The Four Dimensions of Brand Storytelling: A Framework to Generate Story Ideas

In our competitive world, good products and services have become the standard. One day, I could be buying Ikea bookshelves, the next I may fall in love with Article’s new storage collection. As innovative companies continue to emerge, customer loyalty will waver. In this environment, how does one keep customers coming back? Brands must shift their focus from stats to stories if they want to captivate their audience. Data may sound impressive, but it doesn’t impress people to feel. To move people to action, you need to present your message in a story that fuels emotions and sparks inspiration. But what stories do you tell?

To identify opportunities for narratives, consider the four dimensions of brand storytelling. It’s a framework to generate story ideas. This holistic view will help you realize ways to craft a brand that people can connect with. The four dimensions are knowing yourself, your customers, your partners, and your champions.

Know Yourself

First, introductions. Who are you (as a company)? If you have a unique founding story, share the details of how it all began. I recently stumbled upon Burt’s Bees Our History page. There, I learned about Burt and Roxanne’s humble beginnings through an illustrated slideshow. With candid photos of their journey and written in an honest voice, I felt as if I was a friend who’s been with them all along the way. Now, when I buy Burt’s Bees lip balm, it feels like I’m supporting a buddy rather than buying from a stranger. Sharing your company’s beginnings is a foundational way to start a relationship with your target audience.

What do you stand for? Why do you exist? In relationships, we all look for a kindred spirit that shares our likes and dislikes, our values and beliefs. Relationships with brands are no different. People tend to establish deep relationships with brands whose values they identify with. Impossible Foods makes plant-based burgers that looks, tastes, and bleeds like ground beef. They could make a commercial about the health benefits of vegetarian patties. Instead, they chose to tell a story about our wondrous world. While I’ve never bought a vegetarian patty in my life, I do care about sustainability. Because this value resonates with me, I want to support Impossible Foods. In my mind, buying from them is an investment in a better world and reflects my values. By declaring your purpose, your brand can convert acquaintances to allies.

Once you’ve established a relationship, you need to maintain it. Good relationships take time and effort. Changes in your organization, whether good or bad, are all opportunities for connecting with your audience. IBM has made a name for themselves with their mainframes and ThinkPads. To respond to a changing world, they repositioned themselves as an innovation service. No more hardware. This is confusing for many people, especially those who grew up owning ThinkPads. So, IBM partnered with InVision to create a documentary that reveals this journey. They shared their process of transforming the organization through design thinking. Through this behind-the-scenes look, viewers gain an understanding, empathy, and admiration for IBM.

Know Your Customers

In a customer-centric world, the most important stories are from those you help. These stories come in many forms. As case studies in Ideo’s portfolio, user stories from Pinterest’s Pinners, customer social posts on Everlane’s Instagram, and more. Customer stories are the key to deepening current relationships and reaching new audiences. When people see the role your brand plays in someone’s life, it is easier for them to imagine how you can also influence their life.

Know Your Partners

To achieve greatness, you can’t go at it alone. Your organization exists because you have smart leadership, hard-working employees, and talented collaborators. Oftentimes, companies think that to portray success, they must conceal internal affairs and put up a facade. But actually, opening up the curtains and sharing more behind the scenes will make people a part of your story. TOMS’s one-for-one business model is this: if you buy a shoe, they will donate a shoe to those in need. Though as consumers, we can feel doubtful and disconnected because we are far removed from the experience. To bridge the gap, TOMS created a virtual reality (VR) experience to help people understand their impact. This VR video tells the heartwarming story of what happens after you’ve purchased a shoe and introduces you to the people you’ve helped.

Know Your Champions

Your champions are those who represent the values that your brand aspires to express. For YETI, fearlessness, adventure, and grit are paramount qualities. Their collection of short films feature inspirational character-driven stories — from a hardworking female pitmaster to a Canadian pro surfer. YETI uses its brand as a platform to give real people a voice, which in turn humanizes their company. They’re not only making the best coolers in the world. They also represent a community of passionate outdoor enthusiasts. By highlighting authentic stories, YETI has grown its brand from a $5-million company to making $250+ in revenue (Source).

When we share stories, we go beyond preaching product features. When we share stories, we offer an experience, a belief. One that solidifies an emotional connection, untouchable by the competition. How can your brand become a more dimensional storyteller? How can your brand be more than a product, beyond the numbers, and influence someone’s life?

Designer obsessed with building brand experiences and drawing positivity.

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