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How to Craft a Compelling Brand Story in Your Brick & Mortar Store

Brand storytelling is integral to creating authentic relationships with your customers. Without a compelling story, people have very little reason to become invested in your brand. Whether you offer a service or run a retail store, you need to be able to give your customers a good reason to come to you instead of the competition. You can do this by sharing a relatable, emotional brand story.

What is a Brand Story?

Your brand story is the narrative of your brand—its origin story and history as well as the actions and emotions that your business inspires people to take and feel. To be clear, brand stories are not ads, marketing materials, or sales pitches. They are emotional experiences that create emotional reactions. Whether you’ve crafted your own brand narrative or not, it still exists if people are interacting with your brand at all. And everything about your brand—from your values to in-store experiences to customer reviews—guides that story.

The Power & Impact of Storytelling on Behavior

Storytelling influences how people feel and relate to each other. Research from the Harvard Business Review shows that the brain responds to stories in powerful ways, making people feel happier, more optimistic, and more trusting.

Johns Hopkins researcher, Keith Quesenberry, says that “people are attracted to stories because we’re social creatures and we relate to other people.” When studying Super Bowl commercials, Quesenberry found that regardless of an ad’s content, just having a structured story predicted success.

Budweiser Super Bowl commercial studied in Quesenberry’s research:

 Stories actually have the power to change people’s attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. This is why crafting a compelling brand story can make a big impact on your business.

Paul J. Zak, the founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University, discovered that “a story must first sustain attention—a scarce resource in the brain—by developing tension during the narrative. If the story is able to create that tension, then it is likely that attentive viewers/listeners will come to share the emotions of the characters in it, and after it ends, likely to continue mimicking the feelings and behaviors of those characters.”

Telling a story with tension and emotion can change your customers’ behaviors. It can impact your business growth and help people form authentic relationships with your brand. So if you want your customers to feel a particular way about your products, you have craft a narrative that inspires that emotion.

3 Steps for Writing Your Brand Story

But how can you harness this storytelling research for your own brand story? You write your story based on what science shows as creating the most impact.

To tell a powerful brand story, you need to go beyond telling your target audience how you were founded. Everything from the look and feel of your website, to the staff you hire, down to the colors used on your packaging are all elements of your unique vision. To build a compelling brand story, you must establish the roots for ongoing human connection with your customers. And the best way to do this is to tell a story with tension and a defined beginning, middle, and end.

In Quesenberry’s research, he found that the Super Bowl ads that told a more complete story using a dramatic structure called Freytag’s Pyramid were the most popular.

You can apply this dramatic structure to how you demonstrate your own brand story—and everywhere you tell stories for your brand. However, the first thing you should do is take a minute to sit down and define your brand story on paper:

1. State who your brand is and what your brand values are.

You need to understand who you want your brand to be and the core values you want your brand to promote. Define your brand values and explore how your brand should act when faced with challenges.

Even product displays communicate brand values. Photo: nonprofit Still Kickin.

As you do this, also think about why your company was founded, who it was founded by, and how it all came about. Is it because there was a dearth in the marketplace? For example, a passionate yogi who can’t afford the expenses of being a yoga practitioner (the studios, the gear, the Swell bottles) might solve the problem by creating a line of affordable yoga pants. Did you create a delicious vegan brownie because there simply were no other options? Examine why your business is revolutionary. Tell the story of your brand’s main characters. Were you and your co-founder on the same train each morning and struck up a conversation that hatched the big idea that became your business?

Then write a paragraph on your brand’s origin story and outline the challenges it faced to get off the ground. The better you know your own brand, the easier it will be to tell your story.

2. Develop your positioning statement.

A positioning statement states your brand’s unique value to its customers in relation to competitors. It’s composed of four main parts: your target customer, your brand’s market and relevance, your brand’s benefits relative to the competition, and the evidence that your brand delivers on those benefits.

Remember that a potential customer’s relationship with you will most likely begin before they even purchase your products. Therefore, you must understand your audience and what they will relate to. Make sure that your positioning statement communicates how you want your customers to think about your brand.

3. Take your brand through a story arc that has emotion, authenticity, and relatability.

Once you know who your brand is, what it stands for, and how you want to position it in your customer’s mind, you can write your brand story following the story structure above. Incorporate the challenges your brand went through to drive tension and emotion. Be honest and transparent to create authenticity. The more relatable your narrative, the better.

Forbes contributors, David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom, write that “the better stories we tell, the more likely people are to engage with our cause, the more likely they are to empathize with the characters in the story.”

After writing your initial brand story, work to refine what makes it great. Share the obstacles, the wins, the fears, and the laughs. Ask yourself what you want your customers and audience to take away from it. Do you want them to feel inspired, motivated, or educated? Do you want your story to transform people or how they shop? Will they save more money or switch to your brand completely?

No matter the takeaway, if your story can connect with people on an emotional level and create authentic relationships, it will help you generate brand loyalty. Brand story coach, Celinne Da Costa, writes that “the strongest stories tap into people’s emotions, genuinely connect with them, and help them believe in a business and what it stands for.”

A good story is an investment and it will take time to define it. However, it’s worth the effort. A tale well told reaches people and encourages them to go deeper to get to know your brand.

Amplifying & Distributing Your Brand Story

While the brand story you crafted above may only live on an about page on your website, it should generally inform everything else your brand does. Because everything from your product packaging to your in-store merchandising impacts how people feel and think about your brand.

Neil Patel notes several ways you can amplify your brand story, including being active on social media, getting customer reviews and testimonials, and communicating your story through interviews and guest articles.  

Fourpost uses Instagram to help tell our brand story:

And if you operate a brick and mortar store, your brand story should come across there as well. There has to be a reason behind the products you sell, your store layout, and your customer experience for people to be emotionally invested enough to visit and shop. Your storefront should be an immersive experience that tells that story.

Forbes Communications Council member, Jeniffer Bello, says that “from the moment a customer walks into a store, the brand should not only be seen, but felt, and experienced with all the senses. The layout of the space, the logo and material placement, personnel, and overall aesthetics should be combined to better represent the company’s core principles.”

Your employees are a big part of that in-person experience and storytelling. They’re the communicators for your brand and need to be trained to tell your brand’s story. If you maintain free-flowing and honest relationships with your staff, they, in turn, should be able to form authentic connections with your customers.

And your customers are a part of the story as well. They are telling it for you when they talk about your brand to other people. While you can’t control the way that narrative, the right storytelling will impact people and influence them to speak positively about your business or products. Plus, you should always be listening for when a customer is telling someone how your product changed their life. Hearing stories from your community can help you craft and distribute an even more compelling narrative.

Customers at Fourpost Minneapolis

3 Examples of Compelling Brand Stories

While there are a lot of brands with compelling stories, not all of them harness the power of storytelling. The ones that do become household names and create customer loyalty. Here’s how three major brands continue to build and iterate on their successful stories.

How Starbucks Created a Lasting Brand Story

Brand expert, Bernadette Jiwa, claims there’s a reason people drive out of their way past 7-Eleven and Dunkin’ Donuts enroute to Starbucks to pay triple the price for a cup of coffee.

As a young man, the executive chairman of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, fell in love with the coffee culture in Milan, Italy. He left Milan brimming with purpose: to replicate its coffee experience in the United States. His vision was to design a coffee shop people cherish. He wanted people to come to his cafe to not only drink a hot latte on a freezing day, but to decompress, banter, and enjoy quality time. He wanted his future consumers to consider his coffee shop a ‘third place between work and home.’ But his partners were underwhelmed and wanted to focus on different areas of the business. So Schultz set out on his own and two years later ended up buying his former partner’s business, turning it into the Starbucks we know today.

His story resonates because it “hits on the three dimensions of authentic brands, defined by marketing professor Julie Napoli as: heritage, sincerity, and commitment to quality.” Author and communications advisor, Carmine Gallo, continues, ”your customers want to know where a product comes from or what inspired it.”

Starbucks continues to deliver that story and those values to their customers. Over forty years later, they’re still importing some of Milan’s ideals to America. Starbucks now owns and is in motion to expand Milan’s famous bakery, Princi, stateside. This proves that Schultz’s first visit to Milan along with his initial goals are still a story worth telling.

How Nike’s Divisive Storytelling Deepened Brand Loyalty

Nike made a bold decision to have former NFL quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, appear in their recent “Just Do It” branding campaign. The ad sparked both outrage and praise as it thrust the major sportswear brand into the political spotlight by including Kaepernick, who started a wave of national anthem protests among NFL football players. 

 While some of their customers posted videos of them burning their Nike shoes and swearing off the company forever, they actually drove up sales and deepened loyalty with their most critical customer segment. CBS News showed that since the ad was released, their market value has increased by $6 billion.

Jonathan Crowl says in Skyword’s blog that this brand story was meant to appeal to Nike’s younger consumer segment, which features more minority and left-leaning consumers. “Rather than roll out a brand story that aims to please all of its consumers without ruffling any feathers, the company made a calculated decision to put its more peripheral customer segments at risk in favor of deepening brand favor and loyalty from among its most valued consumers,” he says.

The takeaway here is that success with brand storytelling depends on how well you know and can speak to your customers. You need to be able to understand what it is about your brand story that drives loyalty. For Nike, their story has long been about empowering their audience to be passionate about what they do—whether that’s taking a political stand or being an athlete.

Plus, the brand is now moving into physical retail in a whole new way, allowing them to reach their audience more intimately than ever. Retail Dive even named Nike’s new members-only store, Nike Live, their Store Concept of the Year. By having a members-only physical location, they are able to both deepen brand loyalty and expand on their brand story.

How Tesla’s Brand Story is Still Driving Success

It’s hard to separate Elon Musk from the brand name he created: Tesla. Integral to his own brand identity, Musk has acted as CEO, spokesperson, and sometimes customer service representative. To prove the power of Tesla’s compelling brand story, here’s a fact that doesn’t make sense. According to Forbes, Tesla fails to meet production targets and burns through billions of dollars a year. If this were any other company, investors would be demanding an overhaul and, at a minimum, accountability.

So how does this company survive let alone thrive? Because Tesla is more than a car manufacturer: it’s a vision for the future. It’s more of an aspirational brand than a typical car company. Tesla is more famous for its ideals than its product. In fact, many of the company’s biggest supporters have never even owned a Tesla. However, they like its ideals and act as brand ambassadors. And Musk puts his brand story front and center, often on his Twitter account. He engages personally with Tesla owners who have complaints. He sees to it that his customers’ issues are addressed. Sure, Musk has made costly mistakes, tweeting in August 2018 that his company was going private. But overall, he’s created a phenomenon just by having an idealistic perspective, strong story, and a bold, confident persona to tell it with.

Go Forth & Share Your Brand Story

Remember that when you’re creating a brand story, you’re building something special with many moving parts. Be patient with yourself as you uncover your strategy. Remember, your brand story may take a while to come to you. Be empowered by the knowledge that you are bringing something to market that may delight the populace and even improve and enrich people’s lives. Now, go share your story with the world!