Story Branding 101: 5 Exciting Stories for “Boring” Brands
There’s one myth about brand storytelling that we’d love to bust.
Namely, that it only works for innovative, one-of-a-kind companies.
Conventional wisdom says that, unless you’re Apple, Google, or a similarly remarkable brand, then you shouldn’t bother with story branding and stick to conventional marketing.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, if your brand is “boring,” then you have many more opportunities to stand out compared to visionary companies whose stories all sound the same!
Today, we want to show you 5 kinds of stories that any entrepreneur can tell. You can use any and all of them to make a meaningful connection with your target audience, build trust, and establish yourself as an authority in your industry!
Here they are.
1. The “problem/discovery” story
It’s safe to say that your business exists to solve a problem — otherwise you’d have found better things to do with your life!
So… what was the moment that made you discover that problem? And what are you doing differently to tackle it?
Answering these two questions can give you a great story to tell to your target audience. Not everything has to be a grand journey. Some stories are just snapshots of genius — and that’s more than enough!
One of our favorite recent examples of this kind of story is Divvy. Divvy is a financial startup that helps businesses manage their expenses better by issuing special debit cards to employees and tracking everything centrally.
Boring? You bet!
Well, here’s how the brand made it interesting:
The story behind Divvy is about… a frustrated father. Blake Murray (co-founder and CEO) just wanted an easy way to give his kids money to spend — without having to give out cash a hundred times a week.
But any parent will tell you that handing a child your credit card is a capital-B Bad idea!
As a solution to his problem, this enterprising dad came up with the idea for Divvy. In a little over a year, the company has grown 8,000%, acquired thousands of clients, and raised $200 million+ in venture funding.
But you don’t even need to know about its success to appreciate this sweet, simple story of discovery — just the initial Eureka moment is enough!
2. The “passion/legacy” story
There’s an easy way to inject interest and credibility into even the most paint-by-numbers, straightforward brand story. Simply introduce either of these two elements into it:
- Passion — to distinguish between your brand and the competition.
- History — to connect your business to a larger legacy.
Heck, add them both if you can!
Now, the specific way you infuse your brand story with these elements can look very different depending on your brand, your industry, your target audience, and more. It might be as simple as the story of a family business with a proud history — or the connection could be more subtle.
Here are just a few examples off the top of our head:
- Maybe your passion indirectly inspired your business. E.g. you’ve been taking apart watches since you were 4 years old, and now you run a luxury watch dealership.
- Maybe entrepreneurship runs in your family, and you’re the newest one in a long line of business owners. Even if your company is brand new, it’s still a part of that legacy!
- Maybe your brand is tied to your identity or heritage. Say, you have Hungarian roots, so you opened a Hungarian restaurant.
- Or maybe you made a beeline from your passion directly to your career. E.g. you love the law, so you went to law school and became an attorney.
Passion lends emotion and history adds context to your story. Both make it seem deeper and richer to your audience — even if nothing else has changed!
Besides, both passion and history speak to your credibility and likability. We tend to trust people who love what they do, or who stand on the shoulders of giants while they do it. Use this to deepen your connection with your potential customers!
3. The “values/beliefs” story
Here’s the thing:
When you say that your brand stands for something, your target audience doesn’t believe you. And why should they? Everyone says they “put customers first” or “commit to excellence” or “make quality the #1 priority.”
After hearing the same things over and over again from different companies, your customers have become skeptical. Can’t really blame them!
Don’t just say what you stand for and expect people to take you at face value. Instead, tell a story about how your brand commits to your values and beliefs.
For example, you probably know many, many brands that pay lip service to “corporate social responsibility”… but don’t actually do anything to affirm those values. And then there are brands like Patagonia that put their money where their mouth is and tell you exactly, in exhaustive detail, how they build and improve their business to benefit their customers, their workers, and the environment.
Now, that’s not unusual in and of itself. But there’s one thing Patagonia does that very few brands have the courage to attempt…
They don’t pretend to be perfect. They hold themselves to a lofty standard, and willingly expose when they don’t measure up!
Patagonia doesn’t shy away from saying something like, “Yep, our business contributes to climate change. We’re part of the problem. Here’s what we’re doing about it.” They trust their target audience to know the full story and decide for themselves if they want to support them.
That right there is a brilliant example of masterful, authentic brand storytelling.
4. The “humblebrag” story
We’ve already established that people don’t always believe the things you say about your brand.
So when you brag about your industry leadership, your amazing products/services, or your sensational growth, don’t be surprised if your target audience doesn’t take your word for it.
But you know what to do: instead of using talking points and vague declarations, deliver your message as a story, or stories! That way, it will be more memorable, more believable, and more engaging.
If you want to dazzle potential customers with your awesomeness, then the best kind of story to tell is the one that:
- Is helpful or valuable…
- Isn’t overtly “salesy”…
- Isn’t 100% about you…
…but still makes you look good without being in-your-face. That’s why we call it the humblebrag story!
The obvious example of such a story is your typical case study. It ticks all the boxes — the focus is on the customer and their success, the content (ideally) is valuable and helpful, and it doesn’t come off as a blatant sales pitch.
But counter-intuitively, there’s another kind of story that might work even better…
The “internal” case study, where you peel back the curtain and share behind-the-scenes details about your brand. Those could be about:
- Making a tough-but-necessary decision — like killing off a bestselling product…
- Solving a hard problem — like adopting a new organizational structure…
- Coming to terms with failure — like falling short of your ambitious goals and reinventing your entire brand.
Stories like these humanize your brand because they go against “oh my god, look at how amazing we are” mentality and show a more complex, more interesting picture of your business. Also, they teach your target audience something valuable, even if on the surface they’re all about your company.
But most importantly, they still promote your message of being different, being awesome, and going the extra mile for your customers and your team!
5. The “spotlight” story
The most powerful, memorable brand stories aren’t about brands at all. They’re about people.
The people your company serves — and the people who work for you.
So instead of trying to outdo your competitors by talking up your brand, shine a spotlight on those who have helped your business succeed: your customers and your team members. You can even go one step further and tell the stories of their families, your local community, or the people who benefit from your charitable giving.
Now, at first glance, this strategy might seem useless. Why would you want to shift focus away from your brand?
Well, there are a few reasons for that.
First, by focusing on regular people you’re making it much easier for your target audience to connect with your brand. Instead of just a product or service, they see the people working for you, and all the lives you’re impacting in a positive way.
Second, “spotlight” stories send a message to your target audience: “You can do this, too. You can be like this, too!” Similar to traditional testimonials, they give your potential customers someone to identify with. But unlike traditional testimonials, there’s no sales pitch — so it’s easier to build trust.
And third, human-interest stories are just inherently more interesting and varied. From your employees banding together to fundraise for a good cause, to getting a surprise gift from a happy customer, to showing off the most bonkers-creative ways people use your products, there are always new stories to tell. There are as many “spotlight” stories as there are people who interact with your brand!
One of our favorite examples of this type of storytelling comes from GoodLife Fitness and their “Live Your Good Life” campaign. Their 15-30 second videos like this one focused on regular, everyday people — and how they were heroes to someone in their lives.
Discuss story branding and stories that convert with our CEO
Do you want to learn how to use stories to generate more leads, convert more customers, and grow your business?
Then join our Founder and CEO Summer, Felix-Mulder, on her weekly live broadcasts on Instagram!
Summer will be dropping her knowledge bombs every Thursday at 1 pm PST, starting this week. So make sure you follow her @thedrawshop and tune in!