When you meet someone new, what happens? Chances are, you ask them questions in the hopes of learning more about them. Hopefully, they’ll reciprocate by doing the same. You try to unearth their story, and to tell your own (or some of it, at least). The end goal is to connect.
In business, the rules don’t really change. Telling your story is a critical part of building your brand. It helps to shape how people view you and enables consumers to begin forging a connection with your company. Do it right, and you’ll put building blocks in place that will allow you to develop a pretty awesome brand with an equally awesome future, a brand that people buy from simply because they love what you do and what you stand for.
The trick however… is to be authentic. Consumers aren’t stupid. If they think you’re fabricating stories and falsifying your brand they will find out. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But at some point, the truth will come out and the “brand” you built will be in need of some serious damage control if it’s to survive.
Some of the world’s biggest brands are guilty of, shall we say… stretching the truth. Do you remember when PepsiCo’s Naked Juice got caught making claims that the products were “all natural” and “non-GMO”? They ended up agreeing to a settlement that saw them pay out $75 to Naked Juice customers who could provide proof of purchase, and $45 to those that couldn’t. Ouch.
Or how about General Mills, who was called out in 2012 by California consumer Annie Lam for the misleading marketing of their “Strawberry Naturally-Flavoured Fruit Roll-Ups”? Turns out that despite what we (i.e. consumers) would reasonably believe, there was no strawberry in a Strawberry Fruit Roll Up.
Of course, brands of this size can comfortably ride out these kinds of “hiccups,” in part because of cold, hard cash, but also because they produce so many products under their name. If a PepsiCo brand fails, they just launch another. Could you?
I’m guessing the answer is “no.” With that in mind, there are no ifs or buts here: just be 100% honest and genuine, 100% of the time.
Thankfully, for every PepsiCo and General Mills, there are heaps of awesome brands that are telling great, authentic stories. Let’s take a look at 7 brands that really are killing it with their storytelling.
Jewelry brand Dannijo was founded by sisters Danielle and Jodie Snyder in 2008.
In the years since, the brand’s incredible storytelling, combined with a fantastic product (I assume – I’m not big on jewellery myself…) has amassed the pair more than 138,000 Instagram followers and built them a celebrity-packed fanbase that includes Sarah Jessica Parker, Zosia Mamet, and Beyoncé.
When speaking with Fast Company, Danielle explained the sisters’ belief that authentic storytelling is key to creating a successful lifestyle brand. She said companies need to “create narratives that are so compelling to consumers, they want to build your products into their lives.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
So what stories is Dannijo telling, and how is it telling them?
The sisters use Instagram to showcase snapshots of their own lives, alongside lifestyle photos of their products and pics of celebrities (and beautiful non-celebrities) wearing – and rocking – them.
They regularly post inspirational videos: Subjects include “Conversation Pieces,” which translates to casual interviews between one of the sisters and another influential figure, and “Portraits,” which showcase the products to a musical soundtrack that’s right on point. Each of their videos tells its own story, and each one is absolutely true to the brand.
One of my favourite pieces is this – a short, photo-led story which is presented as an infographic and tells us about the people behind the production of some of Dannijo’s products.
But for me… what really makes Dannijo’s content stand out is how Danielle and Jodie are almost always part of the story (if you look at the products themselves, you might even notice the sisters modelling some of them). They are just as much a part of the brand as the products are, and when people buy theirjewellery, they are, in a way, buying a part of these sisters (and in turn, the brand). They know this is key to their success, so as much as possible, they put themselves at the centre of the stories they tell.
Danielle and Jodie are what make the “Dannijo” brand. They feature customers and advocates in the stories they tell, but it’s the sisters themselves that are the beating heart of the company. This goes against what I, and most marketers, will generally tell you: that customers should be at the centre of a brand and the stories a brand tells. I still believe this, but there are exceptions to every rule. Danielle and Jodie aren’t just selling jewellery, they’re selling a lifestyle, a lifestyle that they embody and impart a little bit of with each item they sell.
Conversely, Airbnb is 100% about the customer. How could it not be? Without the customer, there is no product. In this case, the customer is the brand.
For anyone who is not yet familiar with Airbnb, it’s an online marketplace in which homeowners can offer their property, or part of their property, for rent. Travellers then use the site to book a stay in their home. Or at least, that’s the general idea. Today you won’t just find private homeowners on Airbnb – many hotels offer rooms for rent via the site, too.
Regardless, it’s the customer that is the brand. Airbnb doesn’t own or manage properties itself (not as far as I’m aware, at least) – they simply provide a forum for customers to promote and book properties. Most companies still have a product, even if nobody’s buying, but not Airbnb.
Airbnb knows this, and instead of telling the company’s story, it gets its customers to tell their stories. This is so important to Airbnb that they have a whole section dedicated to “Stories from the Airbnb Community.”
The site’s Belong Anywhere section uses imagery and short films to offer a snapshot into the lives of Airbnb hosts and what a guest might expect a stay with them to be like.
Positioning the customer at the centre of the brand – in effect, letting the customer be the brand – is such a key part of the Airbnb philosophy that they even designed a tool that allows customers to create their own version of the Airbnb logo.
I believe this technique works so well for Airbnb not only because it helps consumers to build an affiliation with the Airbnb brand, but because it helps consumers overcome one of the biggest pain points of using a service like this:who are the people I will be staying with, and what will the experience be like?
It’s understandable that first-time Airbnb-ers might feel a little anxious at the prospect of staying in a stranger’s home. I know I would be. But using articles, video, and imagery to show that Airbnb hosts are normal, interesting people, just like the people who stay with them, helps to put the minds of potential guests at ease, and can even help to drum up excitement about the prospect of enjoying a more “authentic” travel experience with the Airbnb brand.
It shouldn’t be hard for a brand with as rich a history as Minnetonka to tell great stories, but not every brand with a tale to tell tells it as well as these guys do.
Minnetonka has been producing quality, comfortable footwear since 1946. Minnetonka is a “quintessential American brand” – an ideology the company has lived up to and remained true to throughout its history, even as the company has gone international. Today they trade in 50 countries worldwide.
It’s clear that Minnetonka understands that staying true to its roots is key to building a brand with timeless appeal. Sure, products should move with the times, but wherever possible, what made a brand great – what attracted customers to it in the first place – is the foundation of the brand, and should stay firmly in place.
For Minnetonka, that means being a family brand which consumers can trust to supply them with products that look good, are comfortable, and that will last. It’s about providing quality products that are affordable and accessible to everyone, products that transcend class and generations. Cameron Diaz might wear them, but so do your parents, your neighbours, and your children.
These are the ideologies that the company pushes through in the many stories it tells.
It starts with the company “history,” which is presented as a short timeline and ends with an inspirational movie that delves into the brand’s beliefs and its relationship with the secret of its success – the customers.
It continues with a short article that illustrates a key component of the brand: the quality of the products and materials used to make them. We’re also treated to a short video that takes us through the story of how the shoes and boots themselves are made.
The stories continue onto Minnetonka’s blog, where recipes and style snapshots are supplemented with tales of adventure in which Minnetonka shoes have a starring role.
Body care brand Burt’s Bees began in 1984 when its founders (Roxanne and Burt) met during a chance hitchhiking encounter, hit it off, and started making wax candles together.
Their story makes a little more sense when you learn that Roxanne was an artist and Burt was a beekeeper who was well-known locally for his roadside honey stand.
Today, Burt’s Bees sells a huge range of bodycare products (if nothing else, you’ll probably be familiar with their Beeswax Lip Balm).
Yet, despite the company’s success, the Burt’s Bees philosophy has remained exactly the same: “What you put on your body should be made from the best nature has to offer.”
I’d have high hopes that such a quirky, caring brand would have some great stories to tell, and Burt’s Bees doesn’t disappoint.
In place of an “About” page, the company has a whole section dedicated to enlightening customers on what the brand is about and what it stands for.
Its “history” is told through a stunning timeline that’s heavy on the pictures and light on words. The “purpose” page explains the brand’s ethos. It shows how Burt’s has achieved Carbon Neutral Certification, and enlightens customers as to how their packaging is as sustainable as the products it contains.
The stories the company tells seep through onto social media, in particular YouTube. It uses video to educate consumers not only about the Burt’s Bees brand, but also about one of the key ingredients in the brand’s success: the bees.
If you only watch one of their stories, make it “Burt Talks to the Worker Bees.”
The Burt’s Bees brand is about being 100% transparent. The company is proud of the ingredients it uses and the products it makes, and it shows. Burt’s uses storytelling as a mechanism to help customers buy into the company’s philosophy: that we should treat our skin, and the world with care. I think it’s working.
Nike has understood and has been leveraging the power of a great story longer than most people have been online. In 1999, the brand released a one-minute “commercial” that commemorated the career of Michael Jordan.
Despite being commissioned by Nike, there was no mention of the brand until the film’s closing seconds in which, over a school photo of Michael, the brand’s slogan “Just Do It” appeared, followed by the classic Nike logo.
This couldn’t have been more different from most commercials at the time, which tended to lean towards the “sell, sell, sell” principle. I get that. Commercials weren’t viewed online, they were viewed on television sets, and TV real estate was (and still is) very expensive. Wouldn’t a two-second mention of a brand in a one-minute ad be a waste?
But Nike knew better than to push its brand down consumers’ throats. It understood that what would really make a lasting impression, and what would help build the brand and allow the company to sell more products in the long-term, was an authentic story.
This ethos has held up even today, and is arguably what makes Nike one of the greatest brand storytellers of our time. Nearly everything Nike does is accompanied by a backstory.
The launch of FLYEASE, an “easy-entry footwear system designed to help athletes on the go and of all abilities perform better” was joined by a video and article that told “The Flyease Story“, the incredible tale of how the shoe came to hit shelves.
This charming comic strip recounts the history of one of Nike’s most iconic items of apparel: the Windrunner Jacket.
This video round-up charts “the year in Nike films” – in other words, it’s a collection of Nike’s 2015 promotional videos accompanied by a written commentary that describes the whats and whys of each film.
And yet Nike doesn’t just tell its own stories: the company is pretty passionate about giving others a voice, as well.
This article and photo gallery give an intimate insight into Amsterdam’s elusive street football scene…
…while this video explores how NBA player Kyrie Irving found the strength to get back in the game following a serious knee injury.
It’s safe to say that Nike is really killing it with brand-driven storytelling, and while it would be fair to argue that it’s easy for the company – that it’s the biggest brand on this list by far – that doesn’t mean we all can’t learn from the stories it tells and how they are presented.
I love to see brands take steps to become more socially-conscious. I really love to see brands that build an entire business model on giving back to communities and making a genuine difference to the lives of those that live in them.
Krochet Kids is one of those brands.
Non-profit Krochet Kids produces simple, high-quality, hand-crafted, and affordable items of clothing and accessories including t-shirts, hats, and bags. But there’s so much more to get excited about with this company. It uses a “unique model” to “empower the women of Northern Uganda and Peru with the assets, skills, and knowledge to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.” What’s more, it knows the name and story of each and every individual that is employed to produce its products.
The result is “long-lasting and sustainable change.”
Krochet Kids tells its own stories, and the stories of the people that work for the company. As we’d expect, the company’s history makes for pretty interesting reading. It began with a shared passion for snow sports and of course, crochet.
But there’s a lot more to this brand than its founders.
Each item comes with a label that’s signed by the person who produced it. Customers can then go and find that person’s profile, see their picture, and read their story.
Best of all, customers can continue the story by thanking the people who made the product and sharing a little about the life that item leads now. Take a look at the comments on Adelaida Mato Tolentino’s story to see what I mean.
The stories continue off-site, too. The company has a strong presence on Instagram, but where it really shines is on YouTube. Its videos add more chapters to the brand’s stories by telling us more about the products, the brand’s philosophies, and how the work and education provided by Krochet Kids has helped to empower people and transform the lives of the workers, and in turn, their families and communities.
What I think is so fantastic about Krochet Kids, along with how the company helps transform lives, is how each and every employee is an integral part of the brand. The founders themselves are loud and proud about the company and its achievements, but it’s the people who produce the products that really matter to Krochet Kids. Consequently, the manufacturers are given just as much, if not more prominence as part of the Krochet Kids brand.
Without the people that produce the products, there would be no brand. Not literally – it could outsource production to any old sweat shop and still have a brand of sorts – but Krochet Kids is what it is because of the fantastic faces behind it and how everyone gets the chance to tell their tale.
SuperJam’s story began more than 10 years ago when founder Fraser Doherty was just 14. Despite his age, he had masses of entrepreneurial drive and was clearly destined for great things. While most teenage boys were playing computer games and chasing girls (don’t look at me…), Fraser would spend his evenings and weekends cooking up jam, which he then sold to people in his home town of Edinburgh.
Fast forward 10 years, and “SuperJam” – and Fraser himself – are international successes, with many great stories to tell.
SuperJam’s “about” page features a no-holds-barred timeline that chronicles the twists and turns of the brand’s road to victory. Spoiler alert: SuperJam’s SuperHero packaging was a no-go (sadly).
But it doesn’t stop there.
Fraser is not one to shy away from the camera. Consequently, the SuperJam blog is jam-packed (pun intended) with brand-driven tales that detail Fraser’s latest achievements and recount his most recent adventures.
This post about SuperJam’s success in South Korea shows exactly what I mean.
Fraser also has a site dedicated solely to “Fraser the brand” (aka “Jam Boy”) and has even written a couple of books – get yourself a copy of “Super Business” if you want to read his story in full.
Just like with Dannijo, SuperJam is about much more than the product – it’s about the people that are the driving force behind the brand – in this case, Fraser Doherty, or “Jam Boy”.
To sum up, a great story is powerful and moving. It has heart and soul. But not every brand story will meet this criteria. The stories you tell don’t all have to move people to laughter or tears, they just have to be authentic, to be open and honest. Show that your company and your customers are real people with real stories to tell.