How to build a brand story and craft your tone of voice – an Active event with Sonder & Tell


On a fresh autumnal morning last week, 30 of our portfolio founders, brand leaders and marketers gathered at the Active offices to explore the ins and outs of building a compelling brand story and bringing it to life through a distinctive tone of voice. We were delighted to be joined by Kate Hamilton and Lucinda Toole from Sonder & Tell, a strategy studio specialising in brand positioning, tone of voice and creative copywriting.

Sonder & Tell helps brands to create brand stories and tone of voice in tandem, building a narrative through storytelling and sharing it with the world through a narrator. If this is done well, a brand can feel so real you could imagine walking into a bar and having a drink with it. Think Patagonia, Airbnb or Oatly.

Humans are storytelling beings, so unsurprisingly one of the most effective ways for brands to build a connection with their consumers is to make them feel part of their story. According to Cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner, we are 22 times more likely to remember facts when they are delivered in the form of a story. 22x – that translates to a lot of customers if you get your brand positioning right.

When a brand communicates with its customers, it is really just helping them to make quick decisions about why they should choose them over a different brand.

So, what is it that makes a good story? How do we apply this framework to build a compelling brand story that our customers resonate with? And how do we share this story with the world?

Here are some of our key takeaways from the morning:

A good brand story is made up of a hero, a journey, a guide and a magic power

All good stories start with a hero. It is one you care deeply about who has a real or urgent conflict. Think of Merlin in Finding Nemo who has lost his son and is urgently trying to find him. He must go into the unknown to do so.

The hero is going on a journey somewhere and that journey is going to transform them. When Merlin goes to find Nemo, it transforms him from an anxious fish into a brave one.

Finally, the hero needs a guide to help them on the journey. The guide has a magic power that is uniquely useful to the hero and will help them through. Dory is Merlin’s guide, and her abundance of optimism is her magic power.

According to Sonder & Tell, this framework applies when you’re building a brand story.

It starts with your hero – your customer. Who is your aspirational customer, and what is the problem they face you are solving?

Next, what is your hero preparing to face on their journey? Who is the villain or what is the conflict you’re helping them defeat?

Your brand is the guide for the hero on this journey. What is your brand belief that gives you permission to be the best guide for the hero? What is your magic power and what kind of guide do you want to be?

By following this framework to craft a compelling brand story with your customer at its heart, you are creating a world around them, an understanding of what they need and the transformation they want to undergo.

A successful brand voice is a narrator for your brand story

Once you’ve built your brand positioning, your tone of voice helps you become the narrator who tells that brand story to the world.

A distinct tone of voice can inspire action, whisk you away to another world, portray your values or make you laugh. Deciphering what your brand stand for helps you find out where you can add value and the conversations you can own as a brand. This stops you from jumping on the bandwagon every time something happens.

Build your brand’s personality using tone words based on your hero, magic power and brand belief 

Start by using the framework we used to build your brand story, identifying tone words for your hero, magic power and brand belief. Each question below helps to prompt particular words that reflect our customer, product and brand:

  • The Hero – Who they are? What role do we play for them?
  • Magic power –What do we do better? What do we do differently? What do only we do?
  • Brand belief – What do you stand for as a brand? What do you stand against? What is the world you are trying to create and how does that translate to an element of your tone of voice?

Once you have your tone words, you want to start thinking creatively to bring your tone words to life. Building a world and personality around your brand and bringing it to life through language. Imagine putting on your brand hat and becoming the brand that you are writing about.

If you want to learn more about how Sonder & Tell can help you build your brand story and tone of voice, contact the team. You can also sign up for their weekly newsletter The Word full of insights into brand strategy and storytelling.

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