‘Our customers expect to know us, like us, trust us’: Q&A with Emma Hannigan

Newsletter: This week in entrepreneurship... #36
LaunchVic announces $4.9 million for Victorian startups

Storytelling expert Emma Hannigan on powerful brand stories that get your audiences talking.


1. Can you create a great brand story if you’re not a natural storyteller?

Absolutely, we are all the definitive expert when it comes to our own story and the tale of our own journey is an integral part of our brand story. Most people lack confidence when it comes to writing or storytelling – in the most part this comes from criticism they’ve received in the past. A lot of people have that teacher’s voice in their head telling them they can’t do it. In order for your brand story to be authentic, it has to come from you and we all have that story inside us.

2. What’s your top tip for creating an awesome one?

For most people, the hardest part is getting started. My top tip is, get it down on paper and be relaxed with the fact that it is a first draft and it won’t be a masterpiece.

3. Can you provide some examples of companies that do an amazing job of storytelling?

Two companies come straight to mind when I think about great corporate storytelling: Guinness (not just because I grew up in Ireland!) and Nike. In both cases, they have been capturing our imagination with story long before it became a buzz word. They have always evoked emotion with their advertising. In more recent times, Airbnb has done a great job of putting customer stories in the centre of the brand.

4. What can you do to get the tone absolutely right, so it represents the ‘look and feel’ that what you want for your brand?

It has to be authentic, it has to come from the heart and soul of the founder. Being real, being vulnerable and being true to your passion for the business will ensure the tone aligns with your, vision, mission and values.

5. How does the position of your brand in the marketplace reflect the type of story you should create?

The story of your business will naturally evolve with the business itself. If you are in startup mode then you will be telling the story of your origins. However, as you move into a more established space, you will be telling the stories of your success and using your customers to tell your stories.

6. How do you change your story if, say, the product or service you produce starts to get loads of negative press?

It is important in this case to address the issues and talk about how you are dealing with the cause of the bad press. Once you have put out the fires, you can re-establish your brand with positive stories of moving beyond and conquering the issues at the heart of the negativity.

7. Is storytelling for B2B customers the same as it is for B2C or are there distinct differences?

B2B marketers can showcase expertise through thought leadership articles, offering insight into the marketplace, positioning their brands as leaders in the industry. That’s why an effective B2B content strategy is often simply about being the most respected source of industry information in your field. On the other hand, a B2C customer is more driven by emotional triggers – we want consumers to feel.

8. Can you provide an example of how you can use your story for brand awareness and lead generation?

Our presence on social media is a must and we cannot simply be a company – our customers expect to know us, like us and trust us. Your story is a vital part of this – you must have a genuine and authentic presence on social media if you want to do business nowadays. People care much less about whether you have an MBA than they do about why you were inspired to start your business.

9. What’s one great way you can use it to retain customers?

People do business with people, not with companies. By having a story that your customers can relate to and be engaged with, you are increasing your brand loyalty and customer retention.

10. How can you tell if the story you’ve created is working or if it needs tweaking?

It is important to have other people review your story. When we are immersed in a business it can be easy to get technical or use too much jargon. Get your mentors and trusted advisors to read it and give constructive feedback.

11. Does a brand story have to be written? Are any companies doing things differently?

Video is huge these days – think of all the video that pops up on your Facebook feed. Video is a great resource for getting your brand story out to customers. Lots of businesses are also using podcasts as a way of connecting with customers. Instagram is also a good resource for photo and now video content. That is the joy of the digital age – we have so many resources at our disposal.

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Newsletter: This week in entrepreneurship... #36
LaunchVic announces $4.9 million for Victorian startups

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