‘Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.’ Anthony Bourdain
Anyone can have or develop a brand, but a brand story is more than content or text. It’s a picture you weave with emotions and feelings. A brand story encompasses the facts, together with the feelings that are created for your business. Traditional advertising is about telling people the facts about your business and showing them what you do; a brand story stimulates an emotional reaction.
Businesses succeed because they differentiate themselves; they do this by putting a captivating and interesting story into the mix. Remember, it has to be a true and authentic story to build emotional engagement between the customer and your business.
Advertising used to be based on the flow of information from your business to the customer, but with brand stories woven into the picture, that flow goes both ways. With the growth of social media, your customers are also the co-authors of your brand story, because
they’re creating the conversation that goes both ways.
Remember: people decide on where to go based on the story attached to the business.
Why do we want to weave a story into the fabric of our business to engage with our customers? One of the reasons is that customers will recognise you more easily. They’ll understand your story. People love stories; telling stories develops trust and it appeals to people’s emotions.
Standard marketing will get your message out to your audience, but by creating a brand story, your business won’t be the same as the one down the road – you’ll be able to differentiate from your competitors. Having a story will show the emotional heart of your brand, which the customer can engage with in an emotional and a personal way.
Let’s have a look at what is a brand story – why is it so important?
Firstly, what is a brand story? It’s what people believe about you and your business – about the feelings they get when they interact with you.
Here’s an example for you. If you’ve got an Italian restaurant and your menu lists the food items – spaghetti carbonara, fettuccini marinara, veal schnitzel and pepperoni pizza – this menu tells you what you can order at that restaurant for dinner.
However, if you create your menu in a different way that tells a story, then something different will happen. Say you put on your menu ‘Nonna’s Spaghetti and meatballs’ and have a description that says, ‘This is my Nonna’s recipe that’s been handed down over the years and she uses a special herb in her meatballs.’ As people read through your menu and find stories about the recipes, the customer starts to learn a little bit about you, your business and where the inspiration came for your menu items. They start to develop an emotional connection to your business.
Brand stories are experienced and felt; they’re not just text or content on your website, brochures and menus. It isn’t just facts that you tell people; it’s a complete picture and it encompasses everything from the colours and the textures of the business to your staff. If you start with your story, you’ll build a successful and sustainable business that attracts and creates loyal and true fans, with your brand story as the heart and soul of your business.
‘After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing
we need most in the world.’
Do a little bit of homework about who you are and what your brand identity is; work out what you want to achieve by telling this brand story. Include the history of your brand.
We’ll use the pasta-making example. This could be about how you started making pasta with your Nonna when you were a child. It could be how the family used to cook together every weekend in huge pans to feed everyone. There needs a little bit of history there as to how and why your foodie dream got started, or the inspiration behind it.
Include dates in the story and any quotes or personal anecdotes. Let’s go back to our Italian example. Was there a saying that your Nonna used to use all the time when she was making pasta? Have you got any of those personal anecdotes? Include the motivations behind starting your foodie business.
For example, you are a stay at home mum and you make these amazing savoury muffins for your family and friends. Everyone keeps telling you that you should sell them, as they’re the best muffins that they’ve ever had. This is what has inspired and motivated you to start making them in bulk, taking them down to the markets. You’re getting the same feedback from your customers at the market, so you decided to take the leap and start your own foodie business.
How do you take all that information and weave it into a story that engages your customers and turns them into raving fans? You need to use a little bit of imagination, but also logic and authenticity; there’s no point adding bits and pieces in there if it’s not true, because people will get a feel for what your story is telling them and whether you’re making things up.
Remember: when you’re storytelling, you need to show, not tell.
Depending on your story, you can also tell it from a different point of view. You might not have the Nonna – there may not be that history there. You can look elsewhere for people you can weave into your story. Is there a staff member you can weave your story around? Have you got a barista who is smashing it in the latte competitions, loves their work and is coming up with new ideas about coffee all the time? If you don’t have a story yourself or you’re not comfortable in putting that story out there, weave a story around one of your staff members.
Make it visual; people love to see the face behind the story and think about what you want your customers to think, feel or do by hearing your story.
When your customers have heard your story, what do you want them to feel? What do you want them to do? You might want them to come and try your pies, because they’re your Nonna’s recipes. If possible, tell your customers something personal about yourself that people can connect with. Have you had some drama in your life that has inspired you to
go out on your own? Or has a family member inspired you?
Another good way of storytelling is to weave some suspense into the story, because the suspense always creates the feeling of needing to know more and what happens next. It could be what is your next product is going to be, or what new coffee technique you will be
introducing in the business.
Remember: people will forget what you said. They’ll forget what you did. But they will never
forget how you made them feel.
Tell stories that make people feel – if they feel good, they’ll keep coming back for more. Tell stories that celebrate your culture and your values, then customers will start to distribute your story or product themselves via word of mouth and social media.
Remember, your story needs to add value and significance to people’s lives. How do we do this in an engaging and believable way?
Remember, it’s not about what you say, but how you say it. And by knowing who you are actually talking to, you can adapt your message to them using the language that they understand. Your voice needs to express your values, your culture and your personality.
Make your story distinct to you and your business to make yourself recognisable. Quite often we think about ‘how my brand adds value’. What’s in it for your customer? Here is where you need to make your customer the focus. To connect them to your brand, use words like ‘we’ and ‘us’; use their testimonials and their feedback on Facebook to strengthen your story.
Here’s a question to ask yourself: what does your customer need from you to make their lives better? What service or product can you provide that will make their day? If you ask that question and you don’t know the answer, then you need to work on finding out what that is.
If using local, organic produce is the core of your foodie business, educating your customers about the produce – including the benefits, the taste and using quotes and comments about their improved health – will lend credibility to your product and service. Becoming a ‘thought leader’ on the subject of organic produce and sharing your message, advice and tips (for example, on your website and social media) is what adds value to your customers.
The more content you publish, the more you’ll be seen as a leader in your field, but make sure you balance quantity with quality and ensure your content is authentic. Your key to success is to articulate a story around your brand, how it started, what it’s about and why it matters to you and your customers.
Where it’s heading is the key to your success.