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More than the visuals: Using storytelling to build a strong brand

November 2019

Given that we’re designers, you’d be forgiven for thinking that we prioritise the visual over everything else when it comes to a brand. And while you’re not wrong that we love beautiful and functional design, we recognise there’s something even more important than the visuals – and that’s your story.

– Sarah Delany, Creative Director at Mount Deluxe

When people hear the word ‘brand’, they normally think of the visual. Your company’s logo, or the way that logo is used on your business cards, website, or brochures. But your brand is so much more than a great looking logo – it’s what someone feels or thinks about when they hear your name. It’s the story that they tell their friends about you. Getting them to tell the story you want comes down to so many things – your customer service, whether you've delivered on your promises, how easily they bought your product or service.

From what your marketing department, right through to your front-line staff, every experience they have with your business builds that story for them. However, what unites all those things (if you've done it well) is your brand story. How well you tell this story – both internally and externally – is key to helping your customers shape the story that they tell.

So how can you best tell that story to connect with your customers, engage your team, and build a strong brand?

Put your story first

At Mount Deluxe, we’re designers – so you’d be forgiven for thinking that for us, the visuals come first. But we’ve learned over the years that without a strong story, the visuals will never have the impact they could - or should. Understanding that, we now work with our clients to develop their brand story before we ever start on their design deliverables.

But why is it so important that a story comes before a visual brand? It’s all about going back to marketing 101: put your audience first. To engage your audience, it’s vital that you describe what matters to them – that you connect with what they care about. They won’t care about your business unless they understand how it relates to them – and your story is one of the most effective ways to show them why your brand matters.

A great suggestion of how to approach telling your story first is in Heather Pemberton Levy’s book Brand, Meet Story:

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Stories are incredible because they get you to feel. When you hear a story, your brain actually lights up. An emotional hook or trigger produces oxytocin in your brain. That helpful little neurochemical fosters trust, openness, compassion, and empathy – all pretty great things for people to associate with your brand! It’s vital to bring your story to the forefront of your brand if you’re wanting to have an impact.

Get personal

People do business with people they like. Likewise, people connect with brands that feel like real people. Founders always have great brand stories because they can talk about their own personal struggles, adventures, and achievements – things that people can relate to and connect with. If you’ve built a business, there’s always a story to tell.But even if you’re not a founder, there’s no reason that you can’t have a strong brand story. It’s all about finding that 5% magic that makes your brand special, and sharing that in an authentic way. Just think about the way that Eat My Lunch have connected with Kiwis so strongly. They’ve had a clear message about what makes them different, and shared content that comes across as authentic and well-meaning. They understood that Kiwis want to help – and that if they made it easy to do good, Kiwis would jump on board.Your business can do the same. If you understand your audience, and are prepared to get personal, you’re bound to connect with them. It’s all about building bonds, not brands – there’s no need to shout when you’ve built real connections with the people that you’re trying to help.

Start looking internally

When it comes to connecting with the right kind of people, a brand story can play double duty. A great brand story will not only help you attract the right customers – it will also help you attract the right team members.As Brea Weinreb shares in this blog for Glassdoor, “Ultimately it’s your brand story that informs prospects of what kind of company you are. You need to convey the best aspects of your company via a cohesive brand narrative that communicates what your company stands for and why top talent should join you.”A strong brand story should appeal to your customers – but it should also tell potential recruits who you are as a company, and show them whether they want to work with you or not. Use your brand story to weed out the people who don’t connect with it and discover the people who do. (And as an added bonus, going through the process of creating your brand story with your current team is an awesome way to get them engaged too!)

Create big personality from deep understanding

We have a customer who had an amazing product but had a fairly uncool, old-fashioned brand that was getting a bit dated. They were struggling to compete at the level they wanted to and it was obvious that they needed a visual refresh. It also quickly became clear that they needed more than just a visual update though. They needed to tell their story.We took them through the process of finding and articulating their story, then helped them develop the visual elements needed to portray their story and bring it to life. The result? A brand full of personality, with a team who feel engaged and confident to play at the level they need to. They’re excited about the brand, pitching to bigger customers, and making more sales.I wholeheartedly believe that they couldn’t have achieved that if they hadn’t taken the time to go through the process with us and really dig deep into who they are, what makes them different, and what their story really is. Not only was the end result undoubtedly better, but going through the process collaboratively with the team helped them to gain alignment and make some of the intangible ‘stuff’ about their business more tangible.Great stories come from a deep understanding – and for us, there’s nothing better than gaining that deep understanding of our clients.Creating an engaging brand story is a fantastic way to transform your brand without actually changing that much. A strong brand story, combined with an engaging visual brand, will help you communicate that 5% magic – that gold that makes you special. So instead of jumping straight into the visuals, next time consider whether you are telling your story effectively first.