Every organisation has a story to tell. Some tell it well, some tell it badly and some don’t tell it at all.
It’s a shame more businesses don’t fall into the former category, because good storytelling is at the heart of effective PR and marketing and a major contributor to business success.
It’s why businesses hire former journalists, creative copywriters and experienced marketing strategists to handle their campaigns. Together they have the requisite skills to tease out the organisation’s story and tell it in such a way that captivates audiences.
It enables businesses to create a narrative, establishing trust and helping build a reputation. Here are my six tips for telling an effective brand story.
Tell people where you’ve come from
Whenever I want to find out more about a business the first thing I do is look on its website, in particular the ‘About Us’ or ‘Our History’ pages. I’m sure I’m not alone in this pursuit.
Think of some of the most iconic brands – Jack Daniels (still made with the eponymous founder’s original recipe), Louis Vuitton (the legendary French trunkmaster who decided his own destiny aged 16), Guinness (Arthur’s 9,000 year lease at St James Gate brewery), or Cath Kidston (started in 1994 as an “old junk shop” in London).
Whether or not these histories are entirely genuine (some of it is clearly folklore), we trust businesses and products with heritage. They have a unique story about where they have come from.
So tell people where it all began. Even if you are a new business without any real trading history, tell people about your back story and your experience.
Tell people what you stand for
Generally speaking, people do business with those who share the same values as them. So tell your audiences what you stand for.
Think about The Body Shop’s stance on product-testing on animals, Ben and Jerry’s support of local producers and fairtrade ingredients, or Dove’s ‘Real Women’ campaigns. They are all either founded on a value, or have adopted strong values in the way they do business.
Whether it’s transparency, integrity, quality, value-for-money, philanthropy or flexibility that you want to be famous for, this needs to be made clear in both your words and actions.
Of course, you need to be able to back these values up. It’s no good having them on your company website if your organisation isn’t ‘living’ them.
Tell people what your USP is
Business lesson number one is to have a Unique Selling Proposition (USP), so you need to make sure not only that you have one, but that it jumps out at your audiences.
For example, the budget hotels sector is highly competitive, but for me Premier Inn stands out because it is the only one focusing on the quality of sleep you’ll get at its hotels, rather than on other factors such as price, location or customer service.
Dyson wants to be famous for its innovation in electrical cleaning products, so it goes to great lengths to explain in the simplest way possible why its technology is more effective.
Tell people where you’re going in the future
In my experience, businesses that talk confidently about the future, and their own place in it, engender greater trust.
All businesses will state publicly that they have a bright future, but when a business says it wants to increase sales to £20m in the next two years, open five more stores by 2016, or that it intends to create 500 jobs in the next 12-months, it’s more believable because these are specific goals.
Of course, not all businesses are in a position to be so bold, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t at least be able to communicate their vision or mission.
Keep it simple
I was at a networking event recently and I asked someone what his company did. He told me it “specialised in end-to-end solutions”. I asked what this was and he spent another three minutes explaining. I was still none the wiser.
The best marketing messages are simple ones. I saw an advert last week for a medicated mouthwash. It’s strapline? “For people who spit blood when they brush their teeth”. Simple.
These messages are often called ‘elevator pitches’ because they explain very quickly what your business does and how it can add value – about the time it takes to ride an elevator. Examples might be: “Our products help keep hospitals clean”, “We help you look after your wealth”, or “I help business owners become more confident”.
Use the professionals
There’s a school of thought that in this digital age, where almost everyone with a computer and an internet connection has the means to be a publisher, those traditional journalism, copywriting and storytelling skills are becoming less important to the world of PR and marketing.
I couldn’t disagree more. All PR and marketing disciplines have a paramount need for creative, engaging and accurate copy. Yet it always surprises me when organisations delegate this huge responsibility to people with little or no writing skills.
When someone without these skills drafts a press release or publishes a blog, you can spot it a mile away. When the copy on a company website lacks finesse, or a newsletter is littered with typos or incorrect grammar, it tells you this was a DIY job.
But, of course, it goes much deeper than that. Without good storytelling and writing skills, organisations are unable to succinctly tell their brand story and communicate a clear, concise and consistent message.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter how good a business plan is. If that business can’t engage with its customers, its days are numbered.