Brand Storytelling: Using Authenticity to Build Customer Relationships

August 28, 2018 Lauren Baer

Storytelling is an innate part of human connection. It is how we share culture across generations, communicate with each other, and form communities. Brands can leverage the power of storytelling to create deeper relationships with customers and share unique perspectives from individuals and company leadership alike. Brand storytelling is crucial to sharing authentic brand narratives, demonstrating key differentiators in memorable ways, and ultimately capturing market share.

 

What is brand storytelling and why is it important?

Brand storytelling is a way for brands to communicate their guiding principles in a powerful and authentic way. Stories can feature consumers, employees, or communities, and help demonstrate what a brand stands for at its core.

No matter the subject of these stories, they should be accurate, emotionally driven, and sincere.

Subject matter of brand stories can include:

  • How a brand got its start
  • A brand’s mission or purpose
  • An instance of impact on an individual or community
  • Employees’ perspectives
  • A look inside the company day-to-day

Different audiences will identify with different stories, so brands can experiment with a range of content matter. The common denominator across topics is a focus on relatable stories from real people that drive emotional connections. Here are some of the ways brands can leverage storytelling to drive meaningful relationships with customers and increase loyalty.

 

How to Build Trust Through Storytelling

Storytelling can help strengthen a brand’s reputation and build consumer trust. The new Loyalty Research Report: Engaging Consumers in an Age of Increasing Brand Distrust found increased consumer skepticism since just last year. In 2017, our research found that a whopping 96% of consumers ages 18-34 were willing to share their data for personalized experiences. However, in 2018 only 50% of consumers ages 18-34 are willing to share their data in exchange for personalized experiences. While consumers still want personal connections with brands, they are hesitant to risk sharing personal information.

Pepsi leverages storytelling to build consumer trust and remain culturally relevant. Pepsi’s stories have evolved throughout the years, but have always contained cultural significance and created emotional connections with consumers. The 2018 Pepsi Super Bowl ad told the story of Pepsi’s brand evolution from the 90s to now, featuring faces like Britney Spears, Prince, and Cindy Crawford.

Through its Pepsi Stuff program, Pepsi builds one-to-one connections by using customer data in exchange for providing personalized experiences. For example, Pepsi Stuff members can share purchase information, complete surveys, and refer new customers in return for exclusive Pepsi merchandise and experiential rewards.

Once brands establish trust, customers will choose to engage and return for future purchases. The right story can potentially increase the value of a product by 20 times.

 

Demonstrate Authentic Brand Values Through Storytelling

Brands can generate consumer interest through storytelling by illustrating fundamental values and sharing authentic narratives that people relate to. In fact, 86% of people say brand authenticity is important when choosing preferences for brands.

Dove has a history of demonstrating brand values through storytelling, beginning with the iconic “Dove Real Beauty” campaign. When the campaign launched in 2004, cosmetics advertising widely featured models fitting a narrow definition of beauty, so Dove wanted to differentiate its brand by starting conversations that empowered women of all shapes, sizes and ages. Not only did it generate massive publicity, it resulted in a 700% jump in Dove sales in the first six months of that year.

This evolved into over ten years of subsequent campaigns, both online, on television, and on social media, including launching an entire production organization dedicated to finding and sharing these stories, led by media powerhouse Shonda Rhimes.

When a brand can illustrate a differentiating set of authentic values that people associate with, it can generate buzz and capture incremental market share.

 

Use brand storytelling as a differentiator

Not only is brand storytelling a way to build consumer trust, it is also a way to differentiate from competitors and gain market share. When a consumer feels connected to a brand because of its core beliefs or how it makes them feel, they are more likely to shop with that brand first over competitors, even when factors like price or convenience aren’t as favorable. In fact, 86% of consumers that are highly emotionally engaged always think of the brands they are loyal to when they need something. Ultimately, emotional engagement between a consumer and a brand can result in a 5% lift in annual revenue.

TOMS is a shoe brand founded on a “One for One” approach: for each pair of shoes purchased, one pair will be donated to someone in need. This story, and the many stories of TOMS’ impact across the globe, is what sets the company apart. It is not only an origin story, but a core mission reiterated across its channels to continually attract and identify with socially-oriented consumers and differentiate from other apparel brands. Audiences not only can learn more about TOMS’ growing global initiatives and impact online, but members of its Passport Rewards Program can actually donate points they’ve earned towards TOMS’ charitable efforts.

 

Drive Advocacy Through Consumer Storytelling

One challenge of effective storytelling is coming across as genuine. Leveraging user generated content can allow brands to share authentic stories with minimal investment in production. If brands have passionate fans, they can strengthen personal connections and ask to share their stories, including testimonials and vignettes about the impact of the brand on their lives, or wellbeing, or even just how it makes them feel.

Johnson & Johnson, a 130-year-old company, is excelling at brand storytelling and sharing diverse, original stories. When they launched an extended parental leave policy, they asked employees throughout the company to share stories that demonstrated how this new policy impacted their lives. The result involved participation from all departments, creating a community of storytellers and advocates.

Another example of a brand driving advocacy through storytelling is Sleep Number. Its InnerCircle loyalty program collects surveys from members and incorporates results into blog posts to further educate Sleep Number’s community of customers. They reward customers for sharing testimonials and even feature those stories on the Sleep Number blog.

 

Brand storytelling is becoming increasingly important as brands attempt to gain consumer attention and trust. Brands can no longer rely solely on their product features to attract and retain customers. Rather, they must find unique, engaging ways to grab the attention of audiences and differentiate from competitors.

Effective brand storytelling draws from a variety of subjects, is authentic, and emotionally connects with audiences. Whether a brand tells the story of its origin, its mission, or its impact, it should help consumers understand why the brand is unique and give them an opportunity to engage. When a brand can master this and create authentic conversations, it can capture key market share.

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