Laura Petrolino

Four Elements of Successful Brand Storytelling

By: Laura Petrolino | June 13, 2016 | 
17

Four Elements of Successful Brand StorytellingBy Laura Petrolino

One of the biggest mistakes organizations make in their brand storytelling is too much focus on the “brand” and not enough on the “storytelling.”

Historically, storytelling is one of our oldest and most powerful forms of communication.

It defines us as humans and creates connection between people and communities who might not otherwise relate or connect with each other.

It’s an amazing thing when you think about it—stories bring us together as people.

We can be connected by nothing other than a story, yet that one thread is strong enough to develop and sustain large communities.

If you think about great leaders or public figures in history, part of the reason they were so influential is because they were remarkable storytellers.

This power can be used for both good and evil.

Take Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Thomas Jefferson vs. Hitler—all four men were dynamic and powerful storytellers.

Stories are powerful and brand storytelling can change the way a consumer relates with you and your product or service—when it’s used correctly.

The Summit Project: A Case Study in Storytelling

During Memorial Day weekend I had the opportunity to participate in an amazing tribute to our fallen heroes.

The Summit Project, created by my amazing friend David Cote, is a Maine-based non-profit, which acts as a living memorial to pay tribute to the fallen service members from Maine who have died in the line of duty since September 11, 2001.

In addition to many other events throughout the year, such as an Honor Display which tours around Maine, The Summit Project hosts several group summit hikes throughout the year.

The hikes pull a varied group of people together with one united purpose: To honor those who served and, through their service, gave the greatest sacrifice.

Each hiker is assigned a stone for a fallen hero—and with that stone comes their story.

It’s a story developed through words and video from their family and friends—and a story that continues to live and grow through the hikers that carry and share it.

For example, part of my hero’s story was told by his father through this video:

At the top of the summit there is a ceremony where each hiker speaks about their hero and shares their story.

As you can imagine, the story is different, based on the storyteller and the aspects that most resonate with him or her.

This creates evolving, live, and engaged stories that help these heroes legacies live on.

It’s an amazing experience and one that binds the hikers, the heroes’ families, and all the other people involved in the event together in a strong and powerful way.

Bonds formed through stories.

You spend hours, climbing through often challenging terrain, with your rock in your pack.

It weighs you down through it’s weight and lifts you up through it’s meaning.

The story and journey to tell it take these heroes and make them more than just names of those lost—it turns them back into real people, people who struggled, endured, overcame, and sacrificed themselves for the values they believed in.

All we can really hope for in life is to change people’s lives for the better while we are here, and have a legacy that continues to do so when we are gone.

The Summit Project makes sure that happens for each of these Maine heroes.

Four Elements of Brand Storytelling

There are so many lessons we can learn about powerful and successful brand storytelling through the work of the Summit Project. Here are four which will change the way you tell your organization’s story:

  1. Inclusive: Great stories are inclusive, not exclusive. This is true even when they talk about an experience or situation we are unfamiliar with, or doesn’t even exist in our reality. All great stories have threads which pull people in and make them part of them. For the Summit Project, the hikers all become part of the story by carrying and sharing it. 
  2. Flawed: Many historians believe storytelling partially developed as an excuse for failure. It was a way to make failure meaningful by sharing it with others as lessons. No really great story is polished and perfect—they are all flawed, and it is through those flaws we connect with them as humans (because…hey, we are all flawed too). The best stories are real and challenging. They are emotional and raw. They are human. They are us.
  3. Self-sustaining: The reason why storytelling is “a thing,” is because stories have been passed down from one generation and tribe to another. Great stories engage and resonate so deeply they are self-sustaining because people continue to share and grow them. By sharing a story and keeping it alive, each storyteller becomes a deeper part of it—that makes it stronger and even more relevant—and the cycle continues. Often organizations to tightly control their brand storytelling efforts, blocking people out and essentially eliminating this important step.
  4. Evolving: And through that self-sustaining nature, stories evolve. Through the Summit Project each story evolves past the original entry or video into something so much more through the different storytellers. Evolving stories connect with more and never lose their power. They keep their truth and essence (and for brand storytelling—message), but continue to grow to increase their reach. For brands, this evolution also allows brand storytelling to provide important intelligence and insight which can help guide your overall business strategy.

Most believe storytelling is one of the elements of humanity that defines us as humans from other creatures.

No matter what other communication platform, new shiny network, or popular marketing technique that arises, storytelling will always serve as the foundation of how we communicate successfully.

Investing time, energy, creativity, and resources into a powerful brand storytelling strategy will lead your communication strategy—no matter what tactics you use to deploy it.

About Laura Petrolino


Laura Petrolino is the director of operations at Arment Dietrich. She is also a ninja. When not working with clients, collaborating with the Arment Dietrich team, or practicing her roundkicks, you can find her walking her dog, working out, or exploring the great outdoors.

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17 Comments on "Four Elements of Successful Brand Storytelling"

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Pete Salmon
3 months 13 days ago
Laura this is a moving post. I wanted to comment on the inclusion aspect of storytelling. I believe that one aspect to achieve inclusion is to touch on an aspect of the human experience that is identifiable to all who take part or hear the story. For instance, in your example of the Summit Project, the stories touch upon universal experiences that all humans can identify with, i.e. loss, sacrifice, endurance, heroism, etc. I have never lost a loved one to a heroism, but the universals of the story touch me regardless. And they would touch anyone from any culture… Read more »
Amanda Cleary Eastep
3 months 13 days ago

Powerful post! What an amazing project to take part in, Laura.

Storytelling has always been a huge part of my family dynamic, thanks to my grandmother and father. I believe that helped me develop into the writer I am. And I agree with Pete…it’s the universals that resonate across situations, cultures, and differences.

Corina Manea
3 months 13 days ago

What a wonderful project, Laura. I can only imagine what you felt and thought caring your stone up on the mountain.

It’s true, we humans connect with each other, with brands, with the past and the future through stories. We like and want to be part of a story, to be part of something bigger.

That’s the part most brands do not understand. People want to be involved in the story, they want to be listened.

Storytelling (the right one) is worth everything you invest in it.

Tara Geissinger
3 months 13 days ago

“It weighs you down through it’s weight and lifts you up through it’s meaning.” <—– I LOVE THIS! Thank you for sharing your experience as well as ways we can all be better storytellers. It's an art form!

Gini Dietrich
3 months 13 days ago

You know why I love this blog post? ALL OF THE IMAGERY! What a fantastic story combined with some great photos and a very moving video. Wow! I really want to do this next year. Make that happen for me, will you? No OKC or Peoria ahead of time, though.

Samantha McCain
3 months 13 days ago
“No matter what other communication platform, new shiny network, or popular marketing technique that arises, storytelling will always serve as the foundation of how we communicate successfully.” All the high fives to you. When I’m asked about algorithm changes, limited reach, etc. – I always respond with “What story are you trying to tell?” and “Who are you trying to reach with it?” If we get boggled down with the methods and if we stop trying to relate to our audience with real and valuable content that strikes a nerve – we’ve completely missed the mark. Thank you for your… Read more »
Paula Kiger
3 months 13 days ago

Of all days for me not to be johnny on the spot to comment! I love this project, and the way you shared it. I was talking with a friend who is responsible for advancement for a college this weekend, and we were talking specifically about storytelling. Many of the four aspects you mentioned came up, especially the “threads that pull people in.”

howie goldfarb
3 months 13 days ago
Storytelling is very interesting. Each brand is different and so many do it wrong. Meaning they lose focus of what story works. I am pretty sure no one really cares about Coca Cola and how it was invented because too many would say…once you took the cocaine out it stopped being so invigorating (if they put it back in I am so drinking Coke again!) But think of all the times people have had Coke and felt refreshed…those stories ‘After 2 hours in the heat mowing my lawn that Coke tasted amazing!. But there certainly are brand stories about people… Read more »
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