Mastering the Art of Storytelling and Storymaking
June 1, 2016
Building a successful brand story involves creating an emotional connection with potential clients. Your brand story is a narrative that provides a glimpse of who you are as a law firm and fosters subsequent growth.
Human-to-human connections are not only central to marketing but also to law firms. In essence, your firm works to solve people’s problems while providing a positive client experience. Brand storytelling can be used as a powerful tool that helps build relationships and gives your brand a voice.
Storytelling is a long-term process that involves the creation of stories about your brand and the direct distribution of that content, across multiple mediums — such as television ads, blog posts, case studies — to help potential clients envision how your services can meet their needs.
This strategy is based on the concept that people are likely to remember ideas and emotions more than just facts and figures.
There is, however, more to a brand story than just the about page on your website. The carefully constructed story of your brand should explain how your firm came into being, what makes your services special, what you are passionate about, what your goals are and why clients should work with your law firm. The most powerful brand stories are ones that connect with the target audience on an emotional level by tying the values of that practice to the promises the brand makes to the people it serves.
A potential client’s relationship with your brand will often begin before the client actually uses your services. When it comes to law firms, marketing has a tendency to end up all looking the same. Clever use of storytelling can help even small firms and solo-practice lawyers distinguish themselves from their competitors. Think about what makes your practice unique. Prospective clients will connect with an attorney more if he or she has an interesting story to tell. The more relatable the narrative you tell, the more loyalty it will spark. Some elements that contribute to developing a compelling brand story are detailed below.
An authentic brand story is true to your firm’s values and mission statement, aligning strongly with the services you offer to clients while remaining genuine and heartfelt. Ask yourself what your firm stands for and why. Focus your story on the same ideas your firm focuses on. Can you actually deliver on your promises? In their search for legal counsel, potential clients are likely to research prospective firms online before making a decision to do business with them. Stories that are obviously disassociated from the brand will almost always fail with audiences. People will be able to see through hyperbolic claims, so make sure your words match your actions.
Many companies focus their brand stories on what they do or how they help people. To stand out from the completion, instead highlight why you do what you do. Emphasizing your brand’s motivations helps create an emotionally compelling and memorable brand story. It can also establish you in your market as an authority with experience and knowledge. Transcend generalities by answering this question: Why should people care about what my firm has to say? Boasting or self-congratulation could make clients wary, but revealing some unknown or personal facts about a brand helps to humanize it. For example, you could share something about the origins of your firm. Drawing attention to the geographic location of your office can also make for an appealing brand story for people seeking legal counsel in your area.
Keep your brand promise consistent and your firm’s identity as unified as possible. The most effective brand storytelling is woven into various aspects of the overall brand strategy. It becomes part of your company’s message architecture and its identity, following your team members everywhere. The content and imagery should be consistent across all platforms including social media, websites and blog posts.
Setting the right tone
The tone of the brand story, including wording and imagery, should reflect the values, emotions and experiences you want people to associate your brand with. Design your story to arouse a specific emotion in your target audience — fear, anger, happiness, hope — in order to mobilize people into action. For example, if your firm deals with veterans issues, you could highlight the challenges veterans face in receiving the benefits they deserve. The power of the story ultimately lies in the emotional response it evokes in its audience.
Even before you start creating your brand story, it is essential to determine who your target audience is and identify your place in the market. After all, your clients define your brand. Research your firm’s past trends, current clients and strongest areas of business. Law firms covering a broad range of practice areas should pinpoint which of their services are used most often and can also determine factors clients interested in different services have in common. Doing your research will allow you to select and target your most important demographics. Focusing on your areas of expertise and marketing within that niche will help you stand out from competitors. For example, a criminal defense attorney might discover that the drug defense niche is the most relevant for his client base. Firms are understandably inclined to shy away from the idea of narrowing their target audience because they are worried about losing other clients. However, successful storytelling must appeal to prospective clients on a personal level, which requires honing in on their specific needs.
Developing customer personas is another critical step in establishing a brand story for your firm. Personas group and define the characteristics, habits and profiles of clients. They also provide insight into the emotional and behavioral triggers behind individual customers within a particular niche. After researching your clients, prospects and competitors, the next step is to analyze that data to develop user profiles. Most firms will find that they have more than one audience type to which they want to market, but limiting yourself to four or five personas avoids confusion. And then, your research will help you determine what kind of content to create to target your clients.
Another powerful tool is Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats (SWOT) analysis. SWOT is used to determine areas for improvement, identify trends and obstacles and evaluate a firm’s overall direction. Performing an audit on the internal and external nature of your firm can help you understand it better and therefore see the ways to differentiate it from competitors in your marketing campaign. For example, you might discover that, despite having a solid reputation for its service, your firm does not have enough of an online presence. In that case, a potential opportunity could be using social media to reach new clients, while a possible threat could be that competitors who offer the same services and are more visible online would snatch up potential clients before they even knew your firm existed.
When developing a brand story, in addition to storytelling, firms can also implement a more collaborative processes: story-making. While storytelling can be described as a brand's monologue to potential clients, story-making is the process of making the brand’s audience the storytellers. What makes story-making different is that marketers actively solicit, curate and redistribute the content created, posted and shared by their target audience, as opposed to the controlled and direct distribution of regular storytelling.
The key to story-making is to find stories that tap meaningfully into people’s deep emotions. The concept of story-making is based on the idea that people trust user-generated content — such as testimonials, reviews and Tweets — more than content that comes directly from a brand. In a 2013 study, Nielson found that 84 percent of consumers trusted word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family above all other sources of advertising. Today, skeptical clients do not trust companies to be objective; all firms claim they are the best at what they do. However, even skeptics can be influenced by a powerful example or story that provides proof.
To have an effective marketing strategy, your brand needs to use both storytelling and story-making. Although story-making is usually the most convincing way to share a brand’s story, storytelling remains a valuable device to impart important brand ideas and spark audience participation. Marketers still need to use storytelling to provide context to the story-making by explaining what the curated content means and who benefits from it. To help your brand stand out and reach different people, offer engaging, personalized stories that your target audience finds relatable.
Good story-making occurs when clients make the brand story a part of their own life stories. One of the most successful recent examples of this is Coca Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign, which connected with people on an emotional level by giving them the ability to share stories about personalized Coke bottles. In the legal marketing context, when clients share their success stories about your services, potential clients in similar situations feel connected with them in sympathy, envy or something in between, and that in turn can make them feel an emotional connection to your firm — or at least grab their attention.
Once you have determined your brand story and content strategy, the next step is to implement storytelling through content that will capture your audience’s attention. Equally important to the stories your marketing materials tell, is how those stories are told. A clear, compelling writing style gets your point across and makes the audience excited to hear more. Authenticity is crucial to copywriting. Think about what tone, voice and communication style your audience will value and is appropriate to your services. Decide whether the language should be conversational, formal or somewhere in between.
If you are overly formal and use too much legal jargon, you risk alienating potential clients. Oversimplifying things, on the other hand, could lead to less trust in your brand.
The growth of social media presents a valuable avenue for storytelling. Recent research from Econsultancy shows that 71 percent of brands plan to invest more heavily in social media in the coming years to reach new followers and build brand reputation. Why not let your clients tell your story for you through social media? Much of today’s popular social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, are highly compatible with visual storytelling; they include many ways to integrate photos, videos, infographics and other visuals, which make your campaign more dynamic. Rather than using social media networks as just another distribution channel, view them as powerful conversational platforms for forging emotional connections with your clients. Seek to make your brand more accessible by addressing concerns users post to social media. When they have comments and suggestions about your services, listen and respond whenever possible.
When using social media for storytelling, the key is to choose social networking platforms that support your brand image and best convey your brand’s voice. For law firms, Facebook’s timeline format and diverse user base is effective for promoting brand awareness. Twitter can also be useful for sharing opinions on topical issues and relating the values and personality of the practice. The image-centric nature of Instagram, on the other hand, is not necessarily the ideal platform for law firms.
Focus on creating valuable content that viewers will want to share. Every single piece of content you post should support your brand image. Use tools such as BuzzSumo to find the content pieces that are performing well in your industry. Relevant, memorable and evocative brand stories that are shareable can help you harness word of mouth and build a strong, loyal client base.
Podcasting and videos also provide powerful ways of engaging with potential clients. By podcasting about topical issues, firms can deepen their relationship with their target audience and become woven into the fabric of people's everyday lives — the daily commute, for example. Podcasts build brand awareness by creating a community of listeners who are interested in your brand.
Photographs can add another level of personal connection to your website, print materials and social media. The key is to be as authentic as possible. You may be tempted to use stock images on your branded website, but awkward stock photos can undermine your credibility. Instead, consider using custom photography, which can be of great help in branding and storytelling. A professional photographer can convey your true brand story through photographs that are a pleasure to look at. If you do decide to use stock images, make sure you are highly selective and choose quality images. Mixing some good stock images with custom photography can be quite effective.
Brand storytelling goes beyond what you write on your website and share online with your clients. It encompasses how you communicate your law firm’s message and values. Ideally, your brand story will be a constantly evolving conversation between you and your audience.