Laura Petrolino

The Minimalist Approach to Brand Storytelling

By: Laura Petrolino | July 6, 2015 | 
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The Minimalist Approach to Brand StorytellingBy Laura Petrolino

Brand storytelling.

While it continues to be a hot marketing buzzword of the moment, when we look around at examples we find only a select group of brands really do it effectively.

Don’t get me wrong, a ton of brands tell fantastic stories about themselves. Stories that may or may not matter to their consumer. But it is a much more elite group who include the five-parts of brand storytelling and tell stories which allow their consumers to be narrators, directors, or even characters.

So the ultimate question then becomes: Is your brand story inclusive or exclusive to your consumer?

Great Stories are Inclusive

What makes a really amazing book?

For me it’s one that sweeps me away. That involves me in the story so completely I forget it’s an actual story.

Stephen King is a master of this. I have to take breaks from reading King because I become so emotionally involved in the story and with the characters it can be exhausting.

I dream about the characters. I worry about them. I build relationships with them. That’s how vivid them are.

Some authors involve you in different ways. Certain books just make me feel so deeply I can’t step away, while others tell stories that resonate with something personal going on in my own life.

There are many ways to involve your audience, the trick is finding the best one for you and your consumer.

Brand Storytelling Requires Freedom

One mistake brands frequently make when they attempt effective brand storytelling is they tell too much of the story.

No one likes an over-sharer, and for brands there is a fine line between brand storytelling detailed enough to define the brand and it’s personality, but not so limiting it alienates or excludes consumers from the story (and likewise, the brand) itself.

You want to provide enough freedom in your brand storytelling to allow the consumer to make the story their own, but enough substance and direction to do so within the framework you’ve created.

I like to use park benches as an example.

What Park Benches Can Teach You About Brand Storytelling

The large city park at the bottom of my street is lined with dedicated park benches. These benches line the sidewalk overlooking the water, each one with a small plaque of dedication to a friend or loved one.

The Minimalist Approach to Brand Storytelling

View from park benches. Yep, be jealous, this is my backyard.

I often will go on my “tour de bench.”

During “the tour,” I go from bench-to-bench and set a timer for five minutes. During those five minutes I make up a story in my head about the person or family based on the engraved bench dedication. Then I move to the next bench at the end of the time and make up a new story.

Some of these stories weave together, like a soap opera. Others are separate.

Each time I do my tour I add a new chapter to the bench’s (and dedication’s) story.

It’s a fun little game and for some reason is really calming to me. It helps me feel connected (and after all, brand storytelling is about connection) in some odd way and I feel if I was ever a name on one of these benches it would make me very happy to know people where enjoying my dedication in this way.

A bench dedication gives enough to start a story, it gives a basic framework to work in, but at the same time allows freedom to adapt a story that matters to me.

Some examples:

The Minimalist Approach to Brand StorytellingThe Minimalist Approach to Brand Storytelling

Be Your Own Park Bench

Each of these benches provides context and then lets me take it from there. It’s a choose your own adventure which let’s me be a director. By doing so I become emotionally connected and more involved.

As a brand you have different goals then a mere park bench, but you can use this concept in your own brand storytelling efforts.

  1. Let people tell their stories: Microsoft does a great job of letting people tell their own stories as they relate to the brand. Stories come from both employees and customers and are presented in a newsroom specifically focused on those stories.
  2. Tell a visual story: Sixty-five percent of people are visual learners. By telling a story which triggers the visual first you not only have a better chance of engaging your customer with you brand storytelling, but you also motivate them to fill in the commentary on their own. It’s the perfect park bench scenario.
  3. Make an unexpected connection: Even the most boring brands have stories that don’t fit the norm. When you tell a story that showcases your brand in a different light, it challenges the box where a consumer might have already classified your brand. You open their mind to new possibilities and those often include how it might be a part of their own lives. Unexpected brand storytelling helps engage consumer creativity and the ability to see opportunities they might have ignored before. It gives your customer permission to make your brand story their own.

Brand storytelling isn’t about telling people what you do. It’s about showing them enough to allow them to fill in the rest. And do so in a way that best resonates in their own lives.

Photo credits: The mad iPhone skillz of Laura Petrolino and the gorgeous scenery of Munjoy Hill in Portland, Maine.

About Laura Petrolino


Laura Petrolino is the chief client officer at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She also is a weekly contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks.

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