“Everything in my life has been about sound and making music, so Beats represents just that—the improvement of sound and the dedication to everything I’ve been doing from the day I started.”
In 2006, Dr. Dre and Jimmy Lovine told us the above story when asked what their new headphones and speaker venture, ‘Beats by Dre’ was about. Within 7 years the brand was valued in excess of a billion dollars. Their story, it seems, had struck a chord.
What is a Story anyway?
In our current culture of video on demand and thousands of books on a single device, we’d be forgiven for jumping to the conclusion that stories are only about entertainment. And, in many forms, they are. But, it’s important to remember that since the dawn of time, stories have been used as a means of communication.
In the prehistoric era of cave paintings, the purpose of communication was simple. Stories depicting pivotal moments in a tribe’s history could be passed down to others, teaching a new generation how to hunt and survive.
These days it’s tempting to say that the messages delivered through our stories do not carry the same stakes as for our prehistoric ancestors. But, we only have to look at the prevailing media trends over the last few months to prove that the stakes, while different, are just as high.
‘Lest We Forget’, ‘We Will Remember Them’, ‘Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives’. How are we to convey any of these societal demands other than through storytelling? The last of these is even presented to us a story in three acts—with you as the protagonist!
Before we delve into what makes a brand story, let’s quickly break down how we’ll be defining stories for the benefit of this blog.
In 1949, American professor of literature, Joseph Campbell built on what many previous scholars and philosophers of narratology and comparative mythology had previously suggested in the creation of his monomyth, ‘The hero’s journey’. ‘The hero’s journey’ contends that the great stories of history have many, if not all, of the same characteristics in common. In simplistic terms, those characteristics are:
A protagonist (main character) – answers a call to adventure – crosses a threshold into an unfamiliar world – embarks on a road of trials – wins a decisive victory – and returns to the familiar world having changed.
What makes a Brand Story?
On the surface, it’s easy to dismiss this definition as purely for fictional stories. Surely a good brand story has different requirements to that of its fictional counterpart? Well, yes and no.
Let’s examine the Beats brand story once more to find out just how much they have in common, before going on to highlight their differences.
1. “Everything in my life has been about sound and making music…”
This opening remark hits several characteristics integral to Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. Everything in Dre’s life may have been about making music. But the world of poverty and upheaval he was born into was not conducive to an aspiring rapper.
It wasn’t until he accepted his call to adventure and entered the unfamiliar world of club DJs that he was able to embark on his road of trials. After many setbacks and defeats, Dre experienced his decisive victory when releasing his first solo album, ‘Chronic’—cementing him as a defining and authentic voice in the world of gangster rap.
2. “…so, Beats represents just that—the improvement of sound and the dedication to everything I’ve been doing from the day I started.”
The second part of Dre’s story represents the ascent to the familiar world having undergone change. No longer the kid from Compton, forced to hop from school to school due to gang violence, but a master of his craft.
As Dre roamed his old Compton streets, he saw may of the kids listening to his music through cheap, disposable headphones. He couldn’t lift every other kid up with him. But, thanks to his hero’s journey, he had returned with the skills needed to improve the sound quality of their headphones—and make them feel like they were in the studio with their idols as they listened.
As you can see, our brand stories are effective for many of the same reasons our fictional stories are. So, what are some of the differences?
1. Customer vs Audience
Unlike a fictional storyteller, you do not have an audience, but a customer base. This is a smaller distinction than you may think, but it’s still worth contemplating. When all is said and done, your brand story is only worth a damn if it’s effective in creating an impulse to buy into what you’re selling.
2. Dual Protagonists
As with Dre’s brand story, it’s often beneficial to have a visible and influential brand ‘founder’ as a protagonist. But, you must also keep in mind that brand stories exist for your customers to cast themselves in the role of the protagonist. They are the heroes of their own story and your product/service must be presented to them as a key means for them to progress along their own hero’s journey.
What is its Function?
Brand Stories communicate your brand’s core purpose and beliefs. Now more than ever, consumers are looking for brands that hold up a mirror to their own core beliefs.
It’s no longer good enough to claim that your brand believes in social change, or reliability, or honesty. You must be able to communicate your authenticity in these arenas to your customers. Otherwise, in an era of abundant choice, they’ll take their business elsewhere. A well-crafted, authentic, honest brand story is the most effective way to show your potential customers you’re on the level.
Your brand story is also the best way to keep your message coherent across all platforms. You are likely engaging with customers on a multitude of platforms from Facebook posts, to blog articles, to video content. Each of these platforms requires different content in order to be successful. Your brand story is your anchor—ensuring that your message stays constant and on-brand.
For thousands of years, stories have helped us understand our world and our place within it. They help us find meaning and develop our identity by passing on values that we care about for both our survival and prosperity.
From this perspective, the hero in every successful brand story is not simply you or your brand, but the audience that uses it to contextualise their role within the marketplace and in some cases, within the world as a whole.
Three Milestones on the Journey to Craft your Brand Story
1. What was your inciting incident?
What was the spark that jolted you into finally taking action to create your business? Do your humble beginnings indicate a rags to riches story? Or, are you an anti-hero—forging new ground by tearing down the old order? Identifying your inciting incident or spark moment will help you craft the origins of your brand story.
2. Crossing the Threshold
What was the point of no return for your business? This is the moment you cross from your zone of comfort into the unknown in order to achieve your goals. Perhaps this is a product launch, a make-or-break ad campaign, or an essential personnel hire? Tell your customers how this moment defined your brand and what it stands for.
3. What is your Elixir?
In Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, the elixir is the ultimate prize that the hero returns with at the end of their journey. This is your brand’s gift to the world—if you sell a product, this is your elixir, but it can just as easily be a service or outlook unique to you. Present this elixir to your customers as if it’s the Holy Grail they’ve been searching for their whole lives.
If you would like to discuss how you can communicate your brand story with your customer considerations then feel free to contact us for an initial chat.