Why Your Brand Needs a Story Standards Guide
“So, tell me about your brand.” For most of us, describing our brand is a challenge. We can point to a logo, website or mission statement, but is that really our brand? A Story Standards Guide makes it possible for you to describe your brand through storytelling, the oldest and most compelling means of communication.
Since the dawn of branding, businesses and organizations have struggled to find a process that helps them communicate who they are in authentic, consistent ways. We know that brand clarity impacts not only our customers, but also our staff, the public and the media. When we know who a brand is and what it stands for, it becomes memorable and influential. When a brand story is only half told or it’s inconsistent, the brand is not reaching its full potential.
Who is Blue Hawk Manufacturing? An anecdote about finding a brand’s story
Blue Hawk Manufacturing has a great logo and consistent visual elements. Its brand promise is, “We provide contractors across the United States with the best HVAC equipment and customer support in our industry.” These two pieces are great starts to their branding, but they only take Blue Hawk Manufacturing so far. Brand managers of Blue Hawk Manufacturing should ask:
- How many times can it push that logo and that brand promise through social channels?
- When the marketing team needs a new advertising concept, are they clear on the tone, language and characters to use in their content?
- Will that brand promise really engage Blue Hawk Manufacturing’s audience in an ad campaign?
- How many other brands can you attach to that same brand promise?
What Blue Hawk Manufacturing needs is meat to put on the bones of that logo and brand promise. It needs to look at the emotions its products and services evoke and the pains they soothe. A Story Standards Guide gives Blue Hawk Manufacturing those authentic, personal stories to tell:
Story 1: After years of putting up with complicated equipment and poor customer service, HVAC contractor Scott Helms decided to make a change to Blue Hawk Manufacturing. Since then, he has saved thousands of dollars and hundreds of headaches. Blue Hawk’s reliable equipment and great customer service make contractors lives better.
Story 2: The guys at Blue Hawk Manufacturing are quick on the draw when contractors call. In fact, they have a quarterly contest to see who can settle contractor issues the fastest. Former contractor James Wilson is the current champion. It’s all part of Blue Hawk’s promise to provide the best customer support in its industry.
Story 3: When the mercury hit 115 degrees in Denver, no one expected it, but contractors across Colorado knew they could count on Blue Hawk Manufacturing to be prepared. No one can predict exactly when record temperatures will hit. That’s why contractors turn to Blue Hawk to help them keep their customers comfortable and safe.
A Story Standards Guide helps brands like Blue Hawk Manufacturing narrow who and what they should be talking about. It defines a tone, a setting and conflicts they help solve, desires they help fulfill.
How your Brand Standards Guide fits in
To describe or illustrate a brand, businesses and organizations have traditionally turned to their individual brand standards guide — a.k.a. brand standards manual, brand-communication standards or brand style guide. This guide includes things like your company’s mission and vision statements, usage standards for logo mark and any other identity elements, color palette, typography or fonts, and trademark guidelines.
This piece of your brand’s story is important. A brand standards guide enables you to maintain design consistency and key message consistency, but it only takes you part of the way. Think about it. When you describe your brand in terms of logos and key messages, does that feel natural and authentic? Do you feel connected to that way of describing your brand? Does your audience feel connected when you describe your brand in those terms?
A brand standards guide is rigid, which lends itself to consistency but not to good storytelling. You wouldn’t change your logo out of the blue, and for the most part you’re creating a brand standards guide that holds its value for at least 7-10 years. But your stories will evolve over the course of 7-10 years, so having a Story Standards Guide to help you recognize and tell those stories is valuable.
The brand standards guide doesn’t typically have a place within the company other than the in-house design or marketing team. This team may pull it out occasionally as a reference tool or to share with its vendors, but for the most part it is created, written, documented and stored away. Your brand standards guide isn’t a living, breathing document that nurtures your brand and evolves with your company. The ongoing storytelling and communication does that, and a Story Standards Guide is the tool to help you develop that living, breathing storytelling.
When a company is developing new content, its Story Standards Guide should be the first place the content creators go.
How a Story Standards Guide helps your bottom line
For the purpose of this post, let’s focus on three key areas that make a Story Standards Guide desirable for your company. We can make the case for more reasons, but we could also likely lump those reasons into one of these three. These reasons prove a solid story guide will become one of your company’s most powerful marketing assets and go-to documents for years to come.
- Clarity and Efficiency. When your whole team is clear about what your brand is and they have a Story Standards Guide to lead them in content creation of all sorts, the commonplace scrambling for consistency and story angles is unnecessary. This guide is best used to help your organization clearly and precisely coordinate a unified message. When you have a clear path for running a project or business, you save time. When you save time, you save money. In an age where technology is making every employee an ambassador for your brand – whether they want to be or not – the Story Standards Guide gives them the ammunition they need to represent the organization.
- Strengthened Brand. The stronger your story, the stronger your brand. You will attract clients who appreciate and value your story either because they see themselves in your story or they value what you have shared. Either way is a win-win.
- Employee Loyalty. One could argue there isn’t much a company cannot do when backed by a strong culture and a loyal team. This tool reinforces both. When your team understands how the company’s stories drive the culture, it will take more pride in the part it plays in living that culture. Everyone will know and appreciate the value of having and using the story guide. The company’s employees are one of the most valuable assets and typically the company’s largest investment. Invest deeply.
What’s inside a Story Standards Guide?
At Silver Square, we believe in the power of a great story to move people. We apply this same philosophy to business. When a company tells powerful stories, it can move people. We work to help our clients uncover their stories and tell them in exciting, compelling ways. Through working with our clients, we have recognized a real need for a standard process to uncover engaging brand stories. Based on our experience and by honing our own process, we developed the Story Standards Guide.
A Story Standards Guide is one of your most valuable marketing assets. Just like your brand standards guide makes it possible for you to preserve the continuity of your brand, the Story Standards Guide makes it possible for you to tell your company’s most engaging stories.
The Story Standards Guide includes these elements:
- Primary subject of the story you should be telling. This could be the story of a brand, product, event, service or case study—whatever the main focus of the story is.
- The key messages the story needs to convey.
- The audience(s) the story should be reaching. Who are the people you want to take action after hearing your story? Who are the people you want your story to reach?
- Desired outcomes. What do you want your audience to do once you tell this story?
- Story summary. A summary of the story you are telling.
- Characters to talk about. Who are the characters that you use to tell the story? Do they speak to the audience you want to reach?
- Conflicts to speak to. What are the pain points your product, service, etc., addresses?
- Plot lines that will engage your audience. This is the action or series of events that will speak to your audience.
- Best ways to reach the audience(s). What types of distribution channels will be most effective — blogs, social channels, site content, case studies, email, PR efforts, etc.?
There is no one-size-fits-all formula when it comes to telling an engaging story. Your company has its own set of needs and objectives, not to mention its own story to tell that is unlike any of your competitors’ stories. You need to tell a story in a manner that is going to achieve the kind of results you want. Are you trying to sell something, to get donations, to raise awareness? How you tell the story depends on who you are talking to and what you want them to do with it.
A strong brand connects with its audience to create customers and clients. What is actually doing this connecting is the brand’s story.
The Story Standards Guide should be your company’s next new investment for creating, telling and sharing your company’s most compelling stories. Get started today, be flexible, evolve with your plan and go tell some great stories.
Note: We wrote a great eBook on telling your most engaging stories. It has more information and action steps with exercises to craft your story. Go ahead and grab yourself a copy.