Your business didn’t just appear out of thin air. Who you are today is a product of your entire journey, and that means you have some compelling brand stories to tell that can serve as powerful tools in your content marketing strategy.
But which stories you choose to tell—and how you choose to tell them—will impact how effective your content is in creating the meaningful connections that drive your audience to take action.
In the fiction writing world (and high school English) there’s a common phrase: “Show, don’t tell.”
This refers to the fact that, in certain contexts, it’s more compelling to write something like, “the icy cold metal of the doorknob bit into her fingertips as she twisted the handle,” than, “she opened the door.”
The same philosophy applies to your content marketing strategy. Just like the doorknob example, it’s often more effective to paint a picture of who you are, what you stand for, and how your business can help your audience than to simply tell them.
Words tell, but stories sell.
Your Brand Is Only As Strong as the Emotions It Creates
The best words in the world don’t mean a thing if they don’t:
Convey an emotion that connects with your audience.
Offer a path forward that alleviates frustration and pain.
Tell a story that resonates and inspires action.
Stick in your audience’s mind like super glue.
Brand stories are powerful because they tick all the boxes. They convey emotion, show your audience a path forward, inspire action, and stay memorable. When your content marketing strategy includes powerful storytelling, you allow your audience the opportunity to get to know you better, while also imagining what their life could be like if they worked with your brand.
People act with their hearts first, brains second. When people click on the “Buy” button, you’d better believe it’s because they heard a powerful story… not because they listened to a bunch of interesting facts slung in their direction.
Story as a Piece of Brand Voice
Because brand stories inherently show your audience how you can help, they’re also an opportunity to capitalize on your brand voice and content personality.
Time for one of our stories.
When we first began working with business owners, we heard the same fear over and over again. Each and every person we talked to wanted to outsource their content and relieve the burden of constant creation… but they were afraid to.
Why? Because handing off something as important and personality-driven as content felt like, as one client put it, “outsourcing the soul of the business.”
Over the years, we worked closely with our clients to develop our Brand Voice Process: a proven system for capturing and replicating the personality of a brand.
During our interviews with clients, we’d ask them loads of questions, and they’d tell us all about their business. We learned about their vision, their values, and how they wanted to show up for their audience. The stories those business owners told could not be separated from the brand’s voice.
And so, when we finally finalized our Brand Voice Process, we knew that stories had to be a key component. And we’d honed in on five particular story types that both add depth to the voice of the brand and help business owners hit their goals.
The 5 Core Story Types You Can Use to Improve Your Content Strategy
Now that you know the power of a story, let’s get into the details. There are hundreds of possible stories you could tell in your business. How do you choose the right ones? And how do you tell a story without wading into the lake of Too Much Information?
At North Star, we’ve narrowed brand stories into five core story types. There’s the potential to develop micro-stories (think of your favorite spin-off series) from each, but these five form your core arsenal.
A Word of Caution
Before you get excited about plastering your brand stories everywhere, take a moment to consider the intention behind each story you tell. At the end of the day, your business is NOT about you.
Let me repeat that.
At the end of the day, your business is NOT about you.
Even if you’re telling your story, you’re doing it in service of your audience. Your goal is to take them on a journey. Your story can help show them that you’re the right business for the job, but you should never steal the spotlight from them.
Alright, if we’re clear on that point… let’s dive in.
Core Story #1: The Origin Story
Everyone needs to work, right? In 2010, during the height of a recession, that philosophy led to the birth of North Star (at the time, we called ourselves Owl Eyes Editing Services).
Back then, Marie and I wrote and edited resumes and cover letters for hopeful job applicants. We would meet every Thursday (which quickly became my favorite day of the week) at Marie’s house. With our laptops and folders, we’d huddle on the floor of her office and scribble edits in red pen. We’d contemplate maybe getting a website someday. We’d create Excel sheets with our dream budgets.
Our biz has changed a lot over the years, but the core of it remains the same: Our brand promise is still to help business owners create purposeful, authentic, and results-driven content. And our Origin Story helps share that brand promise in a meaningful way.
The purpose of your Origin Story is to tell the journey of your company (or, often, your own story, if you’re a personal brand).
Like the plot of your favorite novel, it starts off with quiet, humble beginnings—or possibly even in the depths of struggle. A dream is born, and from that dream, a business is created. As the company grows, it’s met with periodic struggles, challenges, and missteps. But at the end of the day, usually through a combination of bold moves, persistence, and belief, you prevail.
It is, in short, the hero’s journey.
Your Origin Story will show your audience:
- The ways in which you are (or were) similar to them.
- How far you’ve come and how you’ve evolved (with plenty of mistakes along the way, because hey, you’re only human — even if you’re a brand).
- Who you serve and in what ways (and how it’s changed over time).
It most often appears on company About pages and profiles, and out of all the brand stories, it’s the one most asked about in interviews.
In short, your Origin Story is your chance to show your audience a journey they themselves can embark on. It’s a touchstone for them, and it positions you as someone they can trust as a mentor along the way.
Core Story #2: The Expertise Story
My domestic partner (we call ourselves California married) is a paleontologist and disability advocate. There’s nothing I enjoy more than listening to her tell stories about her work.
Whether it’s teaching kids how to tell the difference between fossils and rocks or working with disabled adults to build their own, accessible museum exhibits, she’s out there doing cool stuff every day.
Each time she tells me another story, I’m more impressed by her level of experience, insight, and empathy. Through her anecdotes, I know that she’s an incredible teacher, approaches science with compassion, and can absolutely hold her own out in the field.
And I don’t need to know any of the fancy letters after her name to get that (trust me, there are quite a few).
Often, we think of our expertise as our degrees and certifications, or maybe a list of workshops we’ve led and books we’ve published. And while each of these can help your audience see that you’re qualified, an expertise story can show them your skills in a powerful, intimate way.
Expertise Stories showcase the experiences of you and your team in a memorable way.
These brand stories often live within your instructional content and help illustrate important points. When you’re teaching your audience about something, don’t be afraid to frame it around an Expertise Story!
Your Expertise Story will show your audience:
- Why you’re qualified to do the work you do.
- That you’re capable of guiding others or providing results.
- What systems, products, and processes you’ve developed to adapt to your audience’s needs.
Your Expertise Story is your chance to beef up your content marketing strategy with trustworthiness that isn’t a list of facts or degrees. Use this story to show your audience that you’ve got the skills to help them succeed.
Core Story #3: The Innovation Story
Everyone has an angle—what’s yours?
One of the main reasons CEOs choose to work with us is because they’re burned out by content churn and want to feel certain that all the effort they’re putting in pays off.
Many writers these days focus on creating a lot of content without looking at the big picture.
Many strategists dig into the big-picture view and throw a ton of content tasks at you to make it a reality.
We’re content strategists who believe in creating less content.
And that sets us apart from others in our field.
When people come to us for an expert opinion on their content, they know they’re going to get personalized recommendations for how to make it as effective as possible.
We recognize that when people work with us, it’s because they’re looking for someone who can give them peace of mind and the confidence that their content will help them reach their goals—not a towering to-do list.
Innovation Stories share the stand-out aspects that differentiate you from similar products or services.
They’re a key part of any strong content marketing strategy and frequently show up in casual conversation, within services pages on your website, and in live trainings.
Your Innovation Story will show your audience:
- What you’re taking a stand against in your marketplace.
- How you fill the gaps and offer new opportunities.
- The stand-out qualities that allow your brand to shine.
When you share your innovation story, you’re essentially showing your audience what makes you different from the thousands of other people who might offer similar products or services.
Core Story #4: The Influence Story
These are the best brand stories, because they allow you to showcase your results. They’re impact stories—the realm of case studies and testimonials that not only demonstrate your expertise, but also show the cause-effect relationship of working with you.
They’re stories like the time you inspired someone to make a big, scary decision through your relationship coaching practice. Or how one Instagram post impacted someone in a significant way. Or how your branding work has helped fund a nonprofit that champions a cause you believe in.
It doesn’t have to be big, like a post that went viral, a seven-figure launch, or that-time-you-were-quoted-by-Oprah.
What it does have to be is meaningful. And in that way, the more intimate the story, the better off you are.
Influence Stories convey the impact you’ve had on people, communities, organizations, and the world.
These are our favorite kinds of brand stories, because they let you showcase all the good you’re doing for your industry, your audience, and your larger community.
Your Influence Story will show your audience:
- The impact you’ve made on others.
- How your company has increased its footprint.
- The long-term ROI of working with you.
Core Story #5: The Purpose Story
Last, but certainly not least, is the Purpose Story. This is your deeper why—your vision for your brand and how it impacts your audience.
Knowing your Purpose Story isn’t just important for you as the CEO. It’s important for your audience. Consumers want to work with companies who align with their values, and often those values are expressed through your vision.
Purpose Stories share your vision of the future in a tangible way.
If the Origin Story looks backward, the Purpose Story looks forward. It’s a little bit of fiction—rooted in very real values—that paints a picture of the world you want to create.
Your Purpose Story will show your audience:
- The vision you hold for your clients or customers.
- The vision you hold for your company.
- The long-term impact you want to make on the world.
This is the only brand story that isn’t necessarily about something that’s already happened. It’s about something that will happen. This is a chance to stretch your creativity and inspire others to change the stars.
Identifying Your 5 Core Brand Stories
We recommend that you take the time to identify one story for each type, which will give you five solid brand stories you can weave into your content marketing strategy and come back to again and again. Sharing them will show your brand’s humanity, impact, and vision, allowing you to connect with your audience more deeply and create the meaningful relationships that drive them to take action.
To identify the most powerful stories, it helps to put yourself in the shoes of an interviewer. Like Sean Evans on Hot Ones (but maybe without the fiery hot chicken wings), ask yourself or your team the types of open-ended questions that encourage you to tell your brand’s story.
Focus on questions like:
- Where were you in your life when you decided to start your business?
- What was it like in the early days?
- Why is it important to serve your audience?
- How are lives changed thanks to the work you do?
- How have you come to be so knowledgeable in your field?
- What experiences have helped you grow in your expertise?
- Where do you believe your industry is missing opportunities?
- How is your business filling those gaps?
- What is the long-term impact of your work on your clients and your greater community?
- What is the long-term impact of your work on your personal life?
Of course, asking yourself these questions may lead to way more than five stories, and that’s totally fine! You can sprinkle in what we call micro-stories to further convey your origin, expertise, innovation, influence, or purpose throughout your content.
No matter how many stories you choose to share, they’ll only serve to strengthen your connections with your audience, increase the impact of your content, and turn your readers into loyal customers.
Discover Your Stories and Capture Your Brand Voice
The best way to uncover your brand stories and begin weaving them into your content strategy is by having the chance to tell them.
Through our Brand Voice Intensive process, we help you capture and document your core stories and brand voice by leading you through an in-depth interview focused on getting to know you and your brand—inside and out!