My life changed that summer of 1992.
My red hatchback unbearably void of air conditioning was blaring side two of a borrowed and never returned R.E.M. cassette, and through the open windows, I could feel the temperature dip slightly as I turned out of the artichoke fields of Castroville and down the valley, into the warm sea salt air blowing mercilessly across the Monterey dunes.
The ink on my bachelor’s degree was barely dry, and I was about to begin my new job as a junior copywriter for Monterey Life magazine.
I pulled into the parking lot of my new office and took my seat at the token junk desk piled haphazardly with papers and plunked awkwardly in the hallway. The sound of barking sea lions in the distance formed the welcoming choir as I sat down at the desk I would call home for the next two years. My lifelong love affair with words had finally become my career.
Storytelling then, and to this day, remains one of the skills I am most fiercely proud of. And yes, I realize I just ended that sentence with a preposition, don’t judge.
I didn’t realize on that day how many curves my career would take, but one thing slowly became apparent, writers were redundant. Newspapers were starting to close, magazines were cutting staff, the internet had yet to hit the scene, and my young, adventurous soul quickly found passion elsewhere as I moved from writer, to production assistant, to designer and eventually on to art director and creative director.
That hot summer of 1992 and my dream of being a world-renowned writer was a career that might have happened if only I had been born two decades sooner.
A writing renaissance.
I never imagined that 20 years later, writers would make such an epic comeback. Just like Travolta in Pulp Fiction, writing has once again become cool.
Writing, you question? Will we find people brooding in exotic dark cafes, sipping martinis and ruminating on life with a small celebrity gathering, akin to the days of Hemingway? Sadly, no. This writing is adapted to our era, and it’s even called a different name.
Everyone is asking for it. Companies want content. It’s needed everywhere—Instagram, Facebook, Linkedin, YouTube, Google, websites, blogs, press releases, the list goes on.
To help with content, a slew of people have emerged. Digital marketers, YouTubers, content marketers, bloggers, storytellers, influencers. These content creators, at their core, need to be extremely proficient at one specific thing, the very one thing we don’t list in their job titles—you got it, writing a story.
A content creator who sucks at telling a story is going to suck at creating results. You can’t create Google Ads without writing great ad copy. You can’t post blogs without writing engaging articles. You can’t make videos without writing great scripts. You can’t make websites without writing engaging copy.
To be blunt, content without a great brand story just means your marketing will be shit.
What is brand story?
So let’s get to the good stuff. Brand story weaves throughout your entire company, and like all good yarns, it has to have what writers call a hero’s story.
In a book or movie, a hero story goes like this: The hero is impelled to go on a journey or adventure, but on the journey has to overcome some kind of obstacle or evil threat. This causes the hero to have a life altering transformation, and being a changed person, returns to help their fellow humans and represent an ideal. If you’ve watched any of the zillion Marvel movies, you’ve seen this concept in action.
Now let’s bring it into your company.
To do so, you must make a clear stand against an evil force or wrongdoing in the world. You believe that what you are doing stands in opposition to how things are done. You stand for something.
Your customer, the hero, is fighting against the same evil force, and because you both stand for the same thing, you become a champion of your customers’ values. By enabling the customer to associate with something of meaning, your company becomes the beacon that helps them on their journey. You help the hero succeed.
Brand story is the narrative that encompasses the passion, values and feelings that your business creates. It is relatable, authentic and unique only to you.
How do I develop a brand story?
First, you must start with your purpose and values (because hero’s have values, okay). This set of values is your north star, your guiding principles, and will state what you stand for and what you are passionate about. They often touch on pain points in your industry and can be things like: “We believe in using local products.” Or, “We build genuine relationships.”
Second, you must be willing to present your values without compromise throughout your company. You need to walk the talk. If you say you only use local products, is your staff local? Was your office furniture made locally?
If you say you build genuine relationships, do you care about your customers? Do you make time for employees? Do you invite people out for coffee? You can’t state a value without truly believing and championing that value throughout your entire organization.
Third, here’s where that pesky writer person comes into play—you have to write a story that states your values in a dynamic way so people who believe the same thing as you can find their way to you. The story must convey passion for what you are doing.
In your brand story, you have to find a way to craft a tale about the evil threat a customer is facing. Maybe they are a local business who want to fight against huge corporations, or maybe they have been dealing with other businesses who never care about their needs and it’s impacting their company in a negative way.
Your brand story lets people know that you and your customer are on the same team, fighting the same fight, and this bonds you together. It attracts people who have the same values as you, and draws in people who want to rally and champion for the same things as you.
You need a brand story, not content.
Content is cheap and easy. But brand story, that’s pure gold.
Businesses who use the power of storytelling to create a unique dialogue with their customers in a way that is relatable and engaging will forge connections with people, and those connections lead to a loyal following.
It doesn’t matter what you believe or what you stand for, what’s important is that you passionately support and stand by your convictions, because trust me, there are others out there who believe what you believe.
Imagine working with people who you relate to, who you believe in, and who believe in you. Think how different business would be if we all told our own unique brand story and stopped being like everyone else. If we weren’t afraid to throw our ideals out there, and stick to them.
Not everyone will agree.
Some customers might leave you. For example, when we decided it would be okay to be a bit rebellious and let out the occasional swear word into our own brand story, we actually had customers complain.
And you know what, we were okay with that. If they didn’t like who we were as people, if we couldn’t be genuine and not hide the fact that we aren’t perfect (well all of the time), how could we like each other while doing business together?
By telling authentic brand stories, what we are actually doing is creating tribes of people who all stand by and support each other. We are champions for each other and feel more connection and passion to what we do for a living and who we do business with.
Telling a good brand story does more than gain you customers, it connects our very disconnected world in a way we haven’t done in decades. Stories are once again a way to bring people together around the campfire and relate to each other. We are causing people to lean in and listen.
Better companies. Relatable companies. That’s what a brand story can do for the ones who are brave enough to put themselves and their values out there. The pen is back as the weapon of choice in the marketing world, and this new revolution of brand storytelling has given rise, once again, to the writer.
When I left that first job, I forged out to find different paths in the creative world. I eventually did get a car with air conditioning, but I never did return that cassette.
One thing did change since that summer of 1992 though, besides my big hair and blue eyeliner—that career that I believed I was born 20 years too late for—it’s now kind of a big thing.