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The Power of Storytelling

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Kate Lowery, considered the builder of some of Austin’s biggest brands, shares the storytelling techniques she uses to help grow businesses throughout the world. 

By Sommer Brugal, Photo courtesy of HomeAway

From Kate Lowery’s upbringing in Louisiana to landing her first postcollege job in Mexico City to growing Whole Foods’ brand to national recognition for 15 years to her current position as the vice president of global public relations at HomeAway, one common thread weaves through Lowery’s resume: She has a knack for telling great stories.

According to Lowery, stories play a key role in building brands. At Whole Foods, she turned to the stories occurring near her. One day, she would talk about sustainable seafood practices and the next, she would craft narratives about artisanal cheeses hand-selected by cheesemongers. In her role at HomeAway, the Austin-based vacation-rental marketplace, Lowery says the same storytelling techniques apply.

Curious to know an insider’s secrets about how to successfully grow brands both big and small, Austin Woman asked Lowery to share her expertise.

Know yourself inside and out 

Whether you’re building your brand from nothing or expanding its current reach and name, Lowery says it’s imperative to know one’s self, or brand, inside and out.

“Know who you are, know who your brand is and really establish your purpose,” Lowery says. “Breathe [that purpose], feel comfortable in telling your story and don’t try to be all things to all people.”

According to Lowery, HomeAway had already established a respected brand reputation by the time she joined the team. Joining when she did, Lowery says she was able to focus on growing the brand’s name, as opposed to its category. In other words, she was able to focus on the brand’s audience.

“Ask yourself what is that differentiator and what are you selling? Be able to reach [your customers]and communicate with them appropriately,” Lowery says, noting that once you’ve identified and understand both your brand and your customers, all that’s left to do is be consistent in your messaging.

Integrate paid and earned media

According to Lowery, successful campaigns incorporate both earned media, which is publicity gained through promotional efforts, and paid media, such as advertising. She says her broken-record phrase is “If we integrate, we win.”

Before launching something new, whether it’s a campaign, service or product, Lowery recommends leading with earned media.

“Figure out what your news is [and]make a big announcement,” Lowery explains. “Then sustain [the campaign]with paid and owned channels.”

Doing so, she says, allows you to tell your story multiple times while remaining fresh.

Lowery’s favorite example of this practice involves growing Home Away’s customer base in France. The company started by sponsoring the UEFA European Championship, the Super Bowl of soccer competitions in Europe, as a way to bring HomeAway into consumers’ awareness. Then the company went a step further: HomeAway built an apartment inside the Eiffel Tower for one month and organized a contest through which the winner and her family could cash in on a night’s stay in the apartment.

“The [contest]allowed us to be global. It was exciting,” Lowery says. “We could lead with the earned media and sustain it with other activities [during the event itself ].”

When discussing social media, Lowery says her favorite thing is when earned stories translate into social coverage. She says brands can enjoy a great deal of success on social media by simply remaining authentic and true to the brand. A way of doing that, she says, is looking at the data.

Even a small data insight into what your brand offers, Lowery says, can be very helpful in generating interesting, eye-catching stories for the media, influencers and even analysts.

Look inside 

Throughout Austin Woman’s conversation with Lowery, she often referenced the high quality of work produced by the people, the team, at HomeAway. Therefore, it’s no surprise she considers them for potential storytelling opportunities.

We look inside [the company]for data that we can flip for storytelling, but if we continue to look inside, there are stories within our people,” Lowery says. “The most precious jewel of all [is]your people.”

Similarly, Lowery suggests partnering with third-party spokespeople who support your brand and mission, noting that win-win partnerships can help new customers familiarize themselves with your brand. A social-media influencer, for example, can stay in a vacation rental and talk about her experience firsthand. Lowery says it’s much more credible and interesting when companies rely on the power of third-party credibility to tell a story rooted in what they do.

Whichever method you choose, whether through social, third-party partners or your brand’s own communication channels, Lowery says your top priority should be to ensure your story is told both truthfully and authentically.

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