How To Tell A Great Brand Story With Ann Handley of MarketingProfs

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately around what my title – Brand Journalist – actually means. My mom will tell you that it’s a sign of the times, all of these fancy new job titles being created for roles that didn’t even exist 10 years ago. To me, it means documenting anything and everything that happens within PostBeyond. Telling our brand story, if you will.

The notion of storytelling for brands isn’t a new one. In fact, back in my PR school days, we were told never to use the word “pitch” and instead, to call it a “story” – which I think is a bit of a stretch.

But that said, I do think brands have a story to share. And I think we’re in a time where there’s lots of language around stories, content, brand journalism, or what have you, that can easily become overwhelming, and indeed, misleading.

Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs and author of “Everybody Writesexplored the concept of brand storytelling in a piece for Entrepreneur. What is a brand story, and how do you tell it? More importantly, how do you make sure it’s a story worth telling?

Granted, Ann’s original article was published two years ago. But that’s the thing with great advice – it transcends time. Even internet time!

As someone responsible for telling PostBeyond’s story, I’d like to add my two cents to Ann’s advice for brands.

What’s Your Brand Story?

I think most of the hesitation around “storytelling” comes from the idea that it’s twisting the truth. I’ve come to learn that this isn’t the case. Ann put this into perspective quite nicely when she explains:

Storytelling, as it applies to business, isn’t about spinning a yarn or fairy tale. Rather, it’s about how your products or services exist in the world. It’s who you are and what you do for others–how you add value to people’s lives, ease their troubles, meet their needs.

And that’s exactly it! There’s no fluff, no clearly defined “the end” – it’s a constantly evolving telling of your company’s existence that’s grounded in truth. No razzle dazzle.

…Okay, maybe a little bit. Everyone loves some sparkle here and there. Use sparingly.

Ann then tells us there are four pillars that make up a strong brand story:

  • It’s true
  • It’s human
  • It’s original
  • It serves the customer

At its most basic level, your brand story and all associated content should have those four elements at its core. Although your narrative voice may need some refining (for which Ann happens to have awesome tips), it’s important to never lose sight of what the point of your story is.

As resident Brand Journalist, Ann’s outline inspired me to examine our story here at PostBeyond. After all, we’re in the business of helping enterprises get their story out there – we should make sure that ours is sending the right message.

Employee Advocacy: A Short Story

We’re a relatively young company, but with the level of growth we’ve experienced (and the addition of so many amazing new customers), our story is something we’re pretty proud of. We don’t have a long, winding history dating back to 1876 that begins with two brothers creating a product that’s now a household name. Nope.

But we do have the story of our founder coming to Canada, having an idea, and finding the right talent to build that vision.

Since that article was published less than a year ago, our team has more than doubled, we’ve outgrown two office spaces, and our we’re helping great enterprise clients solve communication and engagement challenges at their organizations. We’re constantly identifying new problems that we’d like to help our customers solve.

That’s the true story of how PostBeyond as a company exists in 2016. It’s short and sweet.

But we also think it fulfills those four elements Ann was referring to. Our story is true, human, original, and it helps us communicate with our customers. We try to retain the utmost approachability in all of our content efforts so that this level of trust between us and our customers isn’t ever compromised.

The Future of Work

The pillars that Ann outlined back in 2014 reinforce what we still believe at PostBeyond: there is a growing demand for brands to be more transparent and relatable.

And yet, many enterprises are still struggling with execution here. The idea of creating a perfectly crafted corporate image still persists, despite the world of work becoming more people-focused.

We think that before you think of sharing your story externally, there’s a great deal of introspection that needs to take place.

Your employees make your company what it is, so by including them in the process, you’re telling a more authentic story.

Ann highlights a few strong examples of this through HubSpot and Warby Parker. They involve their people when telling their brand story, and often in a remarkably human way. It isn’t picture perfect, but it helps stakeholders and customers understand how that company operates.

But we’d take it one step further than merely involving them in your story, but actually allowing them to help you tell it outwardly. We think that allowing your employees to share your story using their own voice is one of the best ways to demonstrate trust.

And don’t be afraid of your employees using incorrect brand messaging. Employee advocacy isn’t about parroting a press release or mission statement out to their followers. Besides, that wouldn’t really fulfill the “human” element of a good story, would it?

That’s the whole idea with the Future of Work: we’re moving toward a more connected and people-focused workforce. Including your people is the first step!

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