSP Global. Follow him on Twitter at @simonmainwaring.

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