8 Brand Story-Telling Tips That Stand the Test of Time

Spring Greetings from Big Small Brands!  As we celebrate the re-launch of our blog this month, we’re reflecting back on some previous “oldies but goodies,” blog posts whose messages seem to stand the test of time—at least in our humble opinion!

Below is a post we wrote back in 2012 after presenting at Portland State University’s 4th annual Digital Marketing Conference, as part of the Ignite DMC rapid-fire learning track. Here’s a recap of what we covered:

How + Why to Tell a Story

“Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” — Indian proverb

We started with an overview of the 4 key elements of stories:

  1. Character
  2. Conflict
  3. Plot
  4. Message

Stories help give emotional context and humanity, define relationships, and connect emotionally by sharing personal experiences through familiar frameworks. They also help people remember what we are saying. As Online Newsroom‘s Terri Nopp shared in a workshop we led together,

  • 5-10% of people retain information when you simply share a statistic or fact
  • 25-30% will retain it if you include a story with your statistic
  • 65-70% will retain it if you simply tell a story. 

What’s more, 85% of people will give you a chance if they know something about you. So why aren’t we telling more stories online?

Most of us, I think, forget this familiar framework—one we’ve been exposed to since before we could even read and speak—and get caught up in business jargon and acronyms.  Yes, we have access to robust and emerging technologies and tools, and social media platforms make it easier to connect and engage with others on our websites every day. But if we don’t remember how to tell our stories in simple and clear ways, none of it matters. John Winsor sums it up well when he notes: “Stories are efficient. In today’s ADD society it isn’t possible to detail all of the data to scientifically prove your point. A story helps people take the leap of faith necessary to be inspired to take action.”

8 Tips For Sharing Your Story

“Words are how we think. Stories are how we link.” —Christina Baldwin

Here are the tips I shared to help get you thinking back to the basics…

1. Sweat the Small Stuff
First impressions matter. Did you know that most internet users form a perception on the professionalism of your website & brand in 50 milliseconds (0.05 seconds)- or perhaps less? Utility matters, and that means you need to establish clear information hierarchy and navigation, apply consistent color & font treatments, and employ clear calls-to-action.


2. It’s An Onion…Not A Grape
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and no story was ever told in one sentence (or paragraph, for that matter).  Think of your story as a series of chapters, not as something to share and digest in one sitting. Web users consume and digest information in stages; your website story should unfold accordingly.


3. Search for Your Samoa
Research shows that 85% of people will take a chance on your business if they know something about you personally. I shared one of mine, and have a few others in my bio. (This was also the inspiration behind a post called “The Little Tomato Revealed: 8 Things You May Not Know About Me.”) Of everything I’ve ever written on this blog and a few others I run, it had one of the highest click-through and share rates I’ve seen. I suggest you try it!


4. Content Is Your Currency
Most of us are familiar with Pay-Per-Click advertising models, right? What if we had to pay for each word we chose to put on our websites and across social media channels? We’d be a lot more careful, wouldn’t we? In today’s landscape, content is our currency: Use it, spend it, and share it wisely. Make it relevant, timely, truthful, and credible.  And make every word count.


5. Use the Power of Picture
Even the most brilliant stories need help. Consider how you can accompany them visually through the use of Colors & Bolding, imagery to make it easier for readers to digest information. (Please, no clip art: invest in a good stock imagery library, at least; I like Veer.) Check out this read on 10 Free Tools for Creating Infographics. For additional inspiration and guidance, read 10 Steps to Designing an Amazing Infographic and Beginners Guide to Creating and Publishing Infographics.


6. Don’t Travel Solo
Every strong story has a cast of characters, so don’t go at yours alone. People love a good story of struggle, rejection, and failure. So what “hero’s journey” did you take on your path to start/grow your business? (I do a bit of this in my current bio). Many B2B stories are much stronger when you put your client, or industry challenge, as the central character, and you become the trusty sidekick instead.


7. Make It Stick & Make A Choice
In “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive & Others Don’t, Chip and Dan Heath profile the elements of memorable business stories. Among them are Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, & Emotion. I recommend this read for loads of examples. And remember, your brand is the lens through which all communications, actions, and resource decisions (time, money, and energy) should be filtered. Get clear before you create!


8. Look in the Mirror
Ask yourself: are you currently speaking online in an authentic and credible voice? Are you making promises you can keep? Is what you are saying relevant, valuable, and motivating to your key targets? Try telling it to a mirror, or to a trusted friend or peer over a glass of wine, to get a better sense of what feels right, and what needs work. Or sit down and write your “business obituary”—if you closed your business tomorrow, what are the most important legacies you feel you would leave behind? Often these aren’t even mentioned in our “About Us” content. So don’t be afraid to get out the eraser and start from scratch!

What Do You Think?

Do these storytelling tips still hold true? What might we add to the conversation?

While tools, technologies, and marketing trends have certainly changed + evolved since I wrote this original post, I think many of these branding basics still ring true. I’d love to hear your thoughts, insights, and other suggested resources that are helpful in helping tell brand stories online- and off.  Feel free to comment below or get in touch!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *