Expert Insights: Emily Sheen on Building a Brand through Storytelling

We are back again with this week’s Expert Insights! This week we invite Emily Sheen to join us after her amazing session on Storytelling for Businesses in the Rainmaking Expand program.

Emily has an extensive background in brand strategy, and has been working as a venture builder in Rainmaking. Her insights into how companies can talk about themselves has helped companies on the program to shape their communications.

Thank you so much for joining me here Emily, to start with, would you be able to introduce yourself to our readers?

Emily: I’m Emily, a brand-strategist-turned-venture-builder. From studying modern languages to my first job conducting consumer research and ethnography studies for brands of all shapes and sizes, my passion is for understanding how people are shaped by their cultures, needs and desires. Whether building a brand strategy or a venture, the customer should shape the decisions you make and the directions you take. I make sure the teams I work with keep this customer lens top-of-mind throughout the process, analysing the input we’ve had from customers with curiosity and rigour.

Glad to have you join us for this interview. The companies on our program are currently exploring new markets, from your background, what advice do you have to avoid some of the common mistakes you see?

Emily: From a branding perspective, the biggest pitfalls occur when startups take a tick-box approach and work backwards. Many startups start with “we need a logo”, quickly design one and then go ahead and launch their marketing strategy. A marketing strategy is nothing without a brand story, because your brand is the foundation upon which all your marketing decisions are made. How can you make the right decisions if you don’t know what story you want to tell? Your brand will evolve over time, but you need to start somewhere: lay the foundations first by getting your story right, then use it to inspire your logo design, your messaging and all your subsequent marketing decisions.

From a venture building perspective, the biggest pitfalls occur when startups listen to what their team wants to build, not what their customer wants to use. Desktop research is not the same as talking to customers. Pitching to customers is not the same as talking to customers. Get out there and talk to your customer target, asking questions that will unlock your understanding of their needs, desires and challenges. This will form the basis of your story: the problems they experience and how you will solve them.

That is some very valuable advice and echoes some of the comments we have heard from previous speakers too (see our interview with Rachel on Customer Development). What advice would you have companies that are looking to build their story for branding and positioning?

Emily: Where to start when building your startup’s story?

  1. Understand your customer – it’s ultimately their story you’re telling, not your own. Speak to them and probe deeply around their needs and challenges.
  2. Structure your story clearly based on the Hero’s Journey framework: What pains do they experience? How do they discover your solution? How do you help them? What challenges do they overcome? How is their life transformed by your solution?
  3. Prototype your story: we test and refine so much of the content we produce, but stories sometimes slip under the radar – they too should be carefully crafted, tested with willing listeners and refined based on feedback.

Thank you so much Emily for joining us for this interview.

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Written by
Meghan Bridges
August 30, 2022
Marketing Director, Rainmaking Expand

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