Purpose And The Power Of Brand Storytelling

 In Content Marketing

Today’s consumers aren’t just passively buying from brands. They view their purchases as extensions of their identity and values. What this means for marketers is that effective marketing can’t just be about promoting a product for its sole use or benefits anymore. Successful marketing needs to be able to create a purpose, a community and a culture that consumers can share and be a part of.

“Purpose” is about values – values about who you are, what you stand for, what you do for others, the causes you serve. A compelling purpose gives consumers a way to connect with your brand and values, and to get to know how your products or services add real value to people’s lives beyond just selling things for profits. Brands who can successfully target consumers based on these shared values are ones who will ultimately win their attention and dollars.

That’s why big brands like Nike, Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Adidas are turning to purpose to better connect and engage their consumers. So what makes some companies so successful while others fail?

The difference lies in storytelling. You can’t activate and reinforce purpose without storytelling. As a marketer, you need to be able to connect your own personal values and drives to your brand’s purpose and articulate that story to your audience. This type of narrative is what’s needed for consumers to listen to you and be inspired to join in on your brand’s purpose.

And how do you this? Marshall Ganz, who teaches storytelling courses at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, recommends following this simple 3-step framework to develop compelling, purpose-driven narratives for your brand:

  1. “Self”

The first step to creating an effective narrative for your brand is to start with “self.” This focuses on explaining how certain events in your life established specific personal values that will later link to your company’s values.

An excellent example is Steve Jobs’ famous Commencement address at Stanford University in 2015. Jobs shared three stories that were largely a personal reflection of his life – his humble working-class upbringing and dropping out of college, founding and later getting fired by Apple, and his cancer diagnosis.

Jobs spoke about how his passion for calligraphy would later guide his design work at Apple, and how his cancer diagnosis encouraged him to live more passionately and authentically as if every day were his last.

What’s so compelling about Jobs’ speech is how real and raw his stories seemed. Each story gave the audience a glimpse into who Jobs was and his values, motivations and passions.

A great story of self has to be authentic and genuine. Finding that story may require a deep reflection on your past and your values, and sharing these personal experiences and moments with your audience.

  1. “Us”

The second step is what Ganz calls the “us,” which involves connecting your values with broader values shared by your audience. By weaving your personal stories into the experiences, values and passions of others, you create a common narrative for your audience.

A great example of this is the story of Burt’s Bees founder, Burt Shavitz, featured on their company’s website. The journey takes us from the time Burt met his partner Roxanne and how the two started the business, to how their story became the “story of us” – of the company, their consumers and products, and the values they shared.

A good “us” story aims to build a community and a set of collective values, and share how these values came about.

  1. “Now”

The final step is a call to action for your audience who wishes to join in on the purpose of your brand.

Take a look at the way the public-benefit corporation Kickstarter asks potential candidates to join their team. Their narrative begins with the founder Perry Chen sharing his inspiration behind the launch of Kickstarter (the “self”). The next section of the site includes photos and short bits of info about each employee on the Kickstarter team (the “us”). The narrative ends with a call to action on their careers page, asking potential candidates: “Love Kickstarter? You’ll fit right in.” People can click to view all current open positions and apply.

Great brand stories are authentic and real, and collectively work together to build common narratives and values your consumers can relate to, and excite them to join in on your purpose and community.

What do you think? Have you used a similar approach to tell your brand’s story? I’d love to know if it’s working (or not working) for you. Please share your ideas below!

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Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner is the CEO of Marketing Insider Group, former Head of Strategy at NewsCred, and the former VP of Global Content Marketing at SAP. Michael is also the co-author of The Content Formula, a contributor to leading publications like The Economist, Inc Magazine, The Guardian, and Forbes and a frequent speaker at industry events covering topics such as marketing strategy, social business, content marketing, digital marketing, social media and personal branding.  Follow Michael on Twitter (@BrennerMichael)LinkedInFacebook and Google+ and Subscribe to the Marketing Insider.
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Comments
  • Fernando Labastida

    Michael, I’ve been thinking about the same thing, that success in content marketing is being purpose-driven. In fact in Shane Snow’s book “Smart Cuts” he mentions a study that showed how purpose-driven companies in the S&P 500 out-performed their peers by a lot.

    But your post provides that missing link I was looking for – how to weave storytelling into purpose.

    Goo call, Michael!