4 Common Brand Storytelling Mistakes (And How to Fix Them)

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Every business wants to build a closer connection with its customers. One of the most effective ways to strengthen that bond is through brand storytelling. Using the tools of narrative, this technique helps to humanize businesses and bring emotion into an interaction that is usually transactional.

A great brand story can work wonders in clarifying your mission and values, crafting successful marketing campaigns, and improving customer loyalty. But again and again, companies run into the same pitfalls when trying to tell their brand story. Here are a few of the most common mistakes they make, and suggestions for how to overcome them:

#1: Not Actually Telling a Story

“Storytelling” is more than just a buzzword – it’s one of the most fundamental human impulses, allowing our brains to make order out of chaos. We’ve spent millennia exploring exactly what makes a great story, and now we have a clearly defined storytelling structure.

All too often, brands simply describe themselves in trying to tell their story. But a description isn’t a story. Descriptions are static and boring, while stories are dynamic and emotionally engaging.

What makes a story a story?

  1. A story has a beginning, middle, and end. Usually, the beginning introduces the existing status quo, the middle presents a challenge to the status quo, and the end shows the new and better status quo that arose because of the challenge.
  2. A story is made up of events connected in a causal chain. You should be able to put the words SO or BUT between your events so that each event either directly causes or faces a challenge from the next one. The goal is always to make your audience wonder: What’s going to happen next?
  3. A story should have characters the audience can identify with. They should imagine what it would be like if they were personally going through the events of the story. When they see themselves in the story, they become emotionally involved.

Instead of describing your brand (“Our company provides mortgages to underserved communities”), tell its story using the fundamentals of storytelling listed above:

“There was a hard-working couple who wanted a home, and because of antiquated lending rules, they were unable to buy the home they deserved. BUT a brave and conscientious group of professionals believed that the couple should be able to buy their own home, and they started their company to lend them the money they needed. SO the couple was able to get their mortgage and achieve their dream of homeownership.”

This brand story tells us much more than just what the company does; it tells us about the company’s values and character. If we were that couple, we’d want to do business with this company.

#2: Telling the Story From the Wrong Perspective

When most companies set out to write their brand story, they make themselves the main character. And why not? If you’ve spent years doing the hard work of building a business, why wouldn’t you see yourself as the hero of your story?

An effective brand story, however, needs an audience (better known as potential customers). That audience has a problem, and they’re looking everywhere for the business that can help solve their problem. They don’t care about that business’ journey to grow and become profitable, because they can’t see themselves in that story.

The brand storytelling expert Miri Rodriguez says that the audience needs to see themselves “as a main character in the story, and your brand is the enabler, the sidekick that helps them win.” Everyone wants to be Batman, but your customers need you to be Robin. If your brand story doesn’t include how you serve others, it isn’t really a brand story.

#3: Not Telling a Unique Story

Think about the stories you love – your favorite book, movie, or show. What sets one love story or adventure story apart from all the others like it? It’s the personal details: the way a character speaks, the moment of bravery, the surprise twist. Your brand story should have the same engaging personal detail.

What about your story makes you stand out from everyone else in your field? Maybe you faced some of the same challenges your customers are facing, and created your business to help them avoid what you went through. Remember individual moments of struggle and the emotions you felt as you endured them. The more specific your details, the more involved your audience will feel.

#4: Using Too Much Jargon

It’s very tempting to sound smart. Businesses want to demonstrate their years of experience and their world-class products. But when you overload your story with technical industry language, you run the risk of draining its power to connect.

Remember, you’re a human speaking to other humans. Clear language is especially vital in B2C communication, when you’re trying to appeal to people who don’t know much about your sector. But even in B2B communication, talk in a way that recognizes the most basic needs of the other business. Save the jargon for your feature sheet or training video. Tell your brand story in a way that anyone can understand.

Once you learn how to tell your main brand story, you can apply the same tools to individual products and services you offer. Not only will you find that storytelling deepens your connection to your customers, but it may also help you better understand your own business by seeing it from their perspective.

Start telling your story today!

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