Every retail entrepreneur has a story to tell, whether it’s how they founded their company, why they decided to enter this industry, or how they turned a passion project into a lucrative business. These narratives weave together into a brand story.
Your brand story creates real emotional connections that can turn into trust, and eventually, revenue. That’s why it’s crucial to learn how to build a brand story that’s unique to you and your company.
If you’ve never considered the story behind your store before, this article will walk you through why it’s so important and how you can tackle it yourself. You’ll also see examples of retailers with strong brand stories for a little inspiration.
Table of contents
What is a brand story?
A brand story is a compelling narrative of how and why your brand acts in the way that it does. It tells the tale of your company’s origins, values, goals, and mission.
This story sets the stage for every interaction customers have with your brand, in-store and online. A good brand story should define the purpose of the company to both the staff and the customer.
The importance of telling a brand story
Brand storytelling helps you connect with customers, foster loyalty and trust, and set your business apart from the competition, which can result in more revenue.
Connecting with customers
Consumers want to connect with brands that appeal to their sense of self. Your brand story is the message that creates a powerful emotional connection between your company, your customers, and the general public. It’s not just any story, it’s a reflection of your brand personality.
A strong brand message will create resounding consumer goodwill and draw more customers to your store, sometimes including customers that may otherwise not have heard of you.
Building trust and loyalty
Great brand stories allow smaller retailers to attract new customers and keep them coming back for more, even without a big marketing budget.
When done right, brand storytelling creates a magical bond and develops a relationship beyond products. If your brand story is effective, it not only leads to an increase in sales, but also allows the company to scale more quickly and with a culture that fosters the brand experience.
Differentiating your brand
Branding will convince a customer to either buy from you or from your competition. If they’ve never purchased from you before, branding and narrative is what will prompt them to take a chance on your brand.
How to tell your brand story
- Determine your why
- Understand your product
- Understand your audience
- Keep it concise and clear
- Highlight human stories
1. Determine your why
When beginning your brand story, always start with the why behind what you do. For example, Nordstrom’s “why” is good customer service. Here are some questions to help you figure out your why:
- Why does the brand exist?
- How do we contribute to the world?
- What is our mission?
- What do we value?
- What motivated me to start my business?
Your story doesn’t have to be groundbreaking.Think about the story around why your brand exists in the first place, or your passion for entering your industry.
Understanding the why can be difficult, especially if you started your business purely to capture an opportunity to make money.
2. Understand your product
To know your brand story, you must also understand how and where your product fits into it. A brand story that isn’t relevant to your product might drive an engaged fan base, but few sales.
Lack of self-awareness in the product is one of the biggest mistakes brands make when it comes to their story. You don’t sell a Mercedes the same way you sell a Kia. They’re both cars, but with different qualities, performance, experience expectations, and price point.
To figure out how your product fits into your brand story, Conway recommends asking yourself the following questions:
- What’s the quality and price point of my product?
- Does my product solve a problem, or should it make a consumer feel a certain way?
- How is my product different from competitors’ products?
3. Understand your audience
The third component to understand when beginning your brand story is to get to know your target audience. To build a successful brand story, you need to know who you’re talking to. Knowing what your audience’s passions and pain points are can help you determine how your brand story fits into their lives.
Here’s another set of questions to ask yourself:
- What’s at stake if a consumer doesn’t buy my product?
- Who is my current customer?
- Who is my ideal customer?
Many retailers try to appeal to all customers, instead of speaking directly to their target. When you target everyone, you tend to win people, because very few products are everything to everybody. It’s OK to appeal to a broad demographic, but too broad can be a turnoff to some customers. Always be mindful of your product and who is a realistic, interested customer.
Don’t try to be everything to everyone, understanding that smaller retailers without large customer bases can find identifying the ideal customer especially challenging. If this sounds like you, start internally, making a list of values you stand for, and think about the types of customers those values and ideals might appeal to.
It’s not enough to simply understand and relate to your ideal customer. You have to prove your passion and be your brand story to make meaningful connections that will turn into sales.
4. Keep it concise and clear
A brand should be able to clearly communicate its message and what it stands for in one sentence, or with one glance at a logo.
After creating the first draft of your brand story, it’s a good idea to edit and refine it. Think of yourself as a sculptor starting with a shapeless piece of marble. The more you remove, the more defined—and memorable—the final result.
It can be helpful to share your brand story with someone who hasn’t heard it before. They can point out parts that are confusing because you’ve provided too much information, or not provided enough.
5. Highlight human stories
People connect with people, not products or companies. To create a compelling origin story that builds brand loyalty, tell human stories, instead of putting the spotlight on products.
Here are some ideas on what human stories your brand might have:
- An entrepreneur’s journey to opening his first store after overcoming hardship
- A social entrepreneur’s positive impact on the people in its local community
- The inspiring employees who embody your brand story
Tips for building a brand story
Creating a good story is one thing, but implementing it across all areas of your retail business is a whole other task. Every interaction counts, and every interaction must bring your brand story to life.
When a message or a story is inconsistent, it becomes diluted and less impactful. That’s why a strong brand story must be communicated consistently, across all channels, to resonate with your target audience.
Keep this in mind with product development, too. Avoid creating multiple products with vastly different branding styles. Every element of your brand—from story narrative to visuals—should have a purpose. Your products should assist each other, not fight for attention or shelf space.
Consumers are smart and can sniff out a phony a mile away. That’s why it’s so important that your brand story authentically represents you, your brand, and your products.
A lack of authenticity in branding often comes either from not really knowing why you’re in business, not being able to explain it, or not clearly understanding the customer. That’s why laying the groundwork is so important.
Document your brand story
Documenting your brand story for your reference, and for your employees and customers, will help you tell it more successfully.
Recording your brand story and creating brand guidelines keeps your employees on the same page, and reduces the chance of the story being misrepresented or mistold. Since every component is essential to telling your story, down to the font of your storefront sign, documented guidelines serve as a reference to which every aspect of your business should align.
The components of your brand guidelines may vary, but here’s a rough list of what to include:
- Beginning, middle, and end of your brand story
- Logo, typography, and visual style guidelines
- Brand voice and tone
- Mission and vision
- Brand values
If you need inspiration, take a look at Shopify’s brand guidelines.
Documenting your brand story is also helpful if you’re outsourcing, especially as it relates to design and marketing.
Once the story is clear, get creative, using typography and color to communicate on your behalf. If you’re not an experienced designer, find a partner who can create both an authentic brand story and visuals that show your brand essence and ensure it looks like something your customers will trust and value.
Emotion is proven to enhance memories, making it easier for people to remember stories or experiences that make them feel a certain way.
Customers may not remember every detail of your brand story, such as when you came up with the idea or where your first shop was located. But they’ll remember how they felt when they heard your story. So tell your brand story in a way that sparks an emotional response.
According to research published by the International Society for Research on Emotion, negative emotions are more strongly linked to recall than positive emotions. Don’t be afraid to include the bad as well as the good. Share the failed attempts you made and criticism you received. These painful memories will stick with consumers.
Consider your storytelling medium
Crafting an effective brand story isn’t just about coming up with a narrative. How you deliver your message is just as important, so consider the media you’ll use to tell your tale.
Think outside the box. Of course you’ll share your brand story on your website through text and maybe video, but how will you convey it in your shop? Consider commissioning an artist to paint a mural that tells your origin story, or play a video on a loop that walks customers through your journey. Don’t forget to include your brand story on your products’ labels and packaging.
Don’t forget to include your brand story on your products’ labels and packaging. Take inspiration from shoe brand Sam Edelman. Each shoebox comes with a booklet that explains the brand’s founding and mission, as told through an illustrated conversation between Sam and his wife and muse, Libby. The result is a brand story that sticks with you, and is too beautiful to throw away.
Here’s a checklist of storytelling formats you may want to use:
- Brand website
- Brick-and-mortar shop
- Product labels
- Retail and shipping packaging
- Social media
- Email and print newsletter
- Press coverage (print media, TV coverage, podcast features)
Empower others to tell your story
Your employees and customers are powerful advocates for your brand, and can therefore be great storytellers on your behalf.
Train new employees to remember the brand story so they can share it with customers. You can even use your story as a hiring tool. In interviews, ask candidates how it resonates with them. Are there shared values and passions? When you find employees who connect with your narrative, you build a team of effective storytellers who will fit well into the company culture.
Customers are your biggest advocates. Encourage them to share their brand story—their experience with your company and its products. Capture their storytelling through social media, online reviews, and other forms of testimonials. Leverage this user-generated content (UGC) to create compelling, authentic marketing campaigns.
3 inspiring brand story examples
When coming up with your brand story, it can be helpful to look at real-world examples. These three Shopify retailers have strong brand stories you can learn from.
Blendily is a botanic wellness and skincare brand with stores in Portland and Seattle—and a strong brand story to boot. Its core values are clear: handmade, local, vegan, natural, preservative-free, and zero waste—all of which are shared on its website and made evident through the retail spaces.
It also uses its story to share the brand’s philosophy around its products and the ingredients it uses.This highlights its differentiator as a natural brand as well.
Blendily shows a commitment to its brand story and values through its products.
2. United By Blue
Sustainable and ethical goods brand United by Blue has a strong commitment to its mission and values, which are also available on its website for all to see.
But United by Blue doesn’t just tell a story. It also lives up to its story. It organizes beach cleanups, directly equating one product purchase to one pound of trash cleaned up. Its story is accompanied by a CTA for its audience to be a part of the story themselves. This creates a strong community around a shared cause.
3. The Bee & The Fox
The Bee & The Fox is a sustainable, women-owned business with a strong mission to support feminist values. Its products are made at a factory in Peru that offers fair pay, fair hours, and profit sharing. Plus, 70% of its workers are women.
Start telling your unique brand story
Crafting a compelling brand story is an exercise that should be taken seriously. After all, this narrative can help you connect with customers, stand out from the competition, and build trust and loyalty. Why are these things important? Because they help you turn first-time customers into lucrative brand loyalists for life.
Brand story FAQ
What is an example of a brand story?
How do you write a brand story?
- Think about what makes your brand unique and special. What is its history? What are its core values?
- Write in a way that is engaging and easy to read. Use strong verbs and active language.
- Be sure to proofread and edit your story before you publish it.