brand stories character selection

How to humanize your brand stories

human eating a lego breakfast

Remember the old adage, “The fastest way to a man’s heart is through his ribcage,” or whatever? Well, the fastest way to your audience’s heart is to tell stories with emotion a.k.a., to humanize your brand stories.  

Humanize brand stories with humans, not entities

What gives? Why do so many professionals avoid talking about humans in their brand stories? Here are the three most ineffective protagonists that professionals cast instead of humans in their stories. Introducinnnnnnng the usual suspects…

  • The institution: e.g., this division, the enterprise, our firm
  • The thing: e.g., our product, the platform, this program
  • The concept: e.g., asset-building, cloud computing, our model

PRO TIP: If your protagonist has an acronym and you’re not talking about The Notorious B.I.G. or has a hyphen and you’re not talking about Mary-Kate Olsen, that’s a red flag your protagonist isn’t human. Now, if you have a brand story with both of these humans in it, START TELLING IT RIGHT NOW AND POST PICTURES.

Brand stories without humans can lack humanity

Institutions, things, and concepts are fabulous and useful for messaging but, in storytelling, they’re too hard to make into a protagonist your audience can root for. No rooting means no emotion. No emotion means no buy-in. To humanize your brand story and your data stories tell your audience about the humans running this program or designing that model.

Vague terms like stakeholder don’t count 

In stories, avoid terms like stakeholder, partner, or community member because they’re too generic for the audience to feel emotionally attached. To learn more on why they don’t work, click those links for all my unhinged rants coolheaded advice and you’ll soon dodge those jargon monsters.

Here’s how to find the humans for your brand stories

Here’s how to fix it. Prepare your favorite cocktail or smoothie (or both; you do you), grab a sharpie, and start listing everyone you know. Name names of humans (not where they work) as you brainstorm. Think quantity now, culling later. Here are some prompts starting with who:

  1. Do you work with (name the staff, peers, etc.)?
  2. Do you serve (name the clients, participants, users, etc.)?
  3. Refers clients, participants, and users to you?
  4. Is a vendor, consultant, supplier to you?
  5. Intersects or collaborates with you from outside your organization?
  6. Mentors, advises, or invests in you?
  7. Inspired you to do something challenging or unusual?

Now go beyond the usual suspects in your brand stories

Next, start picking names from your lists. Be smart about who you make the star of your story. Nonprofits, are all your stories about your program participants? Consultants, are all your stories about deep partnerships with your clients? Companies, let me guess, you are customer-centric, right? Skip the first two groups from the list above for now and look at 3-7. What if you talked about a different relationship from one of those other lists—one with a new protagonist or even an unlikely beneficiary?.

Have someone else tell stories about you

To seal the deal, take that supa-dupa-fresh humanized brand story and have an unusual messenger tell your story for you.

By the way, I know the fastest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but that just makes me think of Hela from Thor: Ragnarok, not the perfect meatball sub. Let’s stay focused and keep this professional.

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