Sandra Stewart | September 2, 2014
I accidentally bought a bracelet the other day.
I wasn’t looking for one. I didn’t buy it because it’s pretty (though it is) or on sale (it wasn’t). The story made me do it.
The piece was featured in the Chronicle Sunday Style section, which recounted how designer Becky Johnson fell in love with San Francisco’s historic Phelan Building while working there as an intern with the Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts. When the school was evicted (it’s now in a different historic building), Johnson photographed the ceiling tiles and marble architectural details and replicated them in jewelry designs, like the featured 5-hex cuff.
I love San Francisco, historic buildings and that particular building. I love how Johnson translated her connection to the building into her work. I pretty much had to buy the cuff.
It spoke to me, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one—San Francisco and historic buildings have a lot of fans. But even for people who don’t care about those things, the story—which Johnson also tells on her site—has resonance. It gives the jewelry a sense of place and weights it with the designer’s inspiration as well as her hand.
My compulsion to buy reminded me that this is how brand stories work—and why they’re worth telling well. When you give your customers authentic insight into why you do what you do, you invite them to make their own connections, and suddenly you’re in it together. The customer’s purchase is more than just another transaction—it’s an expression of their interests or values, and they’re getting something that has meaning.
One of the biggest mistakes companies make as they grow is to lose their sight of their story and the personalities behind the company—to become a corporate entity as opposed to people making or doing something because it inspires them. I was engaged in a small-scale, local purchase that naturally inspires a feeling of connection, but any company with a product that’s not facelessly mass-produced can create a sense of connection by telling stories that emphasize meaning, place and experience. (Artisan food companies are particularly good at this; see Cowgirl Creamery’s descriptions of its cheeses.)
Telling stories that people genuinely relate to sparks genuine relationships with your brand. And that’s something you can’t manufacture.