Every brand has a story to tell. It’s how you tell your story that matters. Are you spinning a disjointed and fruitless tale? Or are you crafting a compelling and relatable narrative born from the core purpose of your business? The difference is critical.

From Shakespeare to Spielberg, storytelling is an enduring and intrinsic part of the human experience. We’ve been telling stories for nearly as long as we’ve been around—the oldest known cave painting is nearly 41,000 years old!

Stories move us in ways that fragmented information cannot. The thread of the narrative arc is hard-wired into the way we experience the world. Each of us sees our life as a story—a linear progression of conflict and resolution—that ultimately makes us who we are.

But it doesn’t end there. We don’t just define ourselves through stories. The stories we experience define us as well. Social psychology’s “narrative transportation theory” suggests that when we immerse ourselves in a story, our beliefs change to reflect that story. And when our beliefs change, our behavior changes.

Successful brands embody stories that shape their customers’ beliefs and compel them to act.

Typically the biggest brands own the narratives that define their product or service category. For example, Coca-Cola has made sure that there’s no other beverage you can really “enjoy.” But there’s always a counter story to tell. Smaller brands have an invaluable opportunity to present consumers with an alternative perspective. Think of Virgin. By embodying the story of the outlier maverick, Virgin has been able to outflank much of their larger competition and realize staggering successes.

A brand story can’t be a one-way street, though. It’s a shared experience co-authored by a brand and its customers. Only by authentically reflecting the lives of its customers can a brand hope to connect with and ultimately influence them.

Successful brands are authentic brands, and authentic brands have captivating stories to tell. The recipes to those stories vary from brand to brand, but the ingredients are the same: strategy along with visual and verbal language.

Strategy

The story of a brand begins long before you’re reaching for a tissue after watching a Super Bowl commercial. Emotive advertising is the final stage of a long journey that begins with building a foundational brand narrative.

Essential to the positioning phase of your branding process is the brand narrative—a compelling account of your vision and purpose told from your unique brand voice. Only with this narrative in place can you begin to tell your story to the world. Think about it: The best characters in novels and films have comprehensive backstories that are known only to their creators, but that give them a depth that resonates with audiences. So it is with brands. An authentic brand has a narrative that emerges organically from its innermost personality and values. Good brand strategy reveals the depths of these characteristics, setting the stage for adventures to come.

Visual

Its visual language is arguably the most visceral part of your brand’s story. It affects your audience in ways they’re often unaware of. The right combination of color, typography, imagery, and layout reveals truths about your brand and acts on your customers in subconscious ways that influence their opinion and behavior.

Good design doesn’t just look cool. It merges symbiotically with written content to tell your story in ways that influence your customers at a psychological level.

Verbal

Verbal language is where your brand’s story comes to life. The words that make up your story should convincingly convey who you are, what you offer, and what sets you apart from your competition—all in a way that fosters a meaningful relationship with your customer.

Your brand’s words are everywhere: your website, blog, marketing collateral, advertising scripts, sales proposals, presentations, speeches, employee manuals—let’s just say it’s a long list. And if all those words scattered in all those different places don’t represent a coherent, compelling narrative, then the story of your brand might as well be a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. It’s critical to make sure that the copywriters responsible for your content understand your brand on the deepest level.

There are countless creative teams that can execute dazzling displays of design and copywriting. Only a few can craft compelling stories that reveal the heart of your brand. The right team is driven by the backstory, crafting a brand narrative that’s both revealing and inspiring. After all, every good story starts from the same place: the beginning.

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A prolific blogger, speaker, and columnist, Brian has more than a decade of experience in design and branding. He’s written for publications including Forbes, Huffington Post, and Brand Quarterly.