Stories have been the primary tool for connecting people and sharing ideas for thousands of years. And if you want to develop deeper connections with your customers (existing and potential), then brand storytelling is a marketing strategy you’ll want to master.

Storytelling has been a big part of my journey both as a blogger/author and a business owner. So you can imagine my excitement when #SEMrushchat, a weekly Twitter chat with some of the best minds in digital marketing, picked this as a discussion topic.

In fact, this is something I’ve talked about before with local business groups. (Check out the full Facebook Live from our page.)

I’m not going to share every Tweet from that conversation, but I thought the conversation was worth sharing here. Here are the questions, my responses, and the SEMrush question recap posts that include details from other people’s responses.

Q1. Why is storytelling important for business?

Step away from marketing strategy for a moment. Stories have been used to communicate and carry on ideas for thousands of years. Hearing a story gives you a greater opportunity to connect emotionally. It also makes the idea easier to remember and communicate. We still tell stories written decades and centuries and millennium ago. The staying power is awesome.

Now think about how powerful it would be if you could use that in your business. Brand storytelling is all about using the power of story to connect with your customers over shared ideas and values. And that can be an incredible marketing tool!

I love the responses that get into things like how “stories humanize brands.” So much of how small businesses do digital marketing is to blast features, benefits, and technical aspects of their products. That misses the mark. If you can get into the story you need to tell, then you’re building something people can better relate to.

Q2. Once you’ve decided to create a storytelling strategy, what are the steps you should take?

The stories we tell can be dynamic and flexible for sharing in different ways on and offline. So the first thing you need to do is clearly define certain common elements. I often take an approach of making the customer the hero of the story, not you (the brand/business). And you can have a few different stories related to different types of customers and/or problems they encounter. So being clear on what the hero in your stories looks like helps you to have a framework for telling many different stories everywhere you want to tell them.

But this idea of not telling your story, and making the customer the focus (hero) is something others don’t always easily get…

This is an idea that I’ve experienced in many of my non-profit storytelling adventures. We’ve raised large amounts of money online by inviting other people to be the hero of the story. And applying the hero/guide concept to brand storytelling is something one of my favorite writers has been teaching too. Donald Miller’s Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen (affiliate link) book is a great resource that digs much deeper into this topic.

Point taken. In Star Wars (the original trilogy), Luke Skywalker is the hero. And with brand storytelling, that’s where we want our customers to be. It’s all about their journey. Then there’s Yoda, the guide. And that’s where you want your business to be. It’s not that Yoda’s story doesn’t matter, but it’s not his journey, and he’s not the hero of that story. In fact, the more we learn about Yoda’s backstory, the more helpful it is to understand his role in Luke Skywalker’s journey. So I’m not saying ignore yourself. Just position yourself properly within the story.

One of the biggest things I see from others in this part of the conversation is the importance of planning your content. And that’s definitely a big factor with any marketing strategy. The stories we develop can be used in various ways across many platforms. Take the time to develop it well, and plan how you are going to use it in different places. Then let it guide how you share everything. Even when you’re curating content from other sources on your social media profiles, ask yourself how it supports the stories you’re telling.

Q3. What are the essential questions to begin gathering your own stories?

For me, the biggest questions are around the elements of the story. These elements can help you draw strong connections between the stories you have in your back pocket, and communicating what a particular customer needs to hear. It’s important to have a library of stories that you can tell. Not every one of them is going to match the journey another new customer is on. So spend the time thinking about all of the problems/obstacles you encounter, so that you can have one of those stories ready for the next person who needs to hear it.

And I love seeing responses talking about things like values. As a business owner myself, my values are part of the reason my customers like me. The core products themselves can maybe be purchased elsewhere. But not everyone has the same values I do. And that kind of thing can be a big deciding factor for potential customers.

Q4. What are the possible forms of storytelling available for any business?

Not only can the stories be told across various platforms, but how you tell them can vary too. And it should also be the filter for anything else you do, whether you’re “telling the story” or not. Think of your company’s Facebook page timeline. Look over the posts for the last couple of months like you’re reading a book. What story does it tell?

And I totally agree with the idea that everyone learns and engages differently. Too many businesses use the same exact post shared on multiple social media platforms. Take the time to evaluate and customize the messaging for each platform. It’s a little more work, but the payoff is huge.

Q5. What resources on marketing storytelling would you recommend to go deeper into that topic?

Basically, I believe it’s important to be a student of the subject in order to be an effective marketer. One practice for that is to read good stories (and watch movies with good stories). This is also where books like Invisible Ink, Rivet Your Readers With Deep Point of View, and On Writing (affiliate links) have proven to be valuable resources for making me a better marketer.

And when I mention the webinars we do, specifically 3 Steps to Focus Your Story and Unlock Customer Growth is a good one on this topic.

The other resources mentioned here are all fantastic. I’ve already seen several of these and can attest to how valuable they are. And the others just got added to my list of things to study on the topic.

Final Thoughts on Brand Storytelling

One important takeaway I got from this #SEMrushchat session was that brand storytelling is something that needs to be strategic and well thought out. It’s not good enough to scribble a few ideas on a napkin, make a quick YouTube video about yourself, drop on your website, and call it a day.

brand storytelling

Spend some time thinking through what your brand stories should accomplish, craft them well, and let them take on their own life… everywhere. Putting in the effort will get results if done consistently over time.