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Discovering Your Why
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Brian Richards
Emotional Storytelling
Ownyourstory itseverything
Own Your Story. It's Everything.

From cave drawings to cathedrals, we’ve been scratching on walls for centuries.

Throughout human history, we’ve been creating meaning and connection through stories—passing down information, sharing values and truths. It will always be a fundamental way for us to connect to one another, to ideas, to our imagination and even the unknown.

Most of us know the story of Cinderella. Following her father’s death, her wicked stepmother forces her to become her servant. We can still imagine the ornate carriage that rescues her from oppression. ​​Its central message of hope and longing for better days captures an innate desire within all of us. We would all like the same fairy godmother to rescue us from something.

Stories can be such powerful communication tools to pass on complex information to audiences in a memorable way. Strangely, this art form isn’t given enough airtime in the commercial world.

Brands must own their story.

It’s everything.

Why do brands need to change?

It’s nothing revelatory to mention the issue of today’s shortening attention spans; marketing must evolve to have any chance of slowing the scrolling thumb. As companies desperately chase after our ever-waning focus, your brand messaging needs to provide greater value and captivate your audience emotionally to avoid joining the discount race to the bottom.

Traditional business would say “we’ve been brand storytelling for years” through advertising, PR and social media. However, very few deliver a story based on the customer’s true wants and needs. I often walk into corporate foyers and boardrooms and read tired, meaningless clichés on the walls regarding trust, integrity, and customer appeal—all written from an internal perspective. The stories are about who they are rather than why they are the way they are. These days, telling product/service stories based on the customer’s perspective, and connecting them to your purpose is becoming a vital success factor both internally and externally. You cannot capture people’s hearts and minds these days with meaningless waffle. You have to come out of your corporate cupboard.

What should brands be doing?

Creating brand stories requires a real understanding of your customers. What are they struggling with in their lives? How can you bring them closer to solving this? What motivates and inspires them? How does what you do make them feel? If you don’t know who you’re addressing, how do you expect to connect with them?

Neuroscientists tell us how parts of our brain light up when we watch, read or listen to an engaging story, releasing oxytocin, a feel-good hormone, when our hero is winning, or cortisol, a stress hormone, when they’re not. Now picture your customer at the centre of the journey, like Cinderella, facing challenges; think about your product or service that could lead them to success. At every touchpoint, be it an advertisement, in-store experience or scroll through a website, you have an opportunity to make them feel something and connect emotionally to your ability to solve their challenge.

For someone who’s been immersed in a company for years, it's very difficult to maintain objectivity about why your audience should care about you. Rediscovering your brand from your customer’s point of view will help you step back and transform how you think about your place in their lives. Yes, analytical data is important, but gems for your brand can be found in honest conversations with your customers; their personal stories hold countless nuanced ways your brand can improve their lives.

With customer case studies and employee storylines, there are so many different ways in which one can weave a unique brand’s tapestry from a central script.

Distilling down, choosing the perfect words that mean precisely what you want to express is an exercise in minimalism. Consider every word and write with great care. Forget the superlatives as you describe your value proposition. Emotive language is important, especially when used in an anecdotal way, but avoid the sensational claims of success.

Remember that you should never brand the needs; it’s all about branding the wants: “I need something in the category, but I want yours”. When you marry this up with the story of why you are the way you are, you connect the dots so beautifully.

Stories that stick are ones that touch a nerve. When you want to persuade, motivate and be remembered, begin with the story of human struggle and end with the triumphant outcome. It will always capture people’s hearts, as did the Cinderella story. We are sad at the thought of Cinderella enslaved, then glad to know she has been invited by the Prince to his ball. The tensions of opposites are critical to writing a compelling story that captures the heart and mind.

Brands are wasting enormous amounts of money on marketing, bombarding audiences with syrupy messages as they rush to the train. Forgotten in seconds in their busy days, brands fail to engage or see customers for who they really are.

Rather than being all things to everybody, be something to somebody. It’s important to adapt your master story into smaller stories for your different customers, rather than broadcasting a generic story in an attempt to capture everyone. You want your customer to identify with—and become—your main character. Be the lawn-mowing dad, not the lawnmower. Let them live inside your stories so they can recognise your place in their life.

What's the impact?

A well-articulated, consistent story that differentiates you from your competitors will provide coherency and resilience to your brand. Ensure the drip line of your umbrella is made clear to your teams and agencies—that you are clear in your tone of voice and genre, and avoid wandering.

A unique story that captures one’s imagination—assuming everything about your offering matches or exceeds current requirements—will give you greater resistance to price reductions and help create a premium over your competitors with generic messages. It will help build customer loyalty and attract new customers. And in the worst-case scenarios, a precedent of authentic and transparent stories will foster a greater willingness to forgive mistakes made by your company.

Ensure everyone is part of that story. Make sure you create a narrative which will resonate within the company and beyond. This may mean writing parallel narratives from a customer and employee perspective, which match, yet are different in the connection you seek.

From an employee’s perspective, your stories can form a kind of manifesto or raison d’être (reason for being). Whether you're a center-stage diva or a member of the chorus, the corporate brand story should serve as a modern-day hymn sheet for the entire ensemble. If everyone understands and believes in the script then you have storytellers across the entire company who can answer the barbecue question “who do you work for and why?”. If it's an authentic, believable story, it can help strengthen an organisation’s ability to recruit and retain. If preachy and misaligned with reality, you risk ‘carewashingand doing more harm than good.

Purpose-driven brand marketing that is seamlessly connected to product and service stories is not just about communications. It can fundamentally transform how a company recruits for, designs, produces and delivers its offerings. Not for the fainthearted, this is the currency for the successful brands of tomorrow.

We are all children at heart.

Your story needs to engage, connect, and pull on the heartstrings of your customer. A great story owned by you will bring everything you do to life.

  • Does your brand story capture your purpose, mission and vision?

  • Does your brand story communicate the heart and soul of why you are the way you are?

  • Is your story simple? Does it focus on problem, success and solution?

  • Is your story one which forges emotional connections?

  • Can I see your personality shining through in your story?

  • Can your story be shared and retold by others?

  • Is it a unique narrative amongst your competitors?

Your story of ‘why’ needs to describe your mission, how you’re going to get there, and your vision of what your world will look like when you’ve achieved your mission. There is little time for copious nostalgia and irrelevant details. What matters is the future you’re trying to build...

by Brian Richards

12th June 2024

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