A four-step guide to creating a unified brand story
In our recent post, Why your brand needs a unified brand story, we talked about why your brand needs a cohesive narrative—and we discussed the internal and external impact it can have on your organization. But how do you move from strategy to implementation? How do you actually write your brand’s story and put it to work for your business?
You can apply some of the tactics and processes we use here at New Kind to your own brand projects today. Our method divides the story and messaging process into several sprints, taking a collaborative and iterative approach to discovering and defining our clients’ stories. We share drafts early and often (something we recommend you try, too), and we spend a lot of time in the early phases of our work making sure we’ve positioned the brand on a solid foundation. So while it can be tempting to hurry your project along in the hopes of reaching the end result sooner, be sure to take the time you need to build your story on firm footing. Let’s get started!
Step 1: Research
The first step in uncovering your brand’s story is getting a lay of the land and understanding how your brand is perceived both internally and externally today, as well as what your stakeholders would value from you in the future. Surveys and stakeholder interviews are the perfect place to start.
We recommend talking to both your internal and external audiences to get a holistic look at the health of your brand. Having internal and external data will also give you the added benefit of being able to compare and contrast what’s going on inside your organization’s walls with what’s inside your customers’ heads—so you can see where the gaps and similarities are. Once you’ve reviewed all this feedback, you’ll end up with valuable insights about what’s working and what could be better—which will help you hone in on a story and messaging strategy that’s rooted in who you are today while pushing you into the future.
This is also a great time to perform an audit of your brand, as well as your competitors’. Take note of how you currently talk about your own organization in marketing materials, on your website, and in other internal and external publications—and then do the same for your competitors. Be sure to highlight any themes that you notice, as well as any findings that feel aspirational or future-focused. Knowing where you currently stand—and how it compares to where your competitors stand—will help you better define your niche and uncover your brand’s differentiators (more to come on those in a second!).
An example of how we conducted our brand audit with the Avid Creative Team. To better understand Avid’s brand touchpoints from a visual perspective, we conducted an audit of all brand materials—including ads, brochures, web pages, and videos.
Step 2: Positioning Strategy
The next crucial component of building a cohesive brand story is articulating your positioning platform. Do you know what landscape your brand competes in? Do you know who your top competitors are within that space? Do you know what makes your brand different from all the other brands out there? These are all questions to ask yourself before you start crafting your brand’s story.
Solid positioning is the foundation that ensures everyone who encounters your brand will quickly understand what you’re about and why they should care. It’s an internal compass that will help keep your organization aligned and focused, even as you grow.
We start with these three key components of positioning:
- Competitive frames of reference: The markets in which your brand competes.
- Points of difference: Characteristics that make your brand stand out from other competing brands; these often become core pillars of your brand story.
- Points of parity: Areas where the competition has you beat that you need to counteract; the “table stakes” that you need to do just as well as everyone else.
With a little patience and thoughtful analysis, your brand’s competitive frames of reference, points of difference, and points of parity will start to bubble to the surface in your research process. Again, a great tip to keep in mind as you dive in is to try to identify common themes in your data that can help you articulate your positioning platform. Pay special attention to where you see commonalities between what you currently say about your brand vs. what your customers say or think about you. Remember, you want your positioning platform to ground you in the present while also pushing you forward into the future.
Step 3: Persona Development
Next, think about who you’re trying to reach. Who are the key personas you want your brand’s story to resonate with? Who are the people you’re trying to convert from prospects to customers? What are their biggest pain points, and what do they or would they value from your brand? Painting a clear picture of your target audience gives you someone to write for—and makes your story feel much more personal and directed. It’s also a great way to test out your story as it takes shape—making sure it reads in an authentic and relevant way. Put yourself in your target persona’s shoes and start from there.
Try to limit yourself to three or four personas in total (depending on your particular business and your product/service offerings, of course). It’s easier (and vastly more useful) to focus on creating messaging that will persuade a few targeted personas than it is to try to create messaging for a large number of vague or homogeneous personas.
When creating your personas, think about your best customers that you want to replicate, and the aspirational customers you’re not partnering with yet that you’d like to reach. If you do find yourself inching towards creating more than four personas, revisit each of them and see if you can spot any similarities. Also keep in mind that your very targeted messaging can still apply to a broader audience. So there’s no need to include everyone on your personas list—only your most important potential buyers.
Picturing real-life customers that fit your persona types will also help you codify their challenges, values, aspirations, and motivations—and will make them feel more accessible and human when it comes time to write messaging specifically for them. Use what you heard in interviews and surveys to fill out persona profiles, and consider adding real quotes that help explain your buyers’ emotional triggers. Here are a few other characteristics to consider as you start creating your personas:
- Name and age
- Title, tenure in role, employer or type of organization (s)he works for
- Defining quote: What’s something that this persona might be known to say?
- Biography: Keep it relevant to your business—what would (s)he value about your organization, and why would (s)he choose to work with you?
- Professional goals and aspirations
- What (s)he finds most rewarding and challenging about his/her role
- His/her personal artifacts
- Where (s)he gets information
Step 4: Crafting Your Narrative
Now it’s time for the really fun part—putting pen to paper and telling your brand’s story! Take a look at your points of difference and all of the feedback you received from the people you talked to in your surveys and interviews. Search for an overarching theme that ties the whole narrative together, then refine the language and add some poetry. Look for common threads that draw out your differentiators in an emotionally compelling way, and make sure they’re interwoven throughout the story.
Also be sure to gut-check that your story is written in a voice that you and your team could actually see yourselves using (it’s no good to you if you can’t keep a straight face while you’re sharing it!). And don’t be afraid to test out different pieces of the story in pitches and presentations—it’ll help you figure out what’s working and where you might need to make adjustments.
You made it! You’re now ready to start creating your organization’s brand story. A few things to remember as you get going:
- Be sure to ask for input from your internal team and other important stakeholders early and often. Inviting your team along for the journey, bringing everyone together to review the final product, and ultimately incorporating the story into your organization’s processes and operations is vital to creating a narrative that lasts.
- You probably won’t get the story 100% right the first time—and that’s okay! Draft, iterate, refine, revise. Embrace the journey.
- If you get stuck, keep going back to your research. What you’re looking for is often right there in front of you.
- Have fun!
While the process of creating a brand story can be daunting, it’s also incredibly rewarding—and a great opportunity to rekindle all of the things you love most about your organization. Visit our work page for inspiration for your final product. And of course, if you don’t want to do it alone, drop us a line—let’s see how we can work together to discover your brand’s story.
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