Build a better brand story by making customers the heart of your messaging
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a modern company in possession of a passionate marketing team, must be in want of a compelling brand story.
(That’s how Jane Austen put it… right?)
Brand stories and brand marketing are all the rage these days—and for good reason. People looking for new items to purchase, tools to use, or software to implement are spoiled for choice, and making a decision between dozens if not hundreds of different options is difficult. Price and budget are big factors, yes, but company brand and messaging is, too.
Telling your company’s brand story is more important than ever for growth. I recently sat down with Sarah Bell, Head of Content Marketing at interview intelligence platform BrightHire, to talk all about brand stories: what they are, how to write them, and the recommendations for marketers working on their own.
What is a brand story, and why is it important?
At its heart, a brand story is all about finding a compelling, unique story related to your company and connecting with people—likely your customers and prospects—on an emotional level.
“It’s all about creating an emotional connection with someone,” says Bell. Humans have always connected with stories since the beginning of time: It’s built into our DNA and what we’re all wired to want and remember.
The uniqueness and direction of your brand story are the two most important elements of what makes it compelling. A successful brand story needs to be unique to your niche and it really, really needs to focus on your customers—not just your company.
“There are so many brand stories out there that say the same thing. Some of them are so focused on the brand that it’s clear these companies are acting as their own cheerleaders just to say how great they are,” says Bell.
“But the best brand stories go beyond that to make everything about the customers and their pains. At BrightHire, for example, we always want to make customers the heart of our brand. We have honest conversations with them and regularly run surveys; we use all of that qualitative and quantitative data and intel to then inform how we structure our brand story and talk about the problems only we can solve.”
There’s a lot of tech out there making this customer → marketer communication easier.
Customer surveys and communities are two ways to make sure you are acting in service of your customers instead of from an instinct you have around what your customers want. And tools like those found in Harris Quest’s bundle of survey, research, and CX software can help. QuestIC, for instance, is an insights community platform built to help marketers stay in touch with their customers.
Creating your company’s brand story is so important because it’s your chance to tell the market who you are, why you’re unique, and how you both deeply understand and can help solve your customers’ pain points.
A strong brand story and brand marketing strategy can make the difference between a so-so market presence and a true market leader.
How to write a brand story
First thing’s first…put the company bio away.
A brand story isn’t a brand history. The company’s origins and purpose are important, yes, but when you think about who the authors of a brand story are, you should be visualizing your customers and what they need instead.
As you lay the foundation of your brand story, write out these things:
- The reason the company was created in the first place
- Your target market(s)
- Who uses your product day-to-day
- The pain points of your customers
- How your company’s product can uniquely solve or alleviate these pain points
- What your company’s values are
Then, have a little bit of fun with it.
How are you going to inject personality into your brand story? Do you want to have a sassy, tongue-in-cheek voice and tone, or would you rather be professional and buttoned up? Should you write in short, punchy sentences and paragraphs for content, or are longer paragraphs a-ok? Your target market and customer base will likely inform these answers—Gen Z humor doesn’t really work for an older customer demographic, for example.
Don’t forget to address visual messaging, too. Does your company want to use stock imagery, illustrations, product imagery, or another visual medium? How and where should it be used, and what emotions should it evoke?
Take all of these parts and mix them together to create a first draft of your brand story. It should touch on all of the main elements: why the company exists, why customers should think about using your product, what those customers struggle with, and how your product is uniquely able to solve those problems.
Work with stakeholders across all departments to continually develop your brand story over weeks, months, or even years. It’s a living document that can always change depending on the market, any new pain points your customers may face, and other ever evolving factors.
Tips and best practices for bringing your company’s brand story to life
Bell recently went through the brand story exercise with her team at BrightHire, so her tips are fresh and well tested. Below are some best practices to keep in mind if you’re starting a brand story journey.
Find the unique features that set your brand apart from others
When Bell came on board a year and a half ago, BrightHire was still fresh on the market and finding their audience. As the first interview intelligence platform providing recruiting teams from all industries with interviewer guidance and AI-powered notes and highlights, they were successful, but looking to finetune messaging and direction to focus on unique qualities and address specific customer pain points.
“We’ve been growing and evolving as our product expands, and we realized our brand story wasn’t resonating like it used to. We had to get super clear on one thing—what makes us different? What’s our unique point of view?” says Bell.
Generic messaging and functionality doesn’t stick the landing anymore. You can’t be everything for everyone without looking like the product lacks focus, especially when you’re surrounded by competitors that found their specific niches and markets.
Finding the unique qualities to highlight in your brand story is a cross functional effort. Bring in sales leaders, sales reps, customer support reps and managers, and other customer-facing teams to get their take on the average customer’s pain points.
What are prospects and customers thinking and saying when sales and support chat with them? What language and words do they use when describing their job and your company? What do they love, and what’s their top complaints when they contact your company? By learning everything you can about your customer from all of these angles, you can be sure you’re crafting the brand story in the right way and finding all the unique features that set you apart from the rest.
Learn about your customers and listen to what they have to say
When I say this, I don’t mean creating fictional customer personas based on what marketing education tells you to do. I mean listen to your real customers—listen in on sales and support calls, look on social media to see what people are saying (you could even use social listening tools like Koalifyed to sort through comments on your company’s social channels by sentiment), and chat with some customers yourself, if you can.
If your company helps a specific job function, learn everything you can about that job: what it entails, the skills you need to succeed, and the typical problems you would encounter in the role. If you’re lucky enough to have a Slack or Discord community like BrightHire does—or a group of advocates or affiliates—take advantage of the highly engaged, captive audience and ask questions, host roundtables, run polls, field test some ideas or messaging… anything you can do to learn everything you can.
Don’t forget about an exhaustive competitor analysis. Research and note the following about each competitor:
- Messaging and imagery across all marketing channels
- Product or item comparison, including price
- Reviews on websites, social media, or other sources
- Which marketing campaigns or posts worked and which didn’t, and why
- Any publicized values or corporate citizenship programs benefiting the community
- Why prospects chose a competitor over your product
Writing a compelling brand story requires you to step into your customers’ shoes, live their lives, and see what they really need and how they make decisions.
All of your hard work creating a captivating brand story goes to waste if it’s not used consistently across…well, everything. Not only does it make things less confusing for prospects and customers, but it makes your company look like a well-oiled machine—and it can increase your revenue by 10% to 20%, too.
Having a dedicated brand marketing manager or specialist at the helm of a brand story project can really help with this consistency. “To have someone dedicated to defining the brand and propelling it forward makes a huge difference,” says Bell. “There’s more obvious brand alignment and consistency with every channel and department.”
Your brand story is everywhere—your website, sales decks, social media posts and presence, advertising, billboards… even your email signatures and job descriptions. Keeping your brand story consistent in every single corner of the company is key to the success of your brand marketing efforts.
Avoid the jargon
How many times have you visited a company’s website and thought, “Hey, I think I’ve read this before”?
B2B messaging is full of tech-y jargon and identical phrases that have kind of lost their meaning. In fact, a lot of the jargon now doesn’t really mean anything at all, so a great brand story isn’t the place for it. “No one’s going to remember a brand story full of jargon and complicated, confusing wording. Take your brand messaging out of the product and make it more approachable and easy to understand,” says Bell.
Short, sweet, simple, and succinct—that’s what you should be aiming for.
Look outside of the company for help, if you can
“If you have the budget and leadership buy-in, bring in a consultant or agency to help you through the brand story process. It’s really hard as a marketing team—especially as a marketing team working directly with leadership or founders—to gain an outside perspective when you’re so inside the product and company day-to-day,” says Bell.
You can also work with agencies to perform market research to inform your brand strategy. Or bring it in house with tools like QuestDIY, an agile survey platform for marketers. Getting that outside opinion can ensure you’re doubling down on the right things when it comes to your story.
Getting support from a consultant or branding agency can also make a world of difference when it comes to timelines and project management. With a trusted outside source dedicated to efficiency and moving the brand story project forward, you could complete your brand story in a couple of months, versus up to a year or more—and you can focus on the nitty gritty brand elements while someone else makes sure you’re on track.
Measure the impact of your work
You’ve been working hard across the organization to create a cohesive, compelling brand story. Now it’s time to make sure you are keeping a pulse on the way customers (and the general public) view your brand.
Brand tracking tools like QuestBrand are an easy way to dive into brand health metrics like brand equity, emotional resonances associated with your brand, and funnel conversion data. By tracking the changing perception around your brand over time, you can better understand your customers and competitors, giving you a competitive edge.
It’s about the customer. Not you.
Bell’s parting words of advice for writing a brand story? Be obsessed and stay obsessed.
“It’s so important to be obsessed with your customers in brand marketing. Take every opportunity you can to speak with them and really hear the words they use when they describe the problems they have. They’ll talk about how your company helps—or doesn’t help—solve them. Your customers are the heartbeat of your brand story. If you can really capture that, you can make content that really connects with people and brings your brand to life.”
Remember: Customers don’t buy from you so that you can make money. They buy from you to receive a service and benefit in exchange and solve a problem they were having before. Write your company’s brand story from that angle with a customer-obsessed mindset, and you’re golden.
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