A few times a week, I go to my local bookstore to browse the new releases. A bell rings as I open the front door. The usual customers sit in oversized leather chairs with their laptops open. The neighborhood cat lounges on the front steps, basking in the sunshine. An employee greets me, we chat about our days, and she shows me some new books she thinks I might enjoy — without me ever asking.
I’ve driven three times farther to get here, passed several other bookstores along the way, and paid more to shop at this store. That’s because, as a consumer, I have no lack of choices in this day and age. I can purchase online and have everything delivered to my door. I can buy locally, internationally, or from my neighbor down the street. I can find anything I want, when I want it, at whatever price I’m willing to pay.
But here’s the thing: When I walk into this specific store, it becomes about more than business — it’s about people. Thanks to the way the owner has chosen to run his business, I get the privilege of knowing those people. I know how long they’ve been there and some of the struggles they’ve endured to remain there. I know the challenges they face and the families they go home to. While I may not own a bookstore myself, I can relate to the ups and downs the business goes through because I’ve seen the human side of what they’ve built.
Customers want to connect with businesses
As a consumer, I no longer want to just buy something — I want to belong to something. I want to know a company’s story and its people. And I want to be one of those stories and one of those people.
For decades, a business has been a separate entity from the individuals who bring that business to life: its owners, workforce, and customers. People and profit were never meant to overlap. Businesses kept their stories, their vulnerabilities, and their humanity to themselves.
As the landscape of business changes, branding has become so much more than colorful logos and pretty fonts. Successful branding means sharing the heart and soul of what created your company in the first place. It’s about showing your most authentic self and connecting with consumers on a deeper level.
Why share personal stories about your business — and yourself?
We know the benefits of sharing personal stories for branding our businesses. But business leaders often struggle to be vulnerable in that way. If you’re only accustomed to sharing about your business, sharing about yourself personally can feel uncomfortable at first. Just remember that every business started somewhere — with a person who had a great and passionate idea.
The more we share about ourselves and the human side of our businesses, the more we open our brands up to the possibility of connecting with customers, peers, stakeholders, and the community more fully. Here are a few ways to start sharing personal stories to show your brand’s authenticity:
1. Start small
Like anything else, vulnerability takes practice. It’s a muscle that you need to strengthen, but that effort is well worth your time and energy. Start small and make sharing the more personal side of your business — and yourself — a routine. Could you share what life is like working from home or how things have changed during the pandemic with your client base? Could you create a blog post about how your company came to fruition? Can you share photos of a furry friend in your office?
By bringing your customers into the life of your business, you bring them into your story and remind them that the business is a living, breathing organism built on the shoulders of people like themselves. That’s what makes a brand connect with consumers on a more meaningful level.
2. Visualize your audience
When you begin sharing personal stories with your clients, try to visualize sitting across from them at a coffee shop and having a casual conversation. This will help you be more aware of the language and tone you use when you share your unique story. Customers want to connect with brands by learning more about the people behind the titles of “owner” or “CEO.” They want to be able to relate to those people.
For example, Howard Schultz, former CEO and chairman of Starbucks sat down with Oprah Winfrey in 2017 to share his personal views on a time when the company’s growth became disconnected from its purpose; it was a vulnerable conversation full of raw emotion and difficult truths. I reflect upon that conversation each time I walk into a Starbucks location because there was sincerity and authenticity in his acknowledgment.
That mistakes were made and values were compromised in the name of profit. Starbucks still feels like a massive empire in the coffee industry, but taking that opportunity to share his vision, failures, and successes with consumers helped bring out the human side of his business.
3. Market your brand by using storytelling in business
When we use compassion and authenticity as a gateway to connecting with our customers — not just using conventional means of advertising to reach them — we form deeper, more meaningful relationships. It creates a deeper sense of trust and caring, and using storytelling in business is one of the best ways to do this. Storytelling is all about sharing an experience, and human experience is the common thread that binds us all.
As a consumer, I connect with brands and people if I can see my own joy in their joy — or my own struggle in their struggle. As a result, I will want to support you beyond the bounds of a traditional consumer. I will want to support your story because you have allowed me to become a part of it.
By sharing the stories of our struggles, our victories, and our humanity, we can put the focus on people instead of just profit. And it’s not hard to see that consumers want to connect with brands that care about more than profit.
Connect with consumers to bring them into your story
Any company can sell a product, but not every company will invite people into the story of that product, that business, and that dream. When we allow our clients and consumers to become a part of our experience, they become a part of our story — and vice versa.
This allows us to move out of transactional experiences and into relational experiences, connecting with consumers more intimately. The connection is no longer about what they bought; it becomes about how they felt.
By sharing personal stories about ourselves, consumers feel seen, heard, and understood. They become loyal to an experience rather than a product.
They’re also reminded that there is a human story unfolding within your brand that goes beyond the bottom lines and profit margins. And as humans relating to other humans, they get to be a valuable part of that story.