Connect with a larger audience by keeping your brand story simple and accessible.
We all strive to frame the events of our lives, fitting them into detailed personal narratives that show how we’ve changed over time: where we started, what we did, and where we are now. That’s why people spend so much time and money on stories, whether writing them, reading them, or adapting them into blockbuster movies — and why brands invest so heavily in polishing them.
But while elaborate tales filled with intriguing twists and turns make for a great HBO miniseries, they’re not that useful in the brand marketing space. You’re not settling down in an armchair to spin a yarn to a patient listener, after all; you’re getting fleeting facetime with an audience that has zero existing investment in your business.
With time and attention at a premium, one of the most important things you can do for your brand story is to keep it simple.
Miscommunication is an Ever-Present Threat
If you’ve ever read a piece of branded content and wondered what half the abbreviations meant, you’re not alone. This “jargon-itis” occurs when brand leaders are so immersed in their particular industries that they never stop to consider that most readers will require some translation. As you’d expect, a brand story that you can’t understand is unlikely to leave a major impact on you.
Commit to telling a very simple brand story, warding off more obscure industry terms and concepts. Instead of defining each and every term, force yourself to pare back until you get to common terms that touch upon universal themes.
Kickstart this process by condensing your story into just three sentences — the beginning, the middle, and the end:
- Beginning: The problem or opportunity that prompted the creation of your business.
- Middle: How you overcame challenges but retained your ideals over time.
- End: What sets your brand apart today.
Taking this approach with a company like Google, you could come up with this brand story:
“Back when the internet was quite new, we formed Google with a simple goal in mind: to help people find what they were looking for. Over the years, we’ve grown enormously, expanding into innovative software and hardware and always pursuing our goal of making everyday life easier. Today, we stand at the forefront of technology, striving to keep raising the bar of digital convenience.”
Google could talk about PPC methods, search algorithms, or SEO best practices, but most people don’t know what those terms mean — and frankly, they aren’t interested in getting into the nitty-gritty just yet. Cutting a brand story down to the basics gives you a solid platform upon which you can then expand.
Thematic Power is Easily Diluted
Complicated brand stories don’t paint their businesses in the most positive light, because the more detail you stuff into a narrative, the more the component parts start to overlap and thus lose their impact. Tell me a well-crafted love story and I’ll be moved — pack ten separate love affairs into one story and the impact will be lost. Too many cooks spoil the broth, and too many ingredients ruin the meal.
Now, simplicity is relative, so you do have some leeway to tell a fleshed-out story. Just make sure that every element you include is truly furthering the narrative. Don’t list unimportant events that detract from the meaningful ones, and don’t introduce people who aren’t significant to the overall narrative. Keep your focus on the bigger picture.
Consider the recent glut of superhero movies, and more specifically how the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has done a masterful job of balancing complexity and simplicity. Each movie tells a self-contained story, with protagonists, antagonists, and a small set of primary themes, while also playing a small part in telling a larger story. Is your brand story simple enough for a one-off Marvel superhero movie? It should be.
All the Best Themes are Simple
What are the all-time classic themes? Love, loss, joy, hope, redemption, ambition, and transformation, to name a few. If you get pedantically reductive with great literature, you’ll find that everything can be broken down into the same ingredients (and countless versions of the hero’s journey) — because those ingredients are always effective in striking a universal chord.
Stories that build affection and connection work because we identify with the characters (or brands) — what they feel, what they want, and what they’ve suffered — and we want to root for (or against) them. We need those concepts to be simple, digestible, unambiguous, and presented succinctly. For instance, a powerful slogan written across fitness images can communicate the theme of personal improvement far more powerfully and immediately than long paragraphs of text ever could.
There’s a reason why the biggest brands in the world use such basic concepts for their slogans and campaigns. Coca-Cola focuses on communal goodwill, for example (as seen in their “Share a coke with” or “Open happiness” campaigns), while Kit Kat has long stuck with a simple message of self-indulgence: “Have a break, have a Kit Kat.”
Your brand story should present the basic problem, and the solution that your product or service provides, as simply as possible. Johnson’s made its “no more tears” line part of its brand story: making kids happier and reducing their discomfort through superlative safety. Anyone familiar with the brand can feel confident using its products as a result.
To sum all of this up, simple brand stories are more successful than their complicated counterparts because they’re easier to understand and their themes are more powerful. It’s really that straightforward. When working on your brand story, aim to use basic universal themes, keep it short, and make it as simple as you can.