Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Different Look at a Brand Story

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Once a upon... 

... there was a story about your brand. 

Have you heard it?

I was talking to a friend the other day about the football playoff games over the weekend. We talked about our favorite teams - whose won and whose lost. And then he mentioned some of the other teams he was following despite the fact that they weren't "his team." He was following them because of a key player on each of the teams. Why? Because of the players' backstories.

How does that relate to brands and the customer experience? I'm glad you asked. As my friend talked more, I heard how these backstories elicit that personal, emotional connection to the player, which in turn makes him want to cheer for the team. Because of the story, he wants the player (and the team) to do well.

Facts don't persuade, feelings do. And stories are the best way to get at those feelings. -Tom Asacker

I recently wrote about backstories in my Customer Experience Lessons from the Voice blog post. There's a similar scenario with that show as there is with my friend and the football players. In that post, I wrote:

In the customer experience world, there are two types of backstories:
  1. The Customer's Story. Every customer is unique. You can't meet their needs until you understand who they are and what their needs are. 
  2. The Company's Story. Your company's story is its history, its purpose, its reason for being. Everyone, both customers and employees, need to understand the company's story.
As with the artists, these backstories form the foundation for the connection between the customer and the brand.

I need to add another story type here...

3. The Experience Story. This is the story that your customers have about their experience with the brand. They're not always good stories and don't always mesh or align with the company's story or even with their own needs.

While the Company Story indirectly connects the customer to the brand, the Experience Story is a direct connection.

Where the three story types intertwine, that intersection, is pure bliss, i.e., brand and customer are in alignment. Customers are now a part of your story! Make sure it has a happy ending. (I could have probably drawn that intersection a bit larger, but you get the idea.)

The Story Intersection
Here's an example using Apple...

Company Story: I don't really have to explain that story, do I? Steve Jobs. Think Different. Transform the way people do things.
Customer Story: I would mainly describe their customers as people with a need for simplicity in their technology user experience. (Correct me if I'm wrong.) As a result, Apple has made them gadget junkies and early adopters, at least of their products.
Experience Story: Customers go into an Apple store, try products, get great service, learn about and experience products, and then buy them. If they want to learn more, they can call on a Genius to help them. The experience is generally positive, as evidenced by their excellent NPS.
Bliss: Customers love, love, love the products and the brand. These customers are in line outside of Apple stores days in advance of product launches; they have Apple tattoos on their bodies. They are raving fans. The products meet their needs; the experience is awesome; and they are clearly in total alignment with the brand purpose.

Make the customer the hero of your story. -Ann Handley

Key to the story is communication. By definition, a story is a narrative. Customer stories are told through data: attitudinal, behavioral, conversations, etc. They must be shared with the organization in order to ensure customer needs are met. Company stories are typically communicated through advertising, social media, customer interactions, and other methods. The stories convey the brand history, purpose, and promise. They need to be engaging in order to attract the audience, to make the connection. Experience stories are told through surveys, social media, reviews, word of mouth, etc.; they can differ by touchpoint, and it would, clearly, be ideal to have a consistent story from touchpoint to touchpoint.

These stories tend to be compelling and are woven throughout your culture. Your employees need to know, live, and breathe your brand story. They also need to know your customers and understand the customer story. Your customers align with your brand when they know your story, a story that fits well with their own.

Going back to the football conversation that started this post. The backstory is important because it creates a connection. It's not tucked away; it is read and reread. It's shared. The emotions elicited as a result of the story are what create that customer relationship/bond. That bond is what makes people want to see your brand succeed.

Know, though, that these stories don't remain static but evolve over time; brands, however, must stay true to their core values and purpose.

What do you think? Have I convoluted it by breaking it down into these three different stories, or does that make sense?

The goal of business then should not be to simply sell to anyone who wants what you have, but rather to find people who believe what you believe. -Simon Sinek


  1. HEllo Annette
    I like the way that you have brought the three dimensions together. The customer, the company, and the experience. It does occur to me that there is value in breaking the company story into two - the company story which tends to be about revenue, profits etc, and the employee story which is more down to earth. What do you think?


    1. Hi Maz.

      Thanks for your comment! That's an interesting suggestion. I believe the brand story is about the Why (and the How). Why are you in business? Why should I connect with your brand? How did you make me feel?

      The story will inspire and compel customers to connect to the brand. Unfortunately, there's no emotional connection to revenue and profits, unless you're a hefty shareholder. :-)

      Tell me more about your thoughts on this. The employee story is an interesting angle, too. I'm working on a post about employees living the brand - perhaps that's where they tie into the brand story?

      Annette :-)

    2. Hi Annette,
      I think Maz's point about articulating the employee point is interesting and should be included.

      It seems to me that the employee story is important because if your brand is about what you say and why you are in business.... your employees and their story is about what you actually do.


    3. Absolutely agree, Adrian. Thanks for adding your thoughts on this. I think the employee story would be a circle that crosses over the other three and sits behind that triangle. I'll update it in another post in the coming weeks. Glad you both weighed in on this... I am always talking about the importance of the employee experience and should have given them their own props in this diagram.

      Annette :-)

  2. Hi Annette, for me I guess the more the stories overlap (or line up) the more credible they become. And credibility is all important.

    1. Good point, James. I like that thought: the more they overlap, the more credible they become. Easy to digest and right on point!

      Annette :-)