If you’re telling the world about your new cat toy, windshield cleaner, or dating app, you’re going to be shouting from many types of rooftops. But whatever your brand message, it must be consistent, powerful, and carefully balanced. If you build a strong theme as your foundation, it will help you keep all the different pieces of your story on target, wherever and whenever you tell it.
Enter the Brand Story Pyramid. Starting at the base we have the foundational elements of who/what/why/where/how you are. Once established, the rest of the story building blocks will stack naturally.
You build your brand story from the ground up, but your audience will generally experience it from the top down. So starting at the top – the first impression:
• This first brand impression is visually compact, and it’s visceral. Beyond the analytical mind, a good logo creates an instant story with color, shape, and dramatic visual storytelling at its simplest. And if poorly designed, that’s the first impression you have to live with.
• It’s useful to generate vertical and horizontal versions with name and image lockup; and also a separate logo/avatar for social media profiles that scales down well to small thumbnail sizes.
• Tagline: There are entire studies on the art of the tagline. Just make sure you spend some time on this, or it will be crucial wasted space.
• Mission statement: This can be as short as a sentence, almost a long tagline, but usually more of a paragraph. This highlights the higher aim of your venture, meant to inspire good feelings and relate the heartfelt personal mission of the company. No product specifics here, but a sense of how your company will improve people’s lives.
• Short brand paragraph: This can be inspiring like the mission statement, but more of an explanation of the brand offering, how it solves a problem in a more commercial sense. Should be just a few sentences, easily placed in a slide presentation or trade show brochure that lists sponsors.
• Long brand paragraph: For complex business with multiple markets and operations, this allows more depth. It should extend the Short brand paragraph. Useful for in-depth reports, background for press, financial statements, etc. Once nailed down it will be useful to leverage for website content.
• About Us / Social Profile: This is to ensure you have a consistent, concise summary for all of your social media accounts and other material that gives concise background of your brand. It can be based on your mission statement or short brand paragraph. Also mention the leadership team and other main social accounts if that’s a priority.
• Press Release Boilerplate: The traditional addendum to press releases, it summarizes your business in a straightforward, journalistic style. Use the long brand paragraph as a basis but also include common facts about your business, areas of operation, and other tidbits useful to add context to the story it’s attached to.
• Brand parable/origin story: This is helpful in relating a compelling emotional side to your brand, and can inform the above elements. It should provide a memorable, easily-understood story to insert in any company background. An example: A cancer early detection device that was invented by the daughter of a man who has suffered a long battle from a cancer that has high survival rates with early detection. Just be sure it’s authentic, as you may be telling this story a lot. To paraphrase Mark Twain, if you don’t tell lies you have less to remember.
• Elevator Pitch: Short version (10-20 seconds), and “skyscraper” version (one minute). You can base them mostly on your Mission Statement and Brand Paragraph.
• You should pack both versions like a loaded, friendly pistol, ready to fire with ease at a moment’s notice. Imagine you step into an elevator with Elon Musk, who’s just heard mention of your brand and his curiosity is piqued. “So what’s CoolNewTechCorp again, and should I be interested?” You respond with a natural smile and smooth delivery that does not sound rehearsed – precisely because you HAVE rehearsed it many times. Basically, tell how it will change a slice of the world, backed up by what it does, and how it stands above the rest.
• Start with a concise one-liner about how it will make life easier, more fun/productive/sexier, whatever – but don’t overstate it. Try asking and answering a question (e.g., “You know how it’s always hard to find a good ______? Well we find one for you quickly by ______!”). Or invite big thinking: “Imagine traveling to a faraway city, tapping your phone, and instantly locating a great _____.”
• State what it does, and how you use it in a very general sense
• Say who uses it currently or would benefit from it, and what problem it solves
• Mention the technology or process behind it, but don’t get stuck in feature details (save that for follow-up questions)
• Extra Credit: Prepare some comments that apply to the industries your listener will likely be in (if banking, relate how secure the transactions are; if automotive, note recent trends in automotive adoption and how this enhances certain features, etc.)
• Explainer Video: About 90 seconds or less, incorporating many of your high-level Story Pyramid elements in a broad, light-hearted way: Your mission, product benefits, how it works, maybe simple schematics for the technology and process, how it solves a problem, and call to action or next steps for viewers to take.
• Tag it so it’s easily searchable (using best practices), and you might make it modular for smaller slices to appear in a series for social media. Don’t skimp and upload a highly compressed version for YouTube/Vimeo/etc. – they can take full HD now so take advantage of showing yourself in the highest resolution.
• The Explainer Video is pretty much table stakes for any startup these days. And there are a jillion other stories, large and small, you can tell with video – economically – that will convey so much more to your audience than stills and text. You can do a lot even in six seconds.
TONE & VOICE
• Intangible but invaluable. This is the ‘flavor’ of all your communications in your Pyramid (to varying degrees), and it must consistently reflect the personality of your brand. Playful, earnest, helpful, powerful, disruptive, etc. It must resonate with not only your audience but with the product image you are trying to popularize.
• Don’t leave this to implicit understandings or casual guidance. Document your approach in a Content Style Guide so anyone contributing to your communications (agency, intern, marketing manager, social media manager) can at least adhere to some simple guidelines.
Carefully construct your story from the ground up, and you can tell it with confidence any time, any place. Enjoy the build, and remember – it’s good to get dirty!