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9 Secrets to Make Sure You Don't SUCK at Storytelling

November 21, 2021

Friday night, I was catching up on Shark Tank episodes I've missed lately and saw a brand that's sent me product samples before. First of all, it's so cool to see brands I know or founders I know get up on Shark Tank, whether or not they get a deal, it's awesome.

Anyways, this founder starts pitching at a very fair valuation and crushes the pitch. I learned so much about the product and the brand, why it started, why they have a loyal customer base, etc. and I just sat there thinking, "Wow, I didn't know any of this when I got product samples or went to their website." It inspired this tweet, which then inspired today's newsletter.

When we bring on a new client to work with at Sharma Brands, there are three things we make sure exists before we agree to work together:

  1. There must be a reason for the product to exist. If you're launching the 17th version of something that exists, and you're not solving for anything new, then hiring us doesn't change anything. We need a problem to solve that consumers won't find anywhere else. It's similar to my friend Harrison at Visionary Music Group — if the sound isn't unique enough to stand out, then why would he sign that artist? He’d always be competing without an edge in his pocket.
  2. The brand must have a good story. Everything that we do with brands is around their story. Whether or not they're great at really telling the story doesn't matter, because we can help do that, but it must have a good one. Incubated in a VC factory isn't one that we like to work with. We spend 30-45 minutes on a kickoff call going deep into the founder for this reason — why does he/she spend their waking hours focused on building THIS business vs something else?
  3. There needs to be a strong effort from the brand to build its own brand equity. This is simply because we focus on performance branding, the concept of building brand equity on the back of our working media dollars, but we need the brand to go out and create those moments, the things that get heads to turn our way in the first place, and build awareness. This piece is less relevant for today's email, but I figured it's important to include it because no matter what agency you work with, this needs to happen internally. Not with a consultant, not with another agency. If they claim they can, they're just screwing you out of your money. It's like having a kid and expecting your babysitter to raise the kid to be an incredible human being. That's your job.

We need all this because a part of what we do helps companies get smarter with their performance media dollars. But without those ingredients, maybe even AKA a real brand, you can't make progress on the demand side.

Back to the Shark Tank story, this brand had all those things going for them, but they never put their story out. Even going to their site now, it's very much driven by just being a pretty website, but it tells me nothing about why this product is going to personally help me. Just as pretty a website is, it's got to be similar to that Apple store retail experience. Instead of just being a pretty space, it's got to be entertaining and educating. You want to lead this new person who's never heard of you through a journey.

Side note: This is why I also like to have separate pages for existing customers only to easily re-order and stock up again. They're already bought in, and just need a simple page to find what they want. It's like going to the grocery store, you have a mission to get that 1 product, and you're out. Fast and simplified.

It never has to be an either/or between beautiful branding and direct response. I think the reason I love brands with good stories, is that it gives you a reason in the first place to be relevant to someone. Just running quick-cut edits/direct-response content as ALL your advertising efforts is too forward. Starting with a good story gives you the ability to then get a more direct response later. It's why influencers can sell stuff. Their audience is captivated and bought in.

A brand that does this perfectly is Ritual. Their website, so simply, tells you all about the product, what it is, why it exists, why Ritual was founded and why it’s better, how the subscription works, and at the same time, they answer your questions as you scroll. Is the Omega in Ritual plant-based is likely a common question Ritual gets, because their first doctor's quote says "I love that it has omegas in it but they are plant-based." As you're going down this red carpet (website), you're getting everything you need.

Some easy ways to ensure you're always telling a good story:

  • Embrace the concept of performance branding. Performance branding as I mentioned above is building brand equity on the back of your hard-working performance dollars. That means your ad creative, your landing pages, your sponsored editorial content, your email creative, etc all do a good job of re-iterating the WHY. Even if it's super lower-funnel-focused content, push the WHY.
  • Try the unsexy stuff. On that note above, Don't just focus on putting studio-shot creative with overlays, try dabbling into UGC or leveraging bloggers to be the "content" that gets people to understand your WHY.
  • Create moments. Getting earned media coverage (aka press) isn't as easy as just hiring an agency. The agency will be instrumental in making sure you're able to reach the right editors and writers, but you still have to create those moments internally. Are you going to break a world record? Are you throwing an event? Are you giving back to the community? You need to create moments for PR to work.
  • Work with influencers to tell their versions of why they love the brand. There's nothing better than getting creators involved — not only do they do a great job communicating, which is why they have a following, but they are usually a one-stop-shop. You don't need a director, a producer, an editor, a stylist, etc. One creator will do it all for you, cheaper, faster, and more effectively than a studio.
  • Make sure your site experiences are always backed up with the why. If someone is scrolling your website, are they feeling like their questions are getting answered as they scroll? You should also take any high-volume of feedback/questions and incorporate it into the website. The Ritual example above with the plant-based Omegas is a great example of this.
  • Take advantage of unused real estate. Boxes, packaging tape, the note inside. There are so many things you can get creative with to make the package arrival more memorable. In fact, a great example of this is Haus. They did it so well, people would constantly post about it, and it became their customer acquisition channel — their packaging, with the custom Haus tape, the beautiful messaging when you open the box, and the booklet, all in addition to the tasty product.
  • Build FOMO before the product arrives. The time between someone ordering and someone getting their box is a good time to get the WHY ingrained in their brain. As a result, when the product arrives, it will be a more lean-in experience for that consumer.
  • Partnerships. If you have an audience already bought in, they'll take the time to figure out why a brand they love is partnered with you. You're leveraging trust from another source to get highly-qualified eyeballs on you.
  • Force yourself out of the discount mindset. When you can't pull the lever of a lower price, you're forced to pull the lever of "I need to educate this person why the price is worth it". Do that.

A good product never gets properly distributed without good marketing. And good marketing is driven by good stories. It's also the cheapest way to market. People get attached to stories, they share good stories, and they are comfortable with stories they relate to.

Alright, on to some fun stuff...