Over the next few months, our team will be focusing on brand storytelling. As usual, there will be plenty of content, case studies, and offerings, concluding with a storytelling webinar scheduled for the first week of June.

As story is one of the core things that we do at TopRight, we wanted to face up to the facts: things have changed. The economy, consumer behavior, national political leadership, and more—it’s all wildly different. With a commercial environment still cluttered with noise, with attention spans at an all-time low, with message fatigue and cynicism at high after being trapped in a pandemic cocoon over this past year, businesses and organizations of all types, need to do even more with story to engage audiences.

At TopRight, we believe in the idea of the “six-second story,” because research has shown time and again that six seconds is all you’re going to get in our so-called “Attention Economy.” In truth, your story is only as strong as the process of discovery that enables you to build it—and only as powerful as the strategy for delivering it to an oversaturated market. Therefore, your branding team has to ask: What kind of work have I done, and what kind of work to we still need to do, to build toward success with my brand story?

At the heart of building and delivering a story that connects audiences, customers, stakeholders, constituents, I apply my concept of Care, Listen, Engage, Buy, and Stay. With each of these five elements, you elucidate how to build a powerful brand story from the ground up and how to map into your story a journey of success that leads to sustainable brand growth.

So let’s begin with the first question any potential customer will ask of your brand.

1. So, Why Should I Care?

At the core of getting customers to care is the essential question “Why?” As in, why exactly do you (your brand) do what you do?

Maybe this sounds simplistic. But as anyone who has gone through TopRight’s rigorous Why-discovery process knows, it isn’t. In truth, asking why forces you to look inward, to peel back layers of your brand and organization, to reassess what you see through the lens of Why, and bring the focus back to the real answer of how to build on the outcomes and bring real impact to your customers and change their lives. If something is missing in your Why, or if in fact you don’t quite know how your brand is viewed by audiences, this can be a painful realization (trust me!). You haven’t yet given audiences a basic reason to care—and that’s a huge issue.

But there’s hope. Wrestling with this fundamental challenge requires getting out of your comfort zone, distilling the essence of your brand. This takes time, research, and deep thought. But your brand—your story—will emerge renewed and powerful.

Whatever your “Why” is, if it truly speaks to your impact and purpose, it is this that will resonate with customers and cause them to care enough to move to the next stage—listening.

2. But Why Should I Listen?

So, you’ve captured their attention for that six-second window of opportunity, you’ve made them care. Now why should they continue to care—why should they listen?

The six-second story is like the trailhead at the beginning of a long buyer’s journey, and you have to keep those next steps, or story elements, mapped out as clearly as possible to guide audiences to the right destination. Every step in this journey must inspire interest, must resonate, and must keep their attention in just the correct and authentic way so that they keep listening. This requires strategy, forethought, insight, and skill. Making sure your team knows your brand story, and staying ruthlessly consistent by training the entire company in it, is essential. It’s that individual excitement by your team members that keeps audiences attuned to your brand.

That’s why I always say, in an attention economy, caring alone just isn’t enough. You have to inspire them to keep listening. Once you do that, you set the stage for engagement.

3. Okay, I’m Listening—Why Should I Engage?

Once you’ve given your target audience a reason to care and listen, now they need a reason to actually engage with your story because they want to. To do this, you must convey how your brand’s products impact lives. This element of the journey needs to be not just clear and simple, but transparent and explicit.

You have to paint a picture. This picture must be of what their life looks like with your brand, and what it stands for, in it—and what’s missing if they choose to go without it. Your customers need to believe in your purpose with you because they need to see, specifically, exactly how that purpose translates into personal outcomes they otherwise would not get.

By filling in that blank, you concretely transform the conversation into engagement and elevate conversion rates. Only after that point can you start thinking about inspiring them enough to buy.

4. I’m Engaged, But Why Should I Actually Buy?

Buying a product is never as straightforward as it looks. Ask yourself: where are you taking customers over the long term, and at what destination will they arrive because of what you offer them? For your customers to include your brand story in their lives, you must provide an answer. The act of buying should be seen as just one act in a broader picture of their engagement. When you give them that broader sense of fulfillment, showing them a path and putting them in a new place in their lives, inspiring a single purchase becomes one element in a long-term relationship.

To do this successfully, remember that your brand is not the hero of the story—the customer is. You are the guide that leads them to a destination they could not reach without you. Give them the power, the inspiration, to change their own stories meaningfully, and they will buy.

Once they make that purchase, it’s just the beginning of a wider experience with you. And that wider experience is what can lead them to the final stage—staying.

5. You Did It. I Bought. But Why Should I Stay?

If you did all the above correctly—if you know your why, you’ve made it explicit, you’ve trained your team, delivered your story with ruthless consistency—then getting customers to stick around is a matter of engaging them at the heart level. ‘Stay’ is that part of the cycle where a customer is transformed into a brand advocate. They know the difference you make in their lives, now they want to share that experience with others.

The biggest challenge in this stage is the word experience. Getting customers to stay is driven by how they experience your story in the real world. Ask yourself or your team: Do your customers’ experiences match the power and aspirations of your story? Your audience believed in your story from that first six-second exposure, but does every touchpoint of your organization, every experience of your customer, consistently reflect that experience and that story?

Post-purchase engagement is one of the most neglected aspects of successful storytelling, yet is often where brand advocacy lives or dies. If your brand is perceived as neglecting the real-world experience of customers, the cycle quickly sours. You’ll get the reverse of brand advocacy: brand assassination. You’ve embittered customers who believed in you. Their experience did not support what you told them, and this disappointment is now what they share with others. Don’t let that happen.

It all may seem like a challenging process, but the hardest yet most transcendent part is being willing to go through the deep examination of your brand and organization at every touchpoint. At the core of creating a compelling narrative with purpose is the Why. Start with that. Build out your six-second story. Map out how to give your audiences, customers, stakeholders, and constituents the right reasons to care, listen, engage, buy, and stay. Once you do that, what you’ll have is nothing short of a transformational brand story powered by brand advocates.