We have previously discussed the difference between brand storytelling and brand storymaking. Storytelling is a one-way discussion; your brand essentially does all the talking and asks consumers to buy in. But storymaking involves inviting your customers to share their stories about how your company's goods or services add value to their lives, then curating those stories for public display.
The difference for the end consumer is in the level of engagement.
No one likes listening to someone blather on and on about themselves, without allowing the listener to also share some of his or her own observations. Brand storymaking allows a give-and-take relationship to develop organically, and binds your customers more tightly to you.
Brand stories are a dime a dozen. Yours needs to stand out.
"Everyone has a story now," wrote Branding Strategy Insider's Derrick Daye. "Or at least most brands claim to have one. But having a story in many ways is like having a product. Really it means nothing if it is not competitive as a narrative and personally relevant to each recipient."
Think of your brand's story as you might think of stand-up comedy. A joke told by its original writer is funny. But if it is repeated ad nauseum by several comedians, it isn't. The joke becomes old, stale and clichéd. The same holds true for your brand's story; if it sounds like your competitors' stories, you're getting lost in the consumer shuffle.
"Your story must be distinctive from the other stories that are in play in a market and it must continue to be so," Daye advised. "That’s challenging in fast moving sectors where there is always something new to look at, another brand tale to try."
But compelling doesn't necessarily mean your brand's story has to be highly involved, complex, or contrived. Remember the verbose, over-the-top stories that accompanied products in the J. Peterman catalog and which became the butts of a national joke? A brand's story can be elegant in its simplicity. But above all, it must be flexible enough to stay relevant given changes in the zeitgeist.
"You can’t set and forget a story," Daye said, "anymore than you can set and forget your business strategy. As your business adapts and responds to changes in the market and the initiatives of your rivals, your story must change too if it is to remain competitive."
That's where brand storymaking can be so valuable. As your consumers' tastes change, so too will their stories about engaging with your brand. As long as you can stay ahead of the taste curve— particularly in food branding and food product development— and continue to offer fresh options, you should never have to win back lapsed loyalists.
How can you craft a more engaging brand story?
Again, the goal shouldn't be to wow the consumer into submission. You don't need to craft the Great American Brand Novel. But you do need to focus on a few key areas that many marketers get wrong.
For one thing, each advertisement, social media post, or food packaging design you put in to the market should speak to your brand's ethos as a whole. Nothing should feel stand-alone. And nothing should confuse your audience, either.
If you have built your restaurant business on a fast-and-fresh concept in order to attract millennial consumers, it would be counterproductive to market new food products that don't fit either your "healthy" or "fresh" motif. Offering a large-portioned, processed and carb-rich slice of German chocolate cake on your dessert menu, for example, wouldn't be advisable, no matter how yummy it might be.
That's not to say that you couldn't have dessert on the menu— you just need to carefully choose the product and the marketing to fit your brand.
"Confusion is the number one brand killer, so make sure your brand stories are always consistent with your brand promise and image," wrote Forbes contributor Susan Gunelius.
Thus, a slice of pie a la mode made with organically-grown apples, cream sourced only from non-BGH cows and legacy grain flour from a local grist mill may be nearly as high in calories, but fits entirely with your brand's "fresh" promise. By fulfilling that promise, you encourage more consumer buy-in.
You should also consider your marketing efforts and product development from the standpoint of a long-term narrative arc. Should you be marketing to today's tastes? Or should you be cultivating tomorrow's cuisine? If you are developing new foods to fit today's consumer habits and preferences, then trying to fit your brand story to those foods, you're behind the eight ball and facing the wrong way.
If, however, you are listening to the ways consumers engage with your brand— storymaking, instead of storytelling— you can distill out insights that can guide your new product development several years out and, thus, deepen your customers' connections to your brand.