Brand Storytelling for Leaders: Make it Personal

brand storytelling for leaders

If you’ve been following Narativ’s content for any amount of time, you may have noticed that storytelling comes up a lot in our work. This isn’t just a buzzword. Leadership storytelling is core to many of the story-based skills we teach at Narativ. Brand storytelling for leaders can help you unlock the greater hidden potential in every aspect of business. 

Branding can be a tricky beast: On the one hand, you want something punchy to get stuck in people’s heads, but on the other you want it to be authentic and to communicate the actual values of your company. 

But don’t worry, all your practice in storytelling is just as applicable to your brand as it is to everything else. It’s just a matter of making a shift in your approach to brand marketing.   

Consistency or Variety?

In the world of branding, there is an adage: keep it consistent. Use the same words, phrases, and images to imprint them deeply into the consciousness of your customers and stand out in the market. For example, Americans are probably equally familiar with “Just do it,” as they are with “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” 

On the other hand, personal stories are wild and wooly creatures, hard to control, and ripe with subjective perceptions and nuance. How can they serve a brand’s prominence in general and fit with the needed consistency? And what specifically about personal stories makes them useful as brand storytelling?

When we consider personal leadership storytelling within the broad goals of branding, we’re talking about something one level down from the arena where brands compete. Branding is primarily about name recognition, but from there brands must set about building trust. This means marketers should always be asking themselves, “Does the brand’s messaging build trust?” We may question the motivation behind branding slogans—if not view them with contempt at times—but, at minimum, we are always stretching to sense the values hidden behind those branded words and phrases. 

Meanwhile, we know that personal storytelling is by nature a vehicle for authenticity that can be applied to your brand. Brand storytelling for leaders is a skill that can more easily build the bridge between heartless slogans and an authentic brand story. Personal stories are easily within range of our innate truth-detecting radar; we often feel at ease with our ability to assess a story’s genuineness. It is because of this that stories are guaranteed a greater receptivity than stratified marketing language—as long as genuine stories are being excavated, crafted, and presented. All of this gives leadership stories, especially personal ones, an important role in a brand’s objective goal of building trust or, at the very least, increasing its relatability for customers.

Brand Storytelling Is About Possibilities

Knowing that personal stories operate on a different ground than branding at the broad, public level, is how they can be used strategically without diminishing their potential. Let’s acknowledge that humans in general seek variety and change. Personal stories deliver that variety. In contrast, when people repeat branded concepts—whether they be sales reps, spokespeople, employees, or “real people” in commercials—they become hackneyed. Instead, personal storytelling expresses a personal relationship with the brand, service, or product. In this space, creative possibilities abound.

The key is to trust that these stories will represent the brand and that an audience can make the connection without being spoon-fed—if not force-fed—ideas that have been forged by marketing data science. At the same time, there’s no doubt that it takes training to ensure stories emerge that are relevant to the message, well-crafted, and told with confidence.

Working backward in that list, the more personal a story, the more confidence the teller will have. In essence, this means that the more the story of the brand becomes their own the easier it is for the storyteller’s physiological and psychological systems to come on board to support the telling. A listener, whether a customer or potential client, will sense their embodiment of the story. Alternatively, when a leader is not telling a personal story, listeners may sense they are simply parroting ideas that haven’t truly sunken in.

Crafting a story well takes training and practice. The teller must identify its parts, form an arc, and leverage a trusted language method for the telling. Leaders can’t expect a story to just emerge from the wealth of their experience without some guided excavation and storytelling exercises—and they can’t expect to undertake a method of telling and immediately get it right. This is true for any discipline, and storytelling is no different. Creativity flows best from within a proven framework. 

Finally, the relationship of a personal story to the brand or company’s message is not always immediately obvious. In fact, it’s better if it’s not. The priority should be rich and genuine personal stories inspired by a relationship to the brand or company’s product, service, or mission—trusting in the listener to be intelligent enough to make the connection. The essential point of personal storytelling is to build emotional resonance. That is priority number one, and when that bridge is built, a message can travel over it with much greater efficacy.

Identify—and Trust—Your Brand Storytellers

By virtue of their working relationship with a company, all employees are (or should be!) storytellers of that company’s story. They talk about work at lunch and at home, and they may think about the company’s mission spontaneously. In all cases, they are a reservoir of stories that enshrine a company’s values, origin, and mission. Their currently untold stories may offer surprising and valuable information that can be shared up and down the chain of command. At all levels, employees have the capacity to shed light on a company’s mission, products, and values in a way that is relatable, memorable, and convincing.

When a company has developed a storytelling culture, it then needs a plan for making use of those resources. We recommend a two-step approach: 

  1. Set a time and place to gather stories, whether in specific meetings, through an online portal, or in more intimate settings between communication officers and employees. 
  2. Determine how they will be applied in internal communication, which strengthens ownership and mission, or in sales or at a marketing level below the broad conventions of taglines, slogans and advertising campaigns.

A culture of storytelling and leadership breathes life into every brand’s message. Personal stories contain undiscovered dimensions of a brand’s positive impact on a consumer’s life. The age-old exchange of listening and storytelling offers the ideal platform for genuine communication that can increase trust. Far from Madison Avenue, on an assembly line or front counter, the next great story of what makes a brand different is just waiting to be told.

Brand Storytelling for Leaders is Personal

So what does this all mean for your branding? If slogans aren’t going to work for your authentic brand message, it’s the responsibility of the people in charge to cultivate a workplace where stories can flourish so the stories themselves can define and uphold a memorable and trustworthy brand. For that to happen, as a leader you should be familiar with the ins and outs of personal storytelling within leadership and model it in every aspect of your work. If you can do that, your brand will stand out entirely on its own merit and you’ll never feel as though you have to resort to tired marketing gimmicks again.

If you would like to learn more about how Narativ can help you integrate storytelling into your company and brand, visit us here.

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