“Why do I need a brand story? Can’t I just talk about my company?” I work often with tech and B2B leaders and hear this from time to time. Given that many of my clients are analytical and logic-oriented thinkers, I get that the concept of a “brand story” seems squishy. Unnecessary. They much prefer to lean into facts and numbers as opposed to storytelling.

But as I counsel them, a brand story is far more effective than numbers and charts. Done right, a brand story will cause your audience to remember you, develop empathy for you, and ultimately care about you.

What’s A Brand Story, Anyway?

A brand story is a communications mechanism that conveys the crux of your brand strategy in a compelling way. It’s a byproduct of your brand strategy, which zeroes in on and defines your company’s inception, what you do and for whom, your mission today and vision for the future. Your brand story is all these elements, but told in a narrative that’s easy to understand and draws people in. 

Neuroscience proves that storytelling is best way to capture people’s attention, bake information into their memories, and forge personal bonds, so brand strategists use a brand story to crystallize your messaging for the people who matter most to you. A brand story has all the essential elements of a traditional story: a protagonist (your customer) who struggles to overcome a challenge (problem) that your product / service solves (solution) so they can go on to do great things (resolution). 

At this point you might be thinking: Wait.
Did she write that correctly? My brand story and I’m not the protagonist?

Hot Tip: It’s Not About You

Your brand story is about your company and your journey but it’s not actually about you. 

It’s understandable that, in developing your brand strategy, you want to convey what your business is all about. But hold that for a minute because your brand story is actually about your customers. It’s about their journey and struggle, and how your products and services help them meet their goals. It’s for business prospects, partners and future employees. And if your brand story is compelling, your audience will not only remember you, but will like you and develop a preference for you, and ultimately be persuaded by you.

Let’s Get Started On Your Narrative

So perhaps you’re considering writing your brand story and using it to effectively tell your company’s story. What are the elements you should work in? You’ll want to use the basic elements of storytelling: context, protagonist, conflict, resolution, denouement. 

Context – the environment in which your business operates. What trends are happening in your sector that you need to be aware of? What competitors are emerging or growing? How are they communicating, what are they saying, how are they capturing attention? Also think about your customers: what trends are they facing that are impacting them? What’s happening culturally that is relevant to your business? Answering these questions help build the context for your story to take hold. 

Protagonist – let’s shift the focus to your customer. What do they need or want? And what does success look like for them, and what is standing in the way of them achieving it? What will happen if they don’t achieve success? Why have they turned to your company – what do you offer them that they need in order to achieve their wants? 

You’ll want to go deeper into these questions and get at the customer mindset to address that mindset in your brand communications. What do they believe about your category? What beliefs do they hold about themselves in relation to your category? How do they approach your category: with joy or hesitation? Why do they hesitate (if they do)? What are they currently using (competitor or substitute offering) if they aren’t using your product? Why is this attractive for them? 

In designing your Protagonist section, you will want to be able to frame their mindset, articulate why they turn to you, what they deeply value that you offer. These are important feeds for the next section.

Conflict is the Center of Your Narrative

I always tell clients, “there is no story without conflict.” It’s crucial to every story, and especially to understanding what your clients value about your offering. You’ll want to examine what truly vexes your customer. Where is there palpable tension in their journey to reach success? What do they struggle with? 

Many times, the Context section of your brand story can provide insights into the Conflict – it could be a cultural trend shaping the industry, or a challenge they are grappling with as a result of new market trends. Or it becomes apparent when exploring the protagonist and understanding their mindset, or their hesitation towards the category. 

It’s important to highlight the conflict in your brand story, so your brand can address how it tackles this tension for the protagonist, and how it helps your protagonist win.

Some examples:

  • A timely example for Tax Season: TurboTax’s campaign “All People Are Tax People” focuses on the conflict that ordinary people face in doing their taxes. It seems ordinary people are able to achieve all manner of great things in their lives, but these same people suddenly feel hopelessly confused and incompetent when it comes to doing taxes. As a result, they hesitate and avoid doing their taxes, or overpay someone to do their taxes for them. The conflict in this story is feeling incompetent. The fix is that TurboTax software overcomes that.
  • A client we recently worked with is in the criminal justice research space. In writing their brand story, we realized the context of their story – the increasing polarization of America and the politicization of our judicial system  – was central to how their products and offerings would be received by their target audience. The problem is polarization and politicization. The fix is unbiased, nonpartisan and high caliber criminal justice research.
  • Hello Fresh!, a food service and delivery company, realized its target customer desperately wants to cook but lacks the time for grocery shopping, prep work (like chopping), or creativity in coming up with new meal ideas. The conflict is prep time, shopping time, and research (coming up with creative meal ideas). The fix is to provide everything needed except the cooking so their customers can feel like a creative chef at home.

Resolution: The Focus Shifts to Your Role

Once the Context, Protagonist and Conflict have been mapped out, your story shifts to focus on how your brand addresses these issues. In the resolution section, the basic brand aspects are addressed, such as:

  • brand features and attributes (what your offering delivers);
  • functional benefits (what your customers get when they partner with you);
  • emotional benefits (what they feel as a result of working with you); 
  • your key differentiator – that which sets you apart from the competition that your customers deeply value that few can emulate;
  • your values – what behavior informs you and your team and allows you to live into your brand promise;
  • what you promise your customers with every interaction;
  • proof points – important reasons for your customers to believe in your brand promise and trust your brand;
  • your brand mission and your brand vision;
  • your brand archetype (for more on this, you can read this post), and
  • the Big Idea behind your brand – what you ultimately stand for.

Denouement: How it All Comes Together

The Denouement section pulls it all together. It shows how the resolution section is conveyed in your tagline, your brand colors, font selection and logo design. It showcases how your brand attributes and differentiator comes together on your website with suggested copy that explains how you do what you do better than anyone else (and why it matters to your target). There might be a particular methodology to help explain your approach in a way that highlights how your approach is unique. Or there might be a creative mechanism to better bring your brand archetype and brand personality to life. 

The idea in the denouement section is to show you how your brand articulation – the resolution section of your story – addresses the protagonist’s struggle and the conflict they are wrestling with, and demonstrates how to “solve” that conflict in various communications touch points.

If you’re designing your own brand story, you can definitely do a lot of this heavy lifting on your own! This article might be helpful in getting at your protagonist’s mindset. And this article might be helpful in understanding the nuances of functional versus emotional benefits. This article might also be helpful in articulating your proof points – what they are, and why you need them spelled out succinctly.

Finally, if you’re stuck and need help, or want to bypass the DIY and hire a bonafide professional strategist, we’re here to help. We’ve got over two decades of branding experience helping make brands magnetic to success. We can do that for your company, as well.

Magnetic Brand Strategy is located in Northern Virginia and serves a global market seeking a methodical approach to branding. Learn more about us.

Recently, a business leader asked how to make his presentations more engaging. As the owner of a networking monitoring company, he typically started his presentations by talking about solutions, network optimization and cloud architecture. I recommended he scratch all that, and instead tell a story his audience could imagine themselves dealing with. To his surprise, audience engagement and prospect interest skyrocketed. 

Why are stories so effective?

Here’s a not-so-well-kept secret: we humans are biologically wired for stories. Really. Studies show, stories engage us on a systemic level

  • When you listen to a story that references color, the part of your brain that processes color lights up; in your mind, you can “see” the colors. 
  • If the story involves sensory issues – like the feel of something, or distinct sounds – the part of your brain that processes sensory lights up, and it’s as if you could feel or hear those parts.
  • When you listen to a story that involves motion, the part of your brain that processes motion fires up, and your heart rate accelerates. 

Not only this, but stories actually alter our body chemistry as we’re hearing the story:

  • As the protagonist encounters conflict, the listener’s body creates cortisol, the stress chemical, creating heightened duress and attention. 
  • As the story unfolds, the body also produces dopamine (the reward chemical) which keeps the listener engaged in the story for the outcome.
  • And last but not least, during the story the body produces oxytocin, bonding the listener to the protagonist and the outcome. The power of story is that it can transport the listener into the story; it’s as if they’re living it themselves. 

All this engagement from simply telling a story? It’s true. Storytelling is simply the most effective communications medium — ever. Which is why at Magnetic Current, we use storytelling strategy when branding businesses, to make client brands magnetic to the people they need to reach.

What is storytelling strategy?

Whether you’re giving a presentation about your products, writing a case study, or delivering your company’s brand story: there’s a strategy for telling stories. In our experience, the best story strategy for B2B brands borrows heavily from the hero narrative structure, constructed by famed mythologist Joseph Campbell

We recommend the following structural storytelling elements in your brand story: 

Source: Magnetic Current, 2020.
  1. Context: You want to describe enough about the situation so the listener is transported. The more details – visual, motion, auditory cues – the better.
  2. Present the Protagonist: create an opportunity for the listener to immediately identify with the protagonist. The listener should understand and relate to the protagonist, and be challenged when…
  3. The Protagonist faces Conflict. Conflict is everything in a story. There is no story without conflict! It’s essential to any story, and certainly to the hero narrative, because it’s the turning point where our hero realizes she has a problem, attempts to fix it, and cannot. Frustrated, she’s about to give up when…
  4. She Encounters A Guide who has The Key. A new character appears, someone who helps her see things differently, and offers her a solution.
  5. Resolution: With this help, she masters her conflict. She returns from her “journey”, triumphant, having overcome a seemingly insurmountable challenge and…
  6. Denouement: is able to go on and do great things. 

We love this simple formula for B2B brands – it’s highly effective in showing (not telling) how your offering can truly help your customers overcome their problems and emerge better than before.

Other elements for storytelling strategy

The things to remember about storytelling in business: while it’s your story, it’s important to remember who undergoes the transformation, who benefits in your narrative, and who is rewarded by your offering. Your customers. They are always the hero in your story. Resist the temptation to turn your story into a company press release. Stay on script, stay in the background and let the flow of your story position you in the right light.

As well, you want your brand archetype to emerge as part of the story, and in tone and style. What is an archetype? It’s really the use of psychological motifs and metaphors in branding, and is a powerful way to further draw connection with your audience. For more about archetypes, we recommend this article.

Also, add the right touches to make your story compelling. Start with a great hook. A startling statistic, a vivid description, a compelling question or a gripping statement: you want to grab your listener’s attention. For more on hooks, this article is a great read. 

Finally, we love open loops to build intrigue and keep readers engaged. Open loops are when information is presented in the story, but not immediately explained. A shotgun is introduced in the first scene – why? We learn the protagonist can talk to animals – why? Our brains are wired for conclusions, and when the answers aren’t provided, the brain engages, waiting until the answer appears. Open loops are a clever way to keep your audience curious. You can read more about open loops here

How can I use these elements to tell my business’ story?

With this map in front of you, study your business. Begin designing your business’ brand story by answering the following questions: 

  • What is the context for your customers?
  • Who is the ideal protagonist?
  • What problem do they encounter that causes them to stumble? 
  • (You are the guide, and your business solution is the key)
  • What would resolution look like, in terms of solving the problem? 
  • And finally, what denouement would you end the story with?

Now, put together the pieces of your brand story. As an example: if you are the networking monitoring company mentioned above, the context could be a situation or event where network uptime is essential. Say, an event like CyberMonday. The protagonist would be a business that depends on being online for revenue purposes: an online retailer. The conflict: their website goes down. The guide and the key? That’s the networking monitoring company and their solution that never-ever goes down because of triple redundancy measures. The resolution is that the guide and the key help the online retailer fix their site so they never go down again. Denouement could be: next holiday season, they triple online sales. 

Once you know your brand story, you can use storytelling for many customer-facing interactions: presentations, case studies, even as a conversation starter to talk about your business solutions and how you help make your customers’ lives better. If you need help with your brand story, connect with us, we’re here to help make your business magnetic to success.