As a small business growth strategist and story advocate, the question I’m most often asked is, “How do I create a brand story?”
Well, here’s my attempt to answer that question in writing. Be warned, this is a long one, but if you want the cliff notes, I wrote this post that walks you through the 6-step blueprint.
The blueprint is the Brand Story Canvas, a tool I created to help take the guesswork out of what makes a good business story.
Now, let’s get started.
HOW TO CREATE A BRAND STORY
When creating your business story, it’s important to remember to create it for the people who are not only willing to listen to it, but who wants to listen to it. You can’t expect to create a great story and hope someone shows up to listen.
The saying, “build it and they will come” might be good for Hollywood, but not so much in a world where people are fighting for attention.
And make no mistake about it, that is what you are doing. You are fighting for attention. You aren’t fighting for customers or sales, you’re fighting to get noticed so you can begin to build relationships.
You might be wondering what gives me the credibility to talk about creating stories. The fact is credibility demands results. And here are some of mine:
As an entrepreneur, I started and sold two businesses within the last ten years. I was able to sell those businesses because of the stories I told through email, blogging, social media and print media. I was one of 36 winners in a national business story competition hosted by Google and American Express. my business story was picked as a featured story on YouTube’s homepage during Black Friday and Small Business Saturday and I’ve been quoted in Entrepreneur magazine, featured in several newspapers, a contributor to several business blogs, and I’m a former panel member for SteamFeed TV.
But the thing I’m most proud of is the fact that I have many relationships that started out as a tweet, post or reply before they became customers and eventually friends.
Telling powerful stories is not only good for your bottom line, it adds to the quality of your life, too.
No matter what you do, what niche you service – your number one job is to share your stories. Stories are increasingly more important in a world where attention spans are dwindling and the competition for it is fierce.
Knowing that can be a bit overwhelming at times. You might be wondering:
What do I share?
What don’t I share?
Am I doing it right?
Well, the Brand Story Canvas was designed to help you create powerful brand stories that will help you sell more stuff and grow your business. Remember to get your copy of the Brand Story Canvas workbook, just click the button below.
The Brand Story Canvas consists of 6 core elements. Let’s take a look at the canvas in more detail.
STEP #1 – Honor The Hero
It all starts with the hero of your story, your ideal customer persona.
Understanding your potential and existing customers are a vital part of a profitable and purposeful business. It helps you create better products and services, and it positions you to market those products and services better.
One thing we have to get clear about is differentiating between your potential customer’s wants and needs.
Often times your customers will confuse what they require with what they desire.
In case you need a reminder …
A need is something that a person must have in order to thrive. Without it, that person will suffer either physically or mentally. Now it used to be that needs were the basics like shelter, food, etc. But there is research that supports the social need. The need of belonging and positive self-esteem.
A want is a choice. A desire which a person may or may not be able to get. Life will continue if a person doesn’t get what they want.
Wants are individual. Every human being may have some of the same needs, but every human being will not have the same wants. Wants depend on a person’s environment, upbringing, background, and viewpoint.
If you’re doing it right, you sell what your customer needs, while your customer makes their buying decision based on what they want. Our job is to make the connection between the needs and the wants so the buying decision becomes easier.
It’s important to remember that even though you are creating an ICP that lives on paper, you’re selling and telling stories to a real live, breathing, feeling human being. And as you learn more about your ICP, your stories will grow and evolve becoming more effective in selling your product.
Step #2 – Identify Their Pain
A good and compelling story embraces the dark side. The frustrations and challenges of real life should be embraced because it produces positive energy and momentum towards something better.
And here’s why:
We feel safe when we are surrounded by other people like us.
And when we feel safe we dream bigger and are inspired to make positive changes.
There is no story without relating to the struggle. And the struggle impacts the hero in three ways:
- Physically – This is usually how the customer sees their problem because it’s tangible.
- Mentally – This is how the problem shapes their thoughts.
- Emotionally – This is how the problem makes them feel.
Here’s an example:
I know what it’s like to have such low self-esteem that you would rather hide out at home than take the chance someone might laugh at you. I know what it’s like because I can still feel my spine stiffening when someone would point in my direction and smirk. How did I get over it? I started taking care of my appearance, and a big part of that was just doing my hair in the mornings. It’s amazing how a little gel and a good brush will make you look better than before. Not only that, it’ll make you feel better, too. So, pick up some gel, do your hair tomorrow morning and watch the way people look at you when you walk down the hall. Or keep hiding out in your room – the choice is yours. I wouldn’t be surprised if you started looking forward to Friday nights. You ready? I’ll meet you in the hair care aisle.
Now, this very basic example just followed the brand story canvas.
- I talked about their want (straight hair) and their need (to feel better about themselves).
- I told their story in a way that they can relate (physically, mentally, and emotionally).
- I showed empathy and established myself as an authority.
- I provided a three-step plan.
- I talked about the results – both success and failure.
- And I issued a call to adventure.
Make sure and get the workbook where I help you create a brand story by walking you through the Canvas step-by-step.
One final note about pain …
When you learn to tap deeply into the pain of your ideal customer, you’ll always know how to touch them in a way that will inspire them to take action.
Step # 3 – Position Yourself as Their Mentor
I just mentioned that people feel safe when they are around other people like them. Your job as their mentor is to let your ideal customer know you are just like them – that you can relate to their struggles and you understand their pain.
To be the mentor your customer is looking for; you need to:
- Express empathy
- Show authority
Just to make sure you understand empathy – empathy is when you understand and feel another person’s feelings for yourself. Don’t confuse empathy with sympathy.
Yes, sympathy has its place, but truly putting yourself in your customer’s shoes is how you attract new ones. Customers that is – not shoes.
To help you get in the empathetic frame of mind, here are five empathetic phrases that can help you relate more closely to your audience:
- “I understand how frustrating it is when …”
- “I realize how complicated it is to …”
- “I know how confusing it must be when …”
- “I can’t imagine how discouraging it is to …”
- “I can grasp what it feels like to …”
Now, I understand that this might sound a bit manipulative (see what I did there? A little empathy never hurt anyone), but it’s only manipulation if you make stuff up.
So don’t do that! Rely on your experiences and show your authority.
Speaking of authority …
Remember, you’re building trust and doing that you’ll want to establish authority in your area of expertise – but not too much.
That’s right; you don’t want to be a braggart – you want to be trustworthy without making people roll their eyes when they see you. Don’t be that guy at the party that’s always talking about himself and keep in mind who the star of your story is.
People are more likely to feel safe and trust you if they know you’ve walked in their shoes.
Your potential customers are looking for answers – they want a solution.
They don’t care about your story; the only thing they really care about is if you can help them.
So how do you build authority without telling your story? Through testimonials, press, endorsements, and associations.
One last thing … too much authority will clutter the story and will take the hero role away from your customer. You don’t want to compete with your customer; you’re there to support them, guide them, and hold their hand.
Step #4 – Give Them a Plan
To help your potential customer find success, you need to provide them with a plan. They are looking for clear, direct instructions on what their next steps are.
Remember, you’re their mentor, and a mentor helps create plans. If they can’t turn to you and figure out what to do next, they will turn to someone who will show them the way. So, show them the way!
There are two types of plans:
- The Rules – Three steps your customers need to show them how to do business with you or how to use your product.
- An Understanding – The promise you are making to your customer that helps to relieve the internal fears they have.
Leaving the next steps up to your customer will leave you with no customers. So, tell them what their next steps are, and I promise you, they will thank you by buying your product. Your customers need the help and guidance; that’s why they came to you in the first place.
The plan can be as simple as:
- Take this magic pill.
- Drink lots of water.
- Show off your new unicorn status.
It really can be anything; it just needs to be a plan that eventually leads them to buy. And it’s important to note that the number three is important.
Why? Well, because our brain thinks in threes, and it all starts with our need to survive.
You see, as part of our natural survival system, we like to have choices. We know that if we don’t have a choice when we are in danger, we may not survive.
On the other hand, if we have too many options, we often get confused and overwhelmed. When that happens, we’re afraid of making the wrong choice which could also cause us harm.
Our brain likes to have choices, but not too many. That’s why we respond to the number three.
Speaking of three, here are three reasons to create a brand story using the Brand Story Canvas:
- It’s easy to collect all the right elements of a better brand story
- It focuses your attention on what your customer wants to hear
- It’s adaptable to any situation and any marketing strategy
Step #5 – Paint a Results-Oriented Picture
Want to create a brand story that sells more stuff? Paint a picture of what life will look like if your ideal customer buys your product and what it’ll look like if they don’t.
It’ll be really hard for your ideal customer to choose to stay in the status quo if the future looks bright.
Here’s an example.
Pretend your ideal customer needs their lawn mowed. You might say, “I’ll mow your lawn and for a good price, too.”
You are fulfilling their need, and if you say it nicely enough, you’ll even get some sales.
But what is really happening? Most people you talk to will delay making the decision to buy your service because they can mow the lawn on the weekend.
Now, what if you flipped the script a bit and said something like …
I know you think you’re going to mow your lawn this weekend, but you and I both know the chances are you won’t. And that’s because you have a date with your wife, a football game to watch, and a nap to take. And we all know naps win out over mowing the lawn. Want to enjoy your weekend without the unmowed lawn taunting you with guilt? Or would you rather put it off until there is no avoiding it, allowing your procrastination over the lawn ruin the weekend? Want to avoid the frustration of leaving for work on Monday morning with front yard shame? Then let me know when you wake up Saturday morning, so I don’t show up too early.
See the difference? I hope so. I talked about what their weekend could look like if they hired me, and what it would like if they didn’t.
I want to draw your attention to the use of humor right before I transitioned into the call to adventure.
I heard this quote somewhere (sorry, I can’t remember where),
“The end of laughter brings the height of listening.”
Think about that for a minute.Adding some natural humor to your story makes a lot of sense. And adding it right before you transition to the sale becomes crucial.
Adding some natural humor to your story makes a lot of sense. And adding it right before you transition to the sale becomes crucial.The other thing I want to draw your attention to is the call to
The other thing I want to draw your attention to is the call to adventure. I’m not all demanding and matter of fact; I’m asking my potential customer to join in on the journey with me.
Notice I don’t end the scene with a price, the word “buy” or a pushy pitch. I keep the scene going by eluding to the fact that they can sleep in on Saturday morning if they hire me – another benefit.
Step #6 – The Call to Adventure
The call to adventure is the final piece of the Canvas. And that’s your job – to make it an adventure. It’s fun; it works, and it gives you another opportunity to throw a benefit in there. (See what I did there? 3!)
Here’s the deal …
We are bombarded with ads, noise, and chaos all day, every day, and we’re becoming immune to it all. So stop thinking about action and think in terms of adventure.
What do you see on most of the websites you visit? The same copy. The same hype. And the same generic calls-to-action. Everyone is shouting the same over-the-top promises in ALL CAPS.
There has to be an ask, but it doesn’t always have to be the “in your face” kind.
Sure, there is a place for the very direct calls to action, but the reality is…
If you do the work by building the relationship and telling the story; you don’t need to be in their face because you’ve earned the right to be there.
Here are a few tips to take your calls-to-action and transition them into calls-to-adventure.
- Start with strong verbs such as trust, earn, gather, buy, call, learn
- Use your ideal customer’s emotional trigger words: dream, transform, happy
- Use FOMO to further your cause: limited time, today only
An example might be:
Learn to create a brand story and sell more stuff today!
Much better than [Learn More …] – don’t you think?
And there you have it. The 6-Step Blueprint, also known as the Brand Story Canvas.
It’s how you create a brand story that attracts attention, finds new customers and grows your business.
Ready to get started on your own better brand story?