Here’s a familiar scenario: you’re sitting around with a bunch of your friends, daydreaming about how great it would be to be self-employed millionaires. You start brainstorming ideas for starting a business together– maybe a delicious sandwich shop, or a bar with a quirky name and no last call. If you’ve ever found yourself toying with an idea like this, you can relate to the brand story of Innocent Drinks.

Three English chaps set up shop at a London music festival in 1998 selling smoothies. Out front, they posted a sign asking concertgoers if they should quit their jobs and make smoothies for a living. Underneath were two garbage bins for discarding empty smoothie bottles: one said yes, the other said no. At the end of the festival, the yes bin was full. The jury had spoken: Richard Reed, Adam Balon, and Jon Wright promptly quit their jobs and started Innocent Drinks.

While the journey may not have been as smooth as their fruity drinks, the company eventually worked its way to £247.4 million in revenue in 2016 and a massive investment from Coca-Cola (the company currently owns 90 percent of Innocent Drinks). That’s not bad for three Cambridge University grads and a £500 fruit investment.

Aside from perseverance and hard work, what helped Innocent Drinks really take off was its brand story. A focus on healthy living and sustainability (not to mention the company’s relatable, Cinderella story-like beginnings) resonated with consumers, helping the product become a staple in grocery stores and fast food chains.

Big or small, your business should tell a compelling story of its own. A recent Gartner report (available to clients) notes the importance of a brand story for creating a product or service that people want to buy. The report details five steps for creating a compelling narrative for your brand.

Using Gartner’s framework, I’ll show you how you can create a brand story of your own.

What is a brand story?

A brand story is the narrative behind the purpose of a product. More than just marketing, a brand story aims to answer the who, what, and why of a brand. Who started the company? Why did they start it? What makes the product stand out or solve a problem?

Like a good story, a good brand story has a story arc, climax, and resolution in which the product or service plays a part. It can also elicit an emotion, encouraging people to get involved with the brand.

In the Innocent Drinks example, you can answer these questions easily. The ‘who’ were Reed, Balon, and Wright— three college grads working in advertising and consulting. Their desire to quit the corporate world and start their own business was the ‘why’, and creating a healthy and sustainable line of drinks was the ‘what.’

From their initial struggle of finding an investor, to their first in-store placements at British supermarket chains, and then their involvement in sustainable strawberry farming, the company has created a really strong brand story. How can you do the same?

Using another real world example, let’s go through the process of creating a brand story using Gartner’s framework.

Step 1: Find your brand’s purpose

The first step is finding your brand’s purpose. This is the reason behind doing what you do. This is where you’ll have to answer all of the big “who, what, and why” questions of your brand. Finding this purpose involves considering the history, reputation, and culture of your brand.

  • History: Who started the company, and why?
  • Reputation: How is your brand regarded by its customers, stakeholders, and communities?
  • Culture: What values and beliefs does your company personify?

Natalie Hornyak is a marketer working for brand marketing agency Garfield Group. She was recently part of the rebranding of Greenfield, a chain of senior living communities operating in eight US states. The goal with Greenfield’s rebranding was to transform the lived experiences of its residents, into digital experiences that shaped the brand story on the company’s website.

Greenfield’s homepage sets the scene for it’s brand story.

“Their CEO, Matt Peponis, started the organization after many years working in the industry, and wanting to make the experience more personal and loving — he even stops by the communities to play piano for the residents. Through extensive interviews with Greenfield staff and a few onsite visits, we were treated to heartwarming stories of how Greenfield truly goes above and beyond to make residents feel at home — if there’s a famous strawberry festival in town, they’ll bring it right to the community with fresh local strawberries and fun programming,” said Hornyak.

Important to note here is the inclusion of customers in the brand story. Your customers (or in this case, residents) should play a huge role in how you define your brand story– it’s their perceptions of your brand that can help you tailor your messaging.

Check out Voice of the Customer software to get insight into how your customers feel about your brand.

Step 2: Find your brand’s proposition value

This is the step where you need to differentiate yourself from the competition. Here, you need to define your target customer, the need that you’re filling, and how your product or service uniquely sets you apart from others in the industry.

Greenfield did just that when thinking about their target audience. Despite the initial thought of long-term care being targeted towards seniors, it’s actually targeted towards their families too.

“Greenfield recognizes the pressures faced by the ‘sandwich generation’— baby boomers and Gen Xers who care for children and aging parents simultaneously. As such, we built the site to appeal to that generation’s usability needs and desires, and included several resources to help the sandwich generation navigate their decision process. This includes a ‘Find a Community’ page that identifies communities close to home that provide the services loved ones are looking for, an interactive budget calculator that compares the cost of a Greenfield stay to the costs of staying at home, and several articles addressing the specific needs of caregivers,” said Hornyak.

The Greenfield “Find a Community” page.

At this stage, you’ll also want to do a competitor analysis to see what rivals are offering, and how you can set yourself apart. Your brand story will rely on this differentiation to make itself unique.

Check out social media listening tools to see how people are talking about your brand and other brands online.

Step 3: Find your voice

Once you know your brand’s purpose and value proposition, you can start communicating that to your customers, clients, followers, and fans. This involves determining your brand’s character, keeping it consistent, and having compatibility between what your company says, and what it actually does.

For Greenfield, the brand’s story manifested itself in its communication strategy using something as simple as the word ‘stay’.

“We decided to focus on the word ‘Stay’ as the fulcrum of the brand messaging. When you stay with Greenfield, you can stay active, stay engaged, stay passionate, and most importantly, stay loved. We developed videos around this message, and wove it throughout the copy and imagery you see on Greenfield’s websites.”

Greenfield developed a character for it’s brand (a place to stay active, engaged, passionate, and loved), kept its messaging consistent across channels, and strives to keep this in line with its level of care across all of its locations.

Use a brand management tool to help keep your brand messaging consistent across all channels.

Step 4: Craft your overarching brand story

Crafting your overarching brand story is like putting all of the pieces together. At this stage, you should have:

  • the who, the what, and the why;
  • the brand purpose and its proposition value, and;
  • your brand’s voice.

When put together, these pieces form the story. This is where the storytelling portion of your brand starts to take shape.

Like any good story, it should follow a story arc. The “situation”, “impact”, “resolution” model outlined in Gartner’s report (also known as the S.I.R. model), based on Freytag’s pyramid of dramatic structure, is a good way to build this narrative.

  • Situation: This is the problem that you’re trying to solve. This could be something missing in the market, or an opportunity to improve upon an existing product or service. For Greenfield, the situation was a lack of trusted and caring senior living facilities.
  • Impact: This notes what type of effect the problem is having on those involved in the situation. Without the product or service, what would happen? Without Greenfield, for example, caretakers would be filled with stress and anxiety about sending their loved ones to a senior living facility.
  • Resolution: This is where your product or service helps to solve the problem. In this case, Greenfield offers a comforting place for seniors to stay active, engaged, passionate, and loved, giving their caretakers peace of mind and providing a welcoming environment to its residents.

In creating your brand story, you’re telling it from the human perspective, eliciting a sense of relatability, empathy, and emotion in your audience.

Once again, it’s important to ensure that your customers– not your brand– are the heroes in your story.

Use customer experience management technologies to stay atop of your customers on their journey.

Step 5: Translate your brand into storylines

Once you have the main story, you’ll want to create separate storylines in order to reinforce your purpose and proposition. These can be based on the different characteristics of your brand, also known as brand pillars. For Greenfield, its characteristics for staying active, engaged, passionate, and loved, as well as creating a welcoming atmosphere, could result in various, separate side stories, showcasing each of these characteristics in a unique way.

At Greenfield, “customers are central to the brand story — the story of Greenfield is one of welcoming and caring for seniors and their loved ones, and customer testimonials are featured throughout each website,” said Hornyak.

Greenfield features customer testimonials on its website.

Depending on which brand pillar you want to focus on, different channels can help highlight smaller stories. The important thing is to ensure consistency with the overarching brand story and its values.

Use a marketing automation tool to ensure your messaging is consistent among all marketing channels.

Your brand story IS your brand

Storytelling is an art. Brand storytelling is even more intricate. Not only do you have to tell a story, you also need to sell a product. With a good brand story, however, you’ll get more than just sales– you’ll create a loyal customer base and a strong identity that people can relate to, beyond just using your product or service.

Garfield Group wasn’t just tasked with redesigning a website. It was tasked with creating an entire brand story in a cohesive experience that captured the essence of Greenfield. The results speak from themselves.

“Greenfield told us that one of their goals, especially in redesigning the website, was to create a truly unique, award-winning, welcoming experience.The post-launch results exceeded all expectations, with a 724 percent increase in lead generation calls, a 38 percent increase in unique visitors, a 22 percent increase in conversions, and a 10 percent decrease in conversion costs,” said Hornyak.

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