Your brand story can help your business attract and connect with customers. Here’s how to write one that works.
Dance Ed Tips founder and CEO Olivia Mode-Cater learned the hard way that the right brand story can change the game for a dance business. “Our COO Lauren Connolly and I had a really challenging conversation a few years back where she said, ‘We’re a whole team of people and yet our brand story says ‘I think this’ and ‘I do that,’” Mode-Cater recalls. “Our brand story needed to reflect that this is a ‘we’ organization, made up of a team of people.”
When Dance Ed Tips switched their pronoun to “we,” they not only saw engagement and followers go up—they also noticed positive changes in how customers talk about the brand.
As Mode-Cater discovered, a well-crafted, sincere and coherent brand story “attracts customers who share our values and ultimately become loyal members of our community.” But what a brand story is can be tricky to define, let alone create. Here’s how to make sure your business is telling the right kind of autobiography—one that’s compelling, authentic and effective.
“A brand story is the narrative of your brand, where you take the strength of your history to create key messages about what your brand stands for,” says Kubi Springer, a branding expert and former professional dancer based in the UK. Springer notes that like any good yarn, a strong brand story shows major characters (founder or founders, the team working at the company, customers) overcoming obstacles to reach the major “plot points” that brought the business to where it is today.
Tan Li Min, founder and CEO of cult dancewear brand Cloud & Victory, says that your brand story should also highlight your enterprise’s philosophy, whether that’s sustainability, inclusivity, a feeling of community or any other core value. Min often relays brand story via content from photo shoots: “I accompany the pictures with captions about what goes on behind the scenes, the planning process, my reasons for choosing to have inclusive shoots, why I believe in ethical products, the message behind the collection, or sharing some information about the models.” According to Min, “Without actually being a hot sell like ‘Buy my product!!’, your brand story should familiarize interested people with who you are and what you do”—and therefore subtly indicate why an individual might want to buy your product.
A word of caution from Mode-Cater: “Successful brands place the customer as the hero of the story. Less successful brand stories position the company or the entrepreneur as the protagonist.” (This, it should be pointed out, is a completely normal impulse. As Mode-Cater says, “You put your heart and soul into your business, so it feels like an extension of you.”) But what’s better, Mode-Cater continues, is to instead portray yourself or your business as the empathetic guide who can help solve a problem faced by your customer. The opener of Dance Ed Tips’ brand story does just this when it says: “As fellow dance teachers, we know the demands of our profession often make talented people feel tapped out, uninspired and alone. Our resources and online events spark dance teachers’ creativity so they can make every class fresh and exciting.”
Your business’ launch process is probably the most natural time to develop your brand story. But it’s never too late to write or change your company’s narrative arc. As Springer asks: “What happens in the middle of the story that changes the characters’ perspective? How do we get to a bigger happy ending?” Min adds that she’s “constantly learning, experimenting, researching and analyzing” how to refine C&V’s brand story.
When you do actually sit down to write, start with your business’ “why,” which Mode-Cater says is often the heart of the eventual brand story: “It can guide the feelings, thoughts and actions you want to evoke when people engage with your brand.” From there, Mode-Cater continues, “state the customer’s problem, position your brand as the solution to the problem, and conclude with a transformational result.”
The most obvious place a brand story should appear is on a company’s website, under “About Us” or “Our Story.” But Min says that the spirit, vocabulary and tone of your brand story should also come through in just about any other text associated with your business, whether that’s on social media or in product descriptions. (A passionate love of pizza, for example, shows up in many a C&V meme, as well as on apparel and accessories.) “People can tell when you’re not being sincere,” she points out, “so finding ways to incorporate pieces of your brand story into product copy and your homepage helps communicate what you’re about.”
The best brand stories make customers feel like the people who run your company are people just like them. “Brand story helps me to foster relationships and build consumer confidence,” Min says.
Mode-Cater, for her part, feels that brand story can expand the scope of your business beyond mere transactions. “Brand story is the narrative that connects our company’s purpose and values with our customers,” she says. “It takes us from selling commodities and offering services to standing for a larger mission that resonates with our audience.”
But a brand story isn’t just for existing and future customers. “Your number-one customer is your team,” Springer says. “The brand story first and foremost needs to live with them, so that everybody who touches the brand at any level knows your brand story.” This doesn’t mean employees have to recite catchphrases by heart, but, rather, that the process of creating your brand story should be as collaborative as is feasible—and that employees should feel inspired by their roles in the narrative arc of your company’s history to date.
It’s simply no longer enough to offer deals and discounts that appeal to new customers’ logical brains. In 2021, dancers are spending money with dance brands that offer a sense of affinity, social or environmental progress, or some other good beyond the good that’s for sale. Your brand story is your chance to establish a narrative that connects what your business offers to the impact dancers want to make with their purchasing power. Like Springer says, “As a business owner, you are a vessel serving your community, here to solve a problem for them. The truth is that people buy from their hearts, and then justify it with their heads. If you don’t have a brand story, what you’re doing is missing that heart space.”
Helen Hope teaches dance and has written for Dance Spirit and Dance Teacher magazines.