Begin at the Beginning: Find Your Brand's Most Powerful Core Story
By Kirk Cheyfitz, Co-Founder, Story Worldwide
Effective marketing starts with storyfinding — knowing how to locate the core narrative that most powerfully connects a brand and its audiences.
It’s always smart to begin at the beginning.
You can’t tell a brand story you don’t know. Yet too many brands and agencies have no formal process for finding a brand’s most effective core narrative.
Story realized 10 years ago that you can’t be an effective (or credible) story-based marketer without a shockproof, bullshit-resistant definition of a “core brand story” and a reliable, repeatable process for finding such a unique story.
The “core brand story,” for starters, is something fundamental and unique that represents the common element in every story the brand might make. It is the brand’s differentiating narrative heart, much as George Lucas’s many tales of Star Wars are all built on the one core story of a secret mystical connection to a universal force that can work for either good or evil.
Story calls this kind of core narrative the “Story Platform.” It is the unchanging narrative essence upon which all of a brand’s stories and messaging are built.
To reliably find the core story for any brand, we developed a collaborative process between brands and the audiences they want to serve.
The process begins by fusing investigative brand journalism and data-driven analysis to uncover the whole truth about the brand and how it is perceived by its audiences. Then we gather the internal team members who touch the brand and put them through a series of unique narrative exercises to uncover the brand’s true differentiators. Finally, strategic and creative people at Story put everything together to crystalize the core narrative into a few words that will guide all the brand’s storymaking, present and future. Those few words are the Story Platform.
There are different versions of the process, depending on what a brand knows and needs. Start to finish can take from two to six weeks. Once complete, the results lead to immediate creative output that’s consistent across channels and consistently effective.
The three laws of storyfinding
Over the last decade, Story’s has used its storyfinding process successfully for dozens of major brands the world over — from General Mills’ iconic Green Giant to Toyota’s luxury brand Lexus to, most recently, microchip design giant ARM. Refined with repeated use, the process follows a few simple, immutable laws:
Law #1: The truth comes first.
This is where the best of journalistic truth-seeking meets the established rules of marketing research to find the brand’s truth — the truth that both the brand and its audiences can recognize and share.
“You have to start with the truth. If you don't know it, you have to find it. So we always set out to uncover what is true about the brand — to find out why it really exists,” says Jacqueline Lieberman, Story’s Chief Strategy Officer, who’s been leading the storyfinding work since 2007.
If a brand’s core story isn’t completely true in every aspect, consumers will know it. At best, they’ll fail to connect, sensing lack of authenticity. At worst, there will be a disaster somewhere down the road.
Also, like any good journalist, Story’s Strategy team constantly digs to ask ‘why’ — never taking information at face value.
Finding the truth involves intelligence gathering on four areas:
- Brand promises, attributes and history;
- Competitors; and
- Cultural context.
Law #2: The audience decides what matters.
Storyfinding is not about hammering at undifferentiating product claims or other attributes that matter mostly to the brand manager. What matters is what matters to real people in their real lives.
“It’s about finding and unpacking the desire of the audience,” says Jacqueline, who has personally led more than three dozen storyfinding exercises. “It’s about, ‘What do they need from your brand?’”
Law #3: It what people and a brand share that makes the story.
“In our work, we marry the brand truth with the audience need and we find the context for the message,” says Jacqueline. “That intersection becomes the story we want to tell.”
Completing a disciplined storyfinding process and heeding the results heaps a series of gifts on every marketing effort from then on. Every story that is made and distributed, no matter the channel or the immediate goal, can be instantly identified as coming from the brand because the core story is consistent and unique. Every story and message is perceived to be authentic because it is part of a core truth the brand and the audience share.
The result is more effective storymaking in every channel. That doesn’t happen unless brands begin at the beginning.
Read next about storymaking in Part 2:
Why Brands Should be Making Stories, Not Just Telling Them.