Keeping it real: Build an artisan brand through storytelling

brian bennett new headshot

Brian Bennett

STIR | President
Sep 27

There are many wonderful craftspeople around the world who make special products. Consumers crave these handcrafted works of art en masse. But if that’s truly the case, then why don’t all these businesses grow on a steep curve? Mainly it’s because artisanal product makers don’t understand the power of storytelling. It’s through the creation of an emotional and compelling narrative that artisanal brands inspire consumers to take action.

In a sense, the unique story behind an artisan’s product should become their brand. And without a defined brand, a product is nothing more than an obscure commodity. Commodities generally sell for low prices and lack of profitability inhibits growth and success. So, without the story, there will likely be little success.

Market for the masses

When meeting craftspeople and speaking to them informally, they tend to impress others with their undeniable passion, 24/7 commitment to their work, and their depth of knowledge. One can learn fascinating things about their personal journey and their product just by having a casual conversation with them. And that, folks, is a passionate brand story – one that is easily shared and repeated over time. Makers need to replicate this one-on-one customer experience with produced communications that reach far more people via mass media. For an emerging brand, taking advantage of the power of social media to tell their story may be the only way enthusiasts across the country would ever have access to understand the special characteristics behind the product.

Build brand equity

Investing time and energy to build a brand and its story is a wise move, because it allows consumers to value the product and develop a sense of trust in the maker. When that trust is established, people are generally more willing pay more for their goods. As a result, there will be a greater volume of items sold, producing cash flow and profits – all because there’s been a mindful investment in the brand.

Brand storytelling builds business on many levels and through many media. For example:

  • Gain media distribution
  • Improve placement at retail
  • Generate trial
  • Boost social media engagement
  • Increase repeat sales and loyalty
  • Raise margins and profits

Growth of an artisan brand requires retailers and distributors to invest in the brand by adding it to their portfolio and placing it on their shelf. But before they take that leap, they will likely want to see evidence that your brand is interesting to the consumer. They will want to see that the right story is being told – one that resonates with people and motivates them to make a purchase. Your brand must demonstrate to retailers that it will make the product move, thus helping their bottom line in tandem with yours.

Tell your story – and tell it well

Since the beginning of humankind, people have loved listening to and reading stories. Newsflash: Not much has changed. Your customer wants to hear your story. Retailers want to hear it. The better you communicate your story, the better the results will be. Stories should be crafted to include key narratives that are meaningful to the most important audiences. While this concept varies by product category, there are some common themes that can guide you:

  • Instead of just focusing on promoting the quality attributes of the product, tell the back story – the motivation and process behind it all. It’s not just the business you are in or the physical product you produce; it’s also how and why you do business or make the product that will separate you from the pack.
  • Sourcing is another critical part of your story. For example: From where do you source your ingredients? How do you treat those sources? How do you make the product? Who do you work with? This is what readers are craving to know. McKinsey research shows that the majority of specialty product audiences must know or want to know a significant amount about the product before converting.

Separate your product from your brand

Many business owners simply believe that product attributes and price are the most important distinguishing features. That’s true, but a brand is much more complex than that. You must separate the product from the brand.

To do this, craft the character and story of the brand as diligently as the product itself. It is often more powerful to talk about some of the softer, more emotionally charged product benefits. Instead of sharing miniscule details of how your food tastes, tell someone how it will make them feel. Will it induce nostalgia? Will it make them feel energized? Will it allow them to feel better about their dietary decisions? That’s why so much of the conversation should revolve around the unique back story of where the product comes from. The special care that goes into making the product. The special people who do it and why they do it. Share the essential emotional drivers with your consumer. After that, the next step is up to them.

Romanticize your story

Romance is a big part of storytelling and branding. We’re not just talking about flawless love stories with fairytale endings. We’re talking about conjuring feelings of excitement and escape from the ordinary. In order to activate the very real emotions of the reader, write with reverence – similarly to how you speak. Accentuate the unique. Provide some extra detail. Draw attention to the most important plot points. Add the same sense of humor and charm that you share when you are giving a personal company tour. Give your brand an actual voice and make the tone apparent and brand appropriate.

It’s also important to show off your key differentiators. Everyone is unique, but what specifically makes someone who they are? This same philosophy can be applied to a brand. Your brand’s key differentiators may be programs or innovations that define your values. Meister Cheese’s Cow’s First program is a great example of this.

Here are some storytelling elements to consider featuring prominently across your owned media:

  • Show archival pictures. People are enamored with history, and visualizing how the company has grown over the years further demonstrates the hard work put in to create a successful brand.
  • Share awards you’ve won and prominent recognitions you’ve received.
  • Talk about the physical land you’re on, including any environmental concerns, if applicable.
  • Share how well you take care of the people who work for you. Culture and respect are extremely important.
  • Share how and why you are involved in the community including charities and nonprofits you support
  • Be transparent. If you have old equipment, tell them that you do it by hand. If you have new equipment, talk about how clean your product is.

Artisans often don’t see the magic in what they do – because they do it all day, every day. And sometimes, they don’t necessarily feel that their story is that much different than the other excellent producer down the street. Give yourself some credit and accept the fact that you are indeed exceptional. There’s room in the market for you, but it all comes down to telling your one-of-a-kind story.

If you’d like help shaping your brand story, reach out to brianb@stirstuff.com.

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