In a 2015 global research work, marketing professor Neil Granitz of California State University Fullerton wrote about the ways in which people interpret their exposure and experiences with brands via narrative processing. These narratives are brand stories. A brand story can build consumer awareness, comprehension, empathy, recall, and meaning—the cornerstones for sustainable business growth.
The world of commerce is changing. Over the past five years, huge global brands that once reigned supreme have lost market share and brand sentiment to small businesses that understand what branding in the new world is all about. Brands like Casper and Walker & Company—the latter recently was acquired by conglomerate Procter & Gamble—know it’s all about creating long-term relationships with consumers. One effective way to create relationships and empathy between your business and consumers is to use your brand story on social media.
Social media offers a good return on investment (ROI) because it doesn’t require an up-front investment. In addition, when done well, social media marketing serves both short- and long-term goals: It can grow both sales and brand awareness.
Follow these tips to find your brand story and use it on social media.
Find your brand story
A brand story connects people to your business on an emotional level. It is your business purpose—why the business exists. The easiest way to determine your brand’s unique story is to ask yourself, “Why did I start this business?” Yes, you wanted to make money, but there was a deeper reason. The deeper reason that inspired you to invest the time and money to create your business will inspire customers to buy your product or service.
The story should be authentic and evoke emotion within consumers. For example, let’s say you sell safety mattresses for toddlers. After your firstborn hurt her back while sleeping, you decided to design the best, safest product on the market. That is the brand story. The brand value is safety, and your brand purpose is to empower parents by helping them protect their toddlers.
Casper, the mattresses company, is a great example of how a brand story can drive a whole marketing plan. Beginning with the name of the company that tells a story, Casper Sleep Inc., this is a story not about mattresses, but about sleeping. The brand focuses on great sleep and how to achieve it instead of the technical details on which other brands focus.
Humanize your brand
People connect with people, so the more human-like your brand, the more people will trust it. In order to grow brand awareness and drive high-quality traffic to your website from your social media posts, you need to create relationships. So, don’t think like a product—think like a person.
Build a brand persona: Decide what kind of person your brand would be, how the brand will tell its story, how your brand will talk and interact with people. Communicate, ask questions, post photos with faces in them. Research has indicated “people pictures” perform almost 40 percent better than posts with no faces in them. Let your brand’s social media followers ask questions, thank them for their support, tell them how you feel.
Post photos and videos that show progress: the first store you opened, Facebook memories, old photos from when the business was only you behind a desk, vlogs of you visiting the site of the first factory you opened. People like to see progress and modesty; they like to see success stories, so show them.
It took years for Coca-Cola, one of the biggest brands in the world, to start performing well on social media. The change for the better started when the brand began posting human-like content instead of product-like content.
Don’t think like a product.
Think like a person.
Know your brand’s customers
Good branding puts customers in the center. If you focus on your customer base and not on your product or service, your social media posts will perform better and drive more sales-ready leads.
Before you embark on a social media spree, you should strategize and define your customer base. Who are they? What social media do they use? What are their values? What are their pain points and needs? What might be valuable knowledge for them? What content can connect them to you on an emotional level?
Just as you want your customers to engage with you, you need to engage with them. Instagram stories are a wonderful way to do it. You can let them ask you questions, or you can ask them questions. Be sure to use UGC (user generated content) from your customers. Run a video contest, best photo contest, share their posts if the post tells a great story that resonates with your brand story. Customers love when a brand they like shares their posts.
Fast-food brand Wendy’s has a well-defined brand personality aligned with the company’s customer base. It is so perfectly manifested in the brand’s social media that the marketing industry can’t stop talking about it.
Connect the points
Social media outlets are part of your brand’s touchpoints. A touchpoint is any connection a customer has with your brand: your website, emails, packaging, newsletters, Facebook posts, YouTube videos, ads, blog posts, and so on.
Your brand story should be the conceptual “connecting rod” between all of them, so use your brand story in multiple places. You can use the same elements or content ideas in different ways that fit the specific media. For example, while on Twitter you can write only short posts, you can use YouTube for the same story in a much longer video.
After you have defined your customers, you’ll know what social media they spend most of their time on, so meet them there. Don’t use Facebook if your customers are on Instagram, for example.
The best thing about using social media as a touchpoint is the two-way immediate conversation you can create with your customers. From posting comments to private messages, you have a one-on-one opportunity to talk with them, understand their needs and wants, and provide personal customer service.
Don’t try to sell
Good social media results happen when you are authentic; when you don’t try to sell. Consumers know how much power they wield, and more than 60 percent of consumers will not return to a brand’s social media page if they have a negative experience even once.
Let’s revisit the safety mattresses example. If your brand value is safety and your brand promise is to empower parents through safety mattresses, your goal should not be to sell mattresses to parents. Your goal is to help them feel empowered, feel they are taking care of their kids’ safety. You want every parent who buys one of your mattresses to feel they did the right thing and to become an ambassador for your brand. You can achieve that only by creating relationships with them. If all your social media posts are focused on your product’s features, your prices, and why you are better than the competition, you will not get a high-quality, sustainable stream of traffic to your website.
Have a persona, be funny, authentic, smart, and valuable. Show statistics relevant to your industry, repost how customers are using your brand’s product or service, post do-it-yourself images and videos, how-to guides, behind the scenes, and so on.
Here is an example of how not selling generates sales: One of my agency’s clients, a cannabis company, used to send newsletters that were all about the product. The client didn’t generate any direct sales from the newsletters until we changed the focus from product to customer needs. Now our client makes direct sales from every newsletter it sends.
Dino H Carter is owner and chief strategist of D Branding, a consultancy helping clients develop unique strategies to grow market share, deepen brand awareness, and sustain growth.