Successful brands have a story that connects them with their audience and that forms the backbone of their strategy. But if you’ve been around a while, the story that your loyal customers know is not yet shared by those who are new to the brand. Here are 4 ways to connect your longer story to those who don’t know it as well.
One of the temptations of a strong storyline is that it takes on a life of its own. The story itself develops references, nuances and side-paths that keep it intriguing for those who’ve been with you for some time, but can be confusing for those who’ve come to your brand more recently. For those who don’t get the references or know the back-stories, getting to grips with the brand and its mythology can be frustrating. They are left feeling like outsiders.
It’s hard to connect with a story you haven’t followed
I’ve talked a lot over the years about the need to have long and short form narratives. Your long story form is the arc of your brand over an extended timeframe. It tells the ‘epic’ story of your brand. Your short story is more immediate. It delves deeper into the brand of today. Together the two story forms give a brand story depth, continuity and momentum.
Ways and cues
To your loyal customers, the short story already makes complete sense. It’s the brand in the now – and they effortlessly connect it with the history of the brand and of their experiences. But for new customers, bridging the brand they see and the story that got the brand to this point is all about giving them ways and cues to connect what they know with what they don’t.
- The heritage/progress link – This approach links the brand people see with the intention of the brand’s founders. It shows that even though the brand that customers experience today is very different from the brand of yester-year, the spirit of the brand has never faltered. This is the “we set out to …” storyline. It’s how brands like Chanel and Disney draw on to remind customers not just of their heritage, but also of the magnitude of the task they originally set themselves and that they are still pursuing to this day. With this approach, you invite current customers to join you on the road.
- The evolution link – This approach celebrates the huge changes that the brand has been through. It reminds customers that the brand is always changing and that the brand they see today will continue to evolve in the years ahead. This is the “we didn’t always think the way we do today …” connection. It’s well suited to B2B brands and those in fast-changing sectors like tech because it connects shifts in attitude with changes in action and perspective. With this approach, you invite customers to discover what might be around the next corner.
- The critical link – This approach is all about a watershed moment. The brand’s history hinges, literally, on a specific instance that continues to drive the narrative. This is the “Something big happened, and it changed us forever …” connection. It’s well suited to brands that have changed direction dramatically or that have expounded a big idea that forms the basis for everything they do. With this approach, you invite customers to focus on that specific point because everything they know about the brand stems from there. That point in time can be some years back or it can be much more recent. But, it’s a singular moment.
- The comeback link – This approach is all about revival. It’s what nearly killed the brand and the changes that the owners took to evolve the brand into the form it takes today. This is the “We nearly died …” approach. It’s similar in some ways to the critical link connection. The difference is that it is more about a defining era than a specific moment, and it celebrates a change in the collective mindset that revitalised the brand and turned it into the force it is today. It’s a story of struggle and set-backs leading to a new way forward, with those struggles and set-backs framed in ways that customers readily identify with today.
Story is a powerful way to draw people into what you do. And there will always be a tension between who you’ve been, who you are and where you are heading, because there will always be customers who want more of what they know, those who are looking for the next thing and those who are still trying to get their bearings. Telling stories within stories that connect the brand today with the brand over time provides a yellow brick road that lays out the full journey, and a series of on-ramps that, hopefully, bring more people on the journey every day.
Note: A version of this post has been published elsewhere under the title 4 On-Ramps For Building Your Brand Story.