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Unveiling Brand Stories: A Journey to Trust and Connection

Discover how authentic storytelling can build trust, loyalty, and a genuine connection with audiences, forging a path towards meaningful engagement in today’s busy world.

Johnna Lacey | CEO, J.M. Lacey Communications

Johnna is the CEO, head writer and consultant of J.M. Lacey Communications, LLC, which focuses on writing and brand storytelling, training and coaching. J.M. Lacey Communications empowers business owners to effectively communicate their purpose by teaching them how to find and tell their unique story to impact the world through a systematic process. Built on empathy and the desire to eliminate frustration for business owners, leaders and nonprofits, J.M. Lacey Communications seeks ways to simplify what has been unnecessarily complicated using proven systems to achieve results.



Johnna Lacey 00:00:00:16

Your brand story creates connection and helps build trust and loyalty with your customers and funders, and give them the desire to want to partner with you.

Logan Colegrove 00:00:12:15

Welcome to Connected Philanthropy. In today’s episode, we’re talking about brand storytelling with John Lacy. We cover why this is important, how to recognize and best tell your story, and some tips and tricks on how you can maximize this work. So without further ado, let’s dive right in.

Johnna Lacey 00:00:32:10

I’m John Lacy. I’m in North Carolina, and I’m the CEO and founder of JM Lacy communications, which focuses on writing and brand storytelling, training and coaching. I’ve been self-employed, a self-employed writer since 2008. So for a number of years and I’ve done everything from newsletters to content to articles. And eventually, though, I burned out not so much on on the writing, but I think, you know, we entered Covid, the Covid era, as I call it.

Johnna Lacey 00:01:04:06

We’re not quite we’re not I guess we’re not out of that. Right? Because the flu hasn’t gone away and neither has Covid. but, you know, just being isolated for that time that all of us went through. and then I had a lot of other responsibilities in my life that suddenly increased. So I had to stand back and look at my business and figure out how I wanted my business to operate, how I wanted to work.

Johnna Lacey 00:01:29:04

so I restructured my business because of those things. And also I realized, especially because of what we went through a few years ago that affected everybody. I think everybody changed in some form psychologically. and everyone else currently is burned out also. so I knew my clients would need someone who understood their challenges and all that they’re going through because I’m there, too.

Johnna Lacey 00:01:57:08

And so that’s why I say that my business is built on empathy, because I get it. and so when I restructured my business, my main goal was to have a simple approach for people to work with me and to make sure that my programs for simple. So I just focus on two main programs in which the key elements are writing and storytelling.

Johnna Lacey 00:02:17:23

And I simplified what has been unnecessarily complicated.

Logan Colegrove 00:02:21:26

I love your website, and it seems like storytelling is kind of at the center of everything you do, and that’s kind of the theme of today’s conversation, is brand storytelling. So do you kind of want to set that up? The significance of brand storytelling and why it’s important to focus on?

Johnna Lacey 00:02:39:26

Yeah, absolutely. Well, stories as we know, have a really powerful effect on our emotions, especially when they’re really told. Well, and and it does affect how we view companies and their products. When you are working on your brand storytelling for your company, you’re trying to build an audience. You’re trying to establish reputation. You’re developing trust and creating a loyal following.

Johnna Lacey 00:03:05:02

So our brand story touches hearts. It creates interest and curiosity. It establishes your expertise and therefore you’re creating trust. So you’re showing your audience that you, as the business, are human. You create empathy in that, and you’re establishing your credibility and emphasizing your motivations. You really focus. This is the big thing with brand storytelling is you’re really focused on your values, the values of your company.

Johnna Lacey 00:03:35:23

So when we as consumers or funders, when we learn who a company is, what it represents, the people, the humans behind it and their motivations, we really look at the comfort company in a different way than we would have just seeing an advertisement, and your notoriety in the community increases as you create trust with your consumers and funders.

Johnna Lacey 00:04:00:25

And you also, through your brand story, want to show how your culture is built into your company’s story. So your brand story should come alive in all aspects of your business. Always remember that your brand story represents everything about you. It’s about your company and people on the outside need to see this. People on the inside need to see this.

Johnna Lacey 00:04:22:12

So everything is really intertwined, but it begins with your story.

Logan Colegrove 00:04:26:28

I love how you’re emphasizing the human element of it. I think so many brands get this wrong where they’re just this amorphous, personality lacking entity that you can’t even imagine that there’s humans that work there. Do you have any sort of advice for how you can actually humanize brands in the storytelling efforts?

Johnna Lacey 00:04:50:04

Absolutely. I think a lot of times people focus on the product, for example, or the service, and they’re not putting the emotion behind it. They’re not, giving it depth. They’re not giving it feeling. That just really feels, it feels cookie cutter. It feels service surface kind of information. And you’re detaching yourself from your audience. So and that’s the key.

Johnna Lacey 00:05:18:18

You know, if we’re if your audience isn’t feeling it, if they’re not in that journey with you, then they’re going to end. They’re going to, you know, they’re going to get off the trail and you’re you’re stuck there by yourself. So those that’s what you really have to remember when it comes to your brand story, is where the focus is and what your audience is looking for too, and how you can relate to them.

Johnna Lacey 00:05:40:16

Because again, it’s about building trust and that takes time.

Logan Colegrove 00:05:44:11

That does take time. Yeah. And, can you think of an example of a time that this worked where you saw a brand that was really connecting with their audience, or maybe even a time where or a current example that you think they’re just missing the mark.

Johnna Lacey 00:05:59:20

Yeah. It’s interesting that you say that because very recently I, I have an article on my, on my website, about the commercials from the Super Bowl. So I don’t, I don’t watch the Super Bowl for the football. I don’t like football. I’m sorry.

Logan Colegrove 00:06:15:27

You’re not alone in that.

Johnna Lacey 00:06:17:06

But I love the commercials. And, so what I thought, though, when I looked at a lot of these commercials, I realized they told us a lot about brand storytelling, which was interesting. So some of them are kind of an ongoing saga. So your story can be like that. It can it can continue. one of them that comes to mind is the Dunkin Donuts commercial, which Jennifer Lopez and her hubby, Ben Affleck.

Johnna Lacey 00:06:43:11

And then there were others that were just they were kind of fun reunions. the State Farm insurance, State Farm insurance commercial with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito. But the point was in in these brand storytelling commercials, what you’re doing with your story is, targeting the emotions of people that’s, you know, that’s it’s. And sometimes it’s not just tugging at heartstrings.

Johnna Lacey 00:07:08:23

In this case, the emotion that they targeted was joy. And I just and I got a kick out of that because I thought to all these advertisers get together and say, you know what we’re tired of? We’re tired of all the depressing things that are happening. Let’s make people laugh. Let’s give people something that’s entertaining and fun, because really, the majority of them are like that.

Johnna Lacey 00:07:30:10

And so it was a blast to kind of review, some of these things. But, they also have, you know, they have very specific audiences in mind when they put these, commercials together. And but it’s also a way to showcase the company’s values in very entertaining ways. So it you know, like I said, it doesn’t all have to be crying.

Johnna Lacey 00:07:52:26

It doesn’t all have to be, you know, so emotional that, you know, you need to you need to step away from it and think about it. I mean, I just laughed out loud, with some of them and, and I and I did put some of those examples on there. I love the one on, the, now I’m trying to remember what it was.

Johnna Lacey 00:08:12:29

Oh, the T-Mobile commercial was a take on Flashdance. So, you know, so, so people like me, you know, where I’m familiar with that stuff. You know, it really, it was just. It was a fun, nonprofit examples to think about. And of course, there are a lot of really good examples there too. But a couple of them, really well known ones would be Feeding America and Habitat for humanity.

Johnna Lacey 00:08:36:24

Both of them, I thought were really good because they use the stories of their recipients, or case studies, if you’ll call them that. But a lot of the, recipients they had on there would do videos and tell their stories. Videos are very effective. And, but also the articles that they wrote to. And what’s really great about that is that it again, it was showing that human aspect.

Johnna Lacey 00:09:02:00

And so both commercial and nonprofit organizations can learn from that, because the human aspect is what is going to build trust. as far as where, you know, companies kind of fall short. I won’t necessarily name anything specific, but I will say this, you fall short when, you are focused more on your product or you’re focused on selling yourself.

Johnna Lacey 00:09:28:12

You’re focused on asking for money. If your stories are really disconnected from your audience. I mentioned earlier, you have your surface story. So there’s no emotion, there’s no depth there. It’s just more factual. You’re going to lose your audience and your loyal followers. So there’s there are some pitfalls to avoid when it comes to telling your brand’s story.

Logan Colegrove 00:09:51:27

That’s a great call out. I love both of those examples you told of the Super Bowl commercials, and then the non profit examples. I’ll link to those two non profit websites so people can hopefully get inspiration. And I think, yeah, the common thread is the human aspect. And starting with the emotion that you want people to feel when they’re consuming your content, because I know it’s it might be overwhelming to think, okay, how do I elicit an emotion if a Super Bowl commercial has tens of thousands of dollars just towards brainstorming and the creative, but with the tools we all have at our disposal right now, you know, people can whip out a phone and

Logan Colegrove 00:10:36:23

as long as it’s a real, authentic story, I think people gravitate towards that. And I think that’s reinforced by the growing popularity of platforms that are, you know, bare minimum production value. You know, think of TikTok, YouTube, on the video side, and then of course, podcasts, just little blurbs or, case studies. I think those all go a long way.

Logan Colegrove 00:11:05:20

Now let’s shift into the recognizing your brand story is there a process or a unique way that people can actually kind of arrive at what is our brand story if they don’t have that already?

Johnna Lacey 00:11:19:22

Absolutely. The thing that I always tell people, and you’re probably going to hear this a lot in this for this, interview, but I always mentioned to people to think back to your passion, your why, that three letter word, why you started your company, your business, in your or your nonprofit in the first place. That’s where your passion lies.

Johnna Lacey 00:11:40:17

That’s the very first thing I say to look at. You had a deep desire to change something. So what was that desire? What was the need that you recognized? So reflect on your why and how you started. And then another thing to think about is why are you the person to bring about that change? What is it that you can offer to help people?

Johnna Lacey 00:12:07:16

And sometimes that really stems from a personal experience. And in fact, most of the time our passions do do come from that. So tell people about that experience. You want to be balanced in that, but share the experience to highlight why you’re the right person, why you got involved in the change or the position to provide something that need in the first place.

Johnna Lacey 00:12:33:00

So some people start a company or their products because they recognize there was a need for something that just didn’t exist. Or maybe through their research and trial and error, they they made something better. Or maybe someone starts a nonprofit because there’s a great need for something like that in their community that just isn’t there yet. So share your story by being authentic, being personal, using that personal experience because people are drawn to real people.

Johnna Lacey 00:13:04:04

You know, we need to as consumers or as funders, we need to see ourselves in your story, in your experiences, because that’s that’s how we’re going to relate to you. They want to understand that what you’re trying to solve is specifically for them. That’s so you really need to know who your audience is. You have to seek them out and be able to tell your story.

Johnna Lacey 00:13:28:03

So when you do share your story, it isn’t necessarily going to be in its entirety for each medium. I know you mentioned earlier about about some of these, mediums that we have options with. Your story could be so big it’s it can fit into a book. In fact, a lot of, founders of companies will write their story and, you know, share their experience as a leader and how they got their.

Johnna Lacey 00:13:54:18

But you want the entire story, at least for you, to help you understand your why, the reasons you started your business. But you’re going to take that story and you’re going to take pieces of it and divulge it at various levels and in separated parts, because you’re trying to create that journey for people. And when you share that on your website, it’s going to be different than what you share in your e-newsletter or your social media or what you share with investors.

Johnna Lacey 00:14:20:17

But the key is to know your own story, and then you’ll have options and clarity as to what you should share and where.

Logan Colegrove 00:14:29:25

That’s well said. I love that, know your why at those two different levels, why are we doing what we’re doing and why are we the ones that should be doing it? I think most people could probably answer the first question. Maybe their mission statement might literally be a wise statement. but yeah, reflecting on why are we uniquely qualified, positioned, passionate about doing this?

Logan Colegrove 00:14:59:01

and I love your message of authenticity goes a long way. I wonder, could you reflect a little bit on, how authentic or real you should be? Because I know that there’s the risk of going overboard and showing too much to the point where maybe it’s obnoxious or detracts from your mission. Or could you spell out some of those risks or the balance there?

Johnna Lacey 00:15:23:24

Absolutely. And I’m glad you brought out some of those points, because that that can be part of the problem. And we hear, you know, authentic, thrown out everywhere, too. And and I think sometimes that gets lost when we hear it all the time. Being authentic, though, is just, as you said, is what I or what I like to say is avoid the feeling.

Johnna Lacey 00:15:43:04

You know, when you do tell people too much, you give people too much detail. anything that makes people kind of squirm, when they hear the message or they see it, that’s just too much. That’s just way too much information. so you need to be balanced. Also, I would say avoid exploitation, whether you’re exploiting yourself because again, you’re giving way too much information, or you’re exploiting other people and this and that’s something that that nonprofits have to be especially be very careful about.

Johnna Lacey 00:16:15:27

and how that works. So it’s one thing to be honest, but it’s another thing to be too honest that you’re exposing yourself or your exposing other people. So they’re definitely has to see, it has to be a balance. And so what you’re doing again is you are sharing your why, your personal story. You do talk about what you do and who you do it for.

Johnna Lacey 00:16:41:06

You know, who your audience is, why it’s important to them, how they’re going to benefit, how it helps them. But another thing I like to mention, too, is it’s okay to talk about your mistakes and the missteps that you’ve had in your journey because it makes you more human. Because we’re we’re like that. We make a lot of mistakes.

Johnna Lacey 00:16:59:26

So we want to know, okay, you made and made them to share with people what prevented you from doing what you knew needed to be solved and what hurdles you had to overcome? But when you talk about your mistakes, make sure that you follow that up with your solution. Tell people what was the solution, that you realized, how you arrived at that, and how your audience actually fits into that solution.

Johnna Lacey 00:17:26:27

So that’s that’s another way to be balanced too, is you’re not solving the story with no positive ending is that you need to give people that solution. So share with them the the answers that you discovered. And what’s good about that too is we, you know, I, I like to tell people that our competition is noise. You know, that’s my competition because we are bombarded with information all the time.

Johnna Lacey 00:17:56:07

So what’s going to make you stand out among all of that noise is your brand story, because that is what makes you unique. Your answer to why you started your business, why you do what you do, is not going to be the same as somebody else. It’s not going to be the same as your competition’s because your brand story is you.

Johnna Lacey 00:18:19:07

No one else can take that title. So I think that’s really important to think about. and so and when you’re sharing with others how you’ve benefited from your solution and the answers that you saw it share with them. My friends also benefited my family has benefited. It’s been very transformational for all of us. And therefore it’ll be transformational for you.

Johnna Lacey 00:18:41:01

So that’s that’s what you’re trying to share with your audience. So so be honest, be open, but be balanced.

Logan Colegrove 00:18:48:14

And be willing to talk about your mistakes and how you’ve grown from them. I think that’s such a good piece of advice. I certainly would feel much more trusting of, like, here’s where we got it wrong. Here was the idea, here’s what we’re doing. Here’s here’s our, plan of action going forward, knowing that someone has a growth mindset and acknowledges, failures or learnings, I think is just such an opportunity.

Logan Colegrove 00:19:18:26

And I definitely that’s not my first instinct. for my personal brand, really for any aspects of my life. But I think that would really stop people in their tracks and kind of build that trust. So that’s a very good call out. I also love how you talk about kind of the EQ test when thinking about authenticity or the too much information test.

Logan Colegrove 00:19:43:20

are there any other little tests or tips that you’d use for the the authentic balance?

Johnna Lacey 00:19:49:00

Well, along the lines of, of that particular aspect of it, you know, what you could do? Because because you’re so close to your own story, sometimes it’s really hard to pull back from that. So have and I don’t mean friends and family because they know you very well. So show it to people that are maybe their colleagues or their business associates and say, hey, how does this make you feel?

Johnna Lacey 00:20:09:16

And then get their take on that, and get get your own insights into maybe what you might have to change or you know, reposition. so, so get it from I, it doesn’t they don’t have to be strangers, but just people who don’t know you that well or even your business that well. But but, but people that maybe, you know, maybe, maybe ones that you network with, other organizations you belong to, just ask them, would you mind taking a look at this and giving me your thoughts and just see what they think?

Johnna Lacey 00:20:41:24

And you don’t even have to ask them, you know. Does this make you squirm? You could, but you could just ask them. This is what I’ve written. I’d love your initial thoughts on this. And they’ll be honest and and they’ll be able to give that to you. So sometimes that’s what it takes to is which is brave, you know, because you’re continuing to expose yourself to other people.

Johnna Lacey 00:21:01:01

And, so that’s giving you a little bit of practice there, I think.

Logan Colegrove 00:21:05:10

Absolutely. What a great way to reveal some blind spots you might have if you get feedback and you’re like, oh, everybody is saying the same thing about this that I hadn’t even considered. When you’re in the work, it’s hard to kind of kind of see it. What’s the saying? It’s hard to read the label from inside the bottle.

Logan Colegrove 00:21:24:17

that’s a that’s a really good call out. my next question is more about kind of the actual best practices and maybe even the mediums for sharing your story with various stakeholders. So you mentioned, you know, the story is going to be different internally, externally to your board members. can you talk a little bit about kind of examples of the type of storytelling opportunities and the various stakeholders that might be consuming those those pieces?

Johnna Lacey 00:21:57:12

Absolutely. So again, here, you’re still building trust and now you have different audiences that you’re doing that with. Each of your audience is going to look for specific aspects of your organization that’s going to work for them, personally, either as loyal customers, employees or as partners, as board members. As you mentioned, funders are looking for organizations that share their values because they want to be able to support that, and they want to see you succeed and employees want to.

Johnna Lacey 00:22:32:22

Their desire really is to thrive in companies where they share your values. and those and those are typically the people you’re going to hire anyway. So the ones that have your values as a company, you want the employees to represent that. So they’re going to be drawn to that. And it’s going to be a really good fit for your culture as well.

Johnna Lacey 00:22:52:28

So so really what you’re doing is just looking at a separate audience. What is going to appeal to them. And then you’re going to take specific aspects of your brand story that’s going to work, for them.

Logan Colegrove 00:23:08:02

What would you tell to people who think that this just isn’t important work, that let’s focus less on this high level story, message and just get the work done. Could you talk about the benefits and challenges of storytelling?

Johnna Lacey 00:23:26:06

Absolutely. And you raise such a good point, because if your executives, whether they’re C-suite executives or your leadership team or your board members, you know, they’re all leaders, they all have to be all in or it’s not going to work. and, you know, it works. It works that way in corporate and certainly in nonprofit organization as well, because people follow their leaders.

Johnna Lacey 00:23:50:15

So if they see that if there are some, board members or executives that they don’t see the importance of it and they’re not really going to support it, then you’re not going to have much support from your employees, for example, and then therefore the community, it trickles out in the community because they can sense it. You know, we can all sense that when things aren’t quite working and in an organization which is an entirely, different conversation altogether.

Johnna Lacey 00:24:20:15

But, so you really have to be be all in, in how you can achieve that. First of all, to, be able to have a conversation with the board and with the executives where they really understand why this is important. And, and part of that will come from, again, you as the founder or, the president, the CEO of your company, you’re digging deep and looking at your why and just coming back to that and saying, this is why we do what we do.

Johnna Lacey 00:24:53:21

This is why this is important. Because it is going to be your foundation. That brand story is your entire organization, and it is built on your values. So that’s why it has to be supported, because everybody has to represent your values just as your your brand story represents it. so it really all compliments and kind of weaves together in that sense.

Johnna Lacey 00:25:19:16

So, that’s why it’s so important to be to be all in on that. And once, once they realize the importance of this, then your other stories are going to they’re going to compliment your, your brand story, and they’ll work better because they have that background. And, so, you know, and so there is a difference between you know, between the brand storytelling and storytelling, which I call marketing.

Johnna Lacey 00:25:46:20

You know, there’s there’s a huge difference between the two, but your brand story is going to be a lot more long term. It’s more in depth. It’s, it’s that’s really what’s building the trust and the engagement that you have with your audience and that. And that just takes time. The stories that you tell for, say, your events and programs, those are those are really short lived.

Johnna Lacey 00:26:11:19

they’re important, but they’re really short lived. But without the brand story behind it, they’re they’re going to be lacking in depth.

Logan Colegrove 00:26:19:23

Also, do you think there are any other risks of not doing this work that you’d like to call out?

Johnna Lacey 00:26:30:22

you know, again, you want to make sure we get back to that word authenticity. You know, you want to sound authentic. And if you are missing a key component, which of your story, which is your brand story, then it’s not going to sound real. It’s not going to sound human. It’s not going to sound, like there is any depth or passion behind it all.

Johnna Lacey 00:26:53:17

All of this, all of those elements will be missing. So the thing, the thing that I would say that leaders and and when I say leaders, I’m including board members too. But ask very specific questions about your organization to see kind of where you stand. So for example, you could ask, what is the quality of our customer base or our funders?

Johnna Lacey 00:27:18:19

When times get tough, does our audience pull the plug or do they loyally stay with us? Do we as an organization find ourselves asking for money at every turn, or constantly selling our products or ourselves? Are our communications kind of haphazard and all over the place? Do we have specific goals in place and many goals to help us reach them?

Johnna Lacey 00:27:43:16

If you’re if you’re a nonprofit, do we spend time soliciting small donations like $5 donations because the larger ones just aren’t coming? I’m not saying small donations are bad, but but it takes time and energy to solicit for those donations and collect them. So are you receiving the larger ones, like from funders or are you just getting are you focused on the smaller ones?

Johnna Lacey 00:28:08:24

What’s our success rate with grants? How many do we receive versus how many we apply for? So those are the things that you kind of want to ask yourself in the organization to, to figure out where you stand, because your objectives and your focus and your funding are all tied into your brand story. That is what’s going to enable you to have quality funders and customers that have ones who loyally stick with you through thick and thin, who give substantial amounts.

Johnna Lacey 00:28:40:22

And it’s going to lessen your need to ask for money and your communications are going to be so systematic and come fairly easy, because now you have control of your business and your profits and your grants will be a whole lot more successful.

Logan Colegrove 00:28:54:24

While we’re talking about nonprofits and grant applications, I wanted to ask you about how much of your brand story you want to include in grant applications. I know a lot have word limits, and as you mentioned earlier, a lot of organizations could write an entire book just on their brand story. Do you have any advice of like parts to include, or how you can just tell your story in a concise way?

Johnna Lacey 00:29:21:11

Yeah, absolutely. Because as you know, as mentioned before, your story could be in a book, right? And obviously grant applications aren’t going to support that. Neither is your website, in fact. so you know that your entire story isn’t going to fit into that application. But again, having your story done and having it fleshed out for you means that you’re able to use pieces of it and just fit them where necessary.

Johnna Lacey 00:29:45:09

It is helping you to understand your why and your vision and your objectives. And it’s very interesting because when you have such knowledge of that, it’s a lot easier when you look at, the things that you’re applying for. For example, the it comes a little bit more naturally to, to put that information into the grant applications.

Johnna Lacey 00:30:11:23

They are and the grant applications, as people know that fill them out, are kind of the nuts and bolts. You know, there’s as you mentioned, there’s very limited space. Sometimes there’s a character count. but you can still be creative and target the emotions while supplying the data that you need for that application. You’re just you’re just writing tighter in that situation.

Johnna Lacey 00:30:33:01

So you’re just again, you’re focused on your your programs or events, whatever you’re applying for for the grant. Or it can be for your entire organization too. So, you know, you’re looking at what the funders is looking for, what it is they need. And then you’re pulling back and looking at your story, saying how this part of the story is, what’s going to fit in into this application.

Johnna Lacey 00:30:54:29

This is what they’re looking for. and so that’s it’s supposed to make the process a little bit, easier for you, challenging.

Logan Colegrove 00:31:04:25

But, yeah, I’m sure with time gets easier. These are all such great answers. You’re you’ve got a real talent for explaining this. So thank you so much for for sharing all this. Any other points that you wanted to talk about.

Johnna Lacey 00:31:20:09

So final thoughts, your brand story. Remember creates connection and helps build trust and loyalty with your customers and funders. Your goal is to show your audience your story in a way that will move them to support you, to see their problem solved, and really give them the desire to want to partner with you. When you share your heart and your passion, you’re doing this by sharing your brand story.

Logan Colegrove 00:31:46:17

Joanna, thank you so much.

Johnna Lacey 00:31:49:04

Thank you Logan, I really appreciate this.

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