Brand storytelling is the art of using narrative to explain the story of your brand, your history, and your unique vision for the future. In an era of ecommerce and digital marketing, brand storytelling helps build meaningful relationships between businesses and consumers. Good stories help you stand out from your competition, inspire customer loyalty, and drive sales.

Storytelling goes beyond simply describing the benefits of a product or service. Strong narratives set the scene, paint a broader picture, and engage the customer on an emotional level.

For example, by telling your target demographic that you have started selling gluten-free pizza for those with dietary needs, you may trigger their interest. However, you could take it a step further to promote deeper engagement. For instance, you could tell them how you devised a special recipe for your pizza-loving son because he was missing out at pizza parties on account of a gluten allergy.

There is no universal storytelling formula that will fit every brand. However, there are a few general rules you can follow.

In particular, there are key words and phrases that trigger engagement:

1 “Why:” Your customers are fully aware that your business is striving to make money, but this doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in your underlying values and visions. Phrases such as “That’s why we do X” and “Why do we do X?” help signpost viewers towards your broader vision.

For example, you may tell a story about an individual who used to face a particular problem, and why they were able to move forward after using your product or service. This kind of story demonstrates how you apply your core company values in the real world, and why you bother devising solutions that change your customers’ lives.

If you can show your “why” in action, then so much the better. Stories that center around enthusiastic employees who live your company’s values every day can be inspiring. For instance, if you run a restaurant chain that emphasizes healthy, affordable meals, you could create a video showing how kitchen staff create nutritious, appealing food for customers every day.

Videos don’t have to be perfect. In fact, media with a slightly amateurish or awkward feel can be endearing. They also show your audience that you care about your workers’ thoughts and opinions, which will further improve your reputation.

2 “Discover:” This word inspires a sense of excitement, and can be used to give customers the impression that your product or brand is fresh, interesting, and potentially life-changing. Stories that center on a chance finding or radical invention are memorable, and therefore promote engagement.

For example, phrases such as “We discover new ways to help small business owners every day” prompts the viewer or listener to wonder how, exactly, you devise so many new ideas. If you want to portray your brand as a pioneer in your industry, this is a perfect word to use within a story.

3 “Failed:” Tell a story of how you tried, failed, but still emerged triumphant in the end. People like to hear tales of success, but sharing your setbacks will help people relate to you. “We tried X, but it didn’t work, so we did Y,” or “We failed, but then tried something new” communicates to your audience that you are a tenacious business that never stops trying to do your best.

Here’s an example: If you started a company, failed to make any money, then devised an amazing invention that now has the power to help people improve their lives, this could form the basis of an immensely inspiring story if told well.

Tales of adversity also work well if you are recounting the story of a well-established brand. You could tell the story of how the founder started the company, the barriers they had to overcome, and how their perseverance paid off. People are often intrigued by the prospect of learning more about brands they already know and trust.

4 “You:” Make your customers a key part of the story. Increasingly, brands are using their customers’ words, images, and other user-generated content to tell stories about how their products and services change lives.

What might this look like in practice? If you sell luggage and your brand is based on values of adventure and exploration, you could dedicate a section of your website to your customers’ stories of travel in far-flung locations. If you sell clothes or shoes, you could invite customers to submit photos of themselves wearing your merchandise, together with a short story about how it makes them feel.  

Testimonials are another effective form of storytelling. For instance, you could include videos featuring past clients in which they explain how their lives have changed since they started doing business with you.

5 Your customers’ words: Just like any other form of marketing, you need to make sure you are catering to your target demographic. No matter how compelling your story, people will not feel engaged if the ideas or language feel alien to them.

Focus groups and research are key tools in aligning your story with your intended audience. For example, if you want to create a video that appeals to college students, you need to understand the slang they use. Create your story first, then adjust the tone and wording as required.

Telling stories in different languages

Be careful when presenting your stories to consumers in different regions. Work with someone familiar with the local culture and laws to ensure you don’t cause offence or confuse your audience.

You should call on the services of a professional translator to turn your story into a coherent, localized narrative.

When you use these words in your stories, you will stimulate your viewers’ interest and spark their imaginations. They will no longer see your business as a mere retailer or service provider. Instead, they will come to think of you as a meaningful brand with a tale to tell.