Humanspeak series: Part 2 – Brand storytelling

In this series we provide insights into how to create more effective, compelling communications by humanizing the language of your brand. If you haven’t already, check out Part 1: From diatribe to dialogue: deeper human (and brand) connections start with meaningful conversation.

 

Part 2 – From functional to emotional: Cement brand choice, advocacy and loyalty through the power of a good story

 

Last week I needed to buy a new shirt.

I needed to buy a new shirt for all the functional reasons middle-aged guys like me need to buy new shirts.

Winter was here. Time to put the black t-shirts and summer polos back in the closet.

Covid was waning. Time to leave the Zoom world behind and see friends and clients in the flesh again.

My old shirts didn’t fit anymore. But for the first time in years, my shirts didn’t fit anymore for a good reason: I’ve recently lost a bunch of weight (50 pounds and counting).

Now when you’re fat like I was, clothes shopping wasn’t something you looked forward to. It was a necessary evil, smothered in shame and lathered in regret. I would buy mass-made, ill-fitting clothes with increasingly more “X’s” in front of the size “L” I wore up until my mid-thirties.

But last week was different. I was feeling better about myself on the inside. And now I wanted to reflect that feeling on the outside. It was time for Skinnier Pat to get some new duds.

I share this story because, as a consumer, the weight loss changed more than my waistline; it transformed my purchasing behavior. I was no longer looking to buy crappy, shapeless, nameless shirts. I wanted to invest in a wardrobe that fit me—fit how I was feeling about myself. Fit how I wanted the world to perceive me. And most importantly, fit how my young son looked up to me.

Emotional reasons had replaced functional reasons. And because emotions were driving the shirt-buying bus, I set out to find a clothing brand whose story connected with mine on a deeper level than size, style and thread count.

What exactly is a brand story? And how can yours move audiences to choice, advocacy and loyalty?

Like the term “conversational” in our last Humanspeak post, “story” is another one of those ubiquitous buzzwords marketers (and brand-makers like me) use every day.

And for good reason. Storytelling is our most primitive, and still most effective communications tool. Stories help us influence, teach and inspire. Stories convey culture, history and values. Research shows our lizard brains light up when experiencing a good story. I say “experiencing” rather than “telling” or “hearing” because the most powerful stories immerse us. We are transported into their worlds—seeing a piece of ourselves reflected in the hero’s journey.

It’s a subtle nuance for sure: experiencing vs. telling. Because when it comes to connecting with your audiences on an emotional level, it’s the difference between “casual looky-loo” or “loyal follower. It’s the distinction between “tell me more” or “not for me.” It’s the distance between “like” and “love.”

But while we understand the benefits of brand storytelling, let’s get down to brass tacks. “Brand story” sounds kinda squishy—soft and fluffy. At Monigle, our clients expect a tangible combination of right brain/left brain deliverables. Research insights and strategic platforms. Design systems and messaging playbooks. Guidelines and production-ready files. Experience principles and signage programs. What exactly does a brand story deliverable look like for modern marketers? Depends on who you ask.

Some call it a narrative or manifesto. Others call it the totality of your interconnected brand experiences. Recently, my Verbal team colleague, Kae Penner-Howell, did a brilliant job articulating what a brand story is, why it benefits customers and employees alike, and the step-by-step process we use to cement emotional connections with both.

We’ll get to that in a minute, but first, are you ready to experience a jaw-dropping brand story? Get your tissues ready. Let’s rejoin my skinnier self on the quest to find the perfect shirt.

 

This week I fell in love with a story (for a brand who happens to make shirts).

I had no idea how many men’s clothing brands there are out there. Website click after website click, five patterns emerged from my selection process:

The founders are all in.

You’re not dealing with faceless corporations when it comes to bespoke menswear. The founder’s fingerprints are everywhere. Their voices shine through communications. Many even model their brand’s clothing.

All are passionate about what they do.

Making shirts isn’t just a job for them. It’s their life’s work, and they’re proud to tell you all the reasons why they’re inspired to do what they do.

Quality and craftsmanship reign supreme.

I’m used to wearing cheap shirts and throwing them in the garbage when they wore out. Not these brands. They nerd out on the details. Where they source their fibers. Why they hand-forge their buttons. How their only hire professional seamstresses dedicated to the art and science of proper clothing construction.

They pay it forward with purpose.

One brand’s working to reforest the Brazilian rainforest. Another is rebuilding oyster beds off the coast of New England. There’s admirable altruism at work here. It’s easy to get swept up in their causes, and feel good about your purchase beyond getting a great new shirt out of the deal.

Their brand stories fall flat.

They fell flat because they each made the same mistake well-meaning, but poorly constructed brand stories make: they placed their brands as the hero at center of their story. Their stories read like history lessons. Where they started. How long they’ve been in business. What their hopes, dreams and desires are. Me, me, me, me, me. Not you, you, you, you, you.

Remember what we discussed earlier about great stories being immersive experiences? That means the main character in your story is not you. It’s your customer. Your customer must be the hero to achieve that all-important emotional connection. Your brand serves as the hero’s guide.

Learn more: Human brand: Guiding principles

So while I felt good about all the menswear brands out there, and am positive I would’ve been satisfied with any of their shirts, the sea of sameness kept me from clicking “Purchase.” I craved that deeper emotional pull. My search for love continued. Then I ran across a brand called Rowan. By the time my goosebumps subsided, I couldn’t punch the “Expedited shipping” option fast enough after devouring their brand story:

 

Rowan began as a conversation about fatherhood

 

We asked ourselves: what did we want to leave behind

and what kind of lessons did we want to teach?

 

We wanted to create something that felt

like a love letter from a father to a son.

A time capsule.

Ours is a generation-spanning love story

founded on the principle that wisdom guides us towards legacy.

It’s a physical reminder that every day counts for something.

 

We are designed for purpose.

Our garments are the highest of quality.

They’re rugged yet soft, luxurious, and responsibly made.

Worn in just enough for you to leave your own mark.

 

Actions speak louder than words. 

Part of the reason we started Rowan was
to support and model healthy fatherhood, even if we all aren’t fathers yet.

 

Because all of us leave a trail behind.

 

Our footprints.

Our words.

Our actions.

 

Our sons and daughters will soon discover these things.

 

But what will they remember of our character?

  

Wow, just wow. Right?

As a skinnier man I needed a new shirt. But as a father—and one who has his own complicated history as a son—I felt my story interwoven into the fabric of Rowan’s. I didn’t become a father until my mid 40s, mostly because my father and I had a distant, strained, self-sabotaging relationship. Just like the one he had with his father, and their fathers before them. I wanted to be the last link in that chain. I didn’t want that to be my legacy. Until years later I decided to start a new one.

The founder of Rowan’s story is no different. Yet the way he shares it isn’t so much about him. It serves as a mirror for other broken sons who became fathers to find their footing on shaky ground. The more I dug into their website, the more impressed I was at how well the Rowan brand infuses their story into every expression, touchpoint and experience.

Start with their name.

Turns out “Rowan” is the founder’s son. He started the brand while his wife was still pregnant. I love how their URL (forrowan.com) subtly cues optimism and dedication to his unborn son.

Move to their identity.

A hand drawn, scripted logo wordmark feels both personal, immediate and committed. Color palette is masculine and grounded, with pops of optimistic colors as flavoring. Photography style is professional, but not slick. It feels worn in and comfortable, like their clothing. And their voice sounds earnest and proud, spoken by a father gaining confidence in his parenting.

Finish with their video.

This one’s just flat-out raw and brilliant. Crushing and uplifting. Zero mention of their clothing. Just a slow pan of the founder’s young son walking around outside, falling, getting back up again, finding his balance. It’s narrated by his father in the form of an answering machine message left for his estranged father. There’s a palpable blend of regret and yearning in his voice. But also forgiveness and hope.

Learn more: 13 ways for a company to cultivate a strong brand voice

Rowan’s story works because of its immersive quality.

Everything I do I do for my son, including losing weight. By far the best part of my day is when I pick him up from school. I see him, he sees me and comes running into my arms. When he sees me there waiting, reliable and steady on good days and bad—and when he recalls these moments years from now when he too becomes a father—I want him to feel proud. I want him to remember his dad as someone who felt confident and comfortable in his own skin and the clothes he chose to wear that reflect those emotions.

But it also works because it follows a proven—and measurable—path.

The one my colleague Kae’s spearheading here at Monigle. A process and a deliverable that once sounded confusing and ill-defined, now has structure and shape:

  • We start with your brand’s foundational essentials (insights, ethos, values, core differentiators, purpose)…
  • Filter them through classic storytelling narrative components (hero, villain, setting, conflict, resolution)…
  • Up the emotional ante through knockout copywriting
  • Radiate your story outwards from the reader’s perspective into every brand touchpoint and experience.

Your story starts out as a story. A strategically-sound, beautifully written one, words on paper. Then it takes on a life of its own, as every good story should.

Next week I will need something else.

Healthcare. A new bank maybe. Internet provider, financial planner or clothes for my growing son. While some of these purchases will undoubtedly have an element of function to them (hey, sometimes a gallon of milk is just a gallon of milk), emotional connections bonded through immersive storytelling will drive which brands I come back to the week after and the week after that.

 

Interested in learning more about verbal identity and how it represents your brand? Start a conversation with us here.