Gini Dietrich

Brand Storytelling: A Tale As Old As Time

By: Gini Dietrich | February 5, 2019 | 
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Brand StorytellingStorytelling is as old as time.

We’ve always told stories—in cave drawings, around a campfire, at bedtime, in business, in our personal lives, and through several different ways.

Everything around us is a story—some true, some not, some fake news.

But it’s the way we communicate and it’s how you can convey a message, encourage a decision, and connect with your people.

Smart use of stories can dramatically help your brand in almost all business areas, and so crafting the stories that you need to tell, and how you’re going to tell them is a worthwhile investment of your creative energy.

Three Types of Storytelling Brands

If you’ve read The Communicator’s Playbook or read Laura Petrolino’s article on brand personas, you’ll remember there are three main types of brands:

  1. Reinforcers understand and reinforce their customer’s worldview.
  2. Supporters solve major problems and support their customers through changes.
  3. Challengers are ready to disrupt their customers’ habits and take aim at their deep-rooted beliefs.

The type of brand you are will influence your storytelling. 

  • Reinforcer brands want to tell stories that reinforce what their customers believe—stories they can relate to and connect with and reflect issues or challenges they deal with.
  • Supporter brands can tell stories that make change easier. We all resist it to some degree, so a support brand’s stories should make that transition to something new easier.
  • Challenger brands have the most difficult time telling effective stories because they’re going up against deep-rooted beliefs and patterns. These stories need to be inspiring, persuasive, and edgy and use tone and language that are comfortable for the audience, because the ideas won’t be.

A Reinforcer Brand in the Wild

Julia Carcamo, who is a client, runs JCA, a small marketing consultancy.

She says they are a reinforcer brand; one that is made up of experienced gaming marketers who like to share their knowledge and teach marketers to be smarter and better. She says:

Experience has taught us a few lessons. It’s more important for us to be considered partners rather than an agency. Agencies are a culmination of projects which can range from one to several thousand. Partners understand each other and help each other advance. We know your growth will lead to ours. We’ve also learned that promises made are promises kept. When we say we’re going to do something, we do it…on time, if not faster or sooner.

We’re human. Humans make mistakes. The mistakes are not as important as how we handle them. When we make a mistake, we own up to them quickly and then we fix them quickly.

We’ve had the privilege to be part of many casino openings. From the smallest detail to the largest billboard, everything is important to the guest and to the one responsible for that detail. We sweat those details because we know they all combine to make the presentation, and we know presentation is everything.

The one thing we do that we have the most passion for is sharing our knowledge. We have had great mentors in our careers and now it’s our turn to give back. We teach marketers so that they will be stronger partners for us, stronger marketers for the companies they work for, allowing them to drive the revenue they need to keep their companies successful.

On a side note, this is year three for me and I really like how I’ve been able to fine-tune or retune our foundation.

Storytelling Must Be Consistent

What makes storytelling truly effective from a brand perspective is consistency.

You can’t tell one story around how your products benefit the environment, and another about how easy to throw out your single-use products are.

There needs to be a consistent overarching narrative to your brand, that smaller, situation specific stories can fit into.

Everyone on your team should be well versed in what your brand story is, what goes into it, and how to use the language that will most effectively communicate it. 

How well your story is serving your brand is something you’ll want to keep an eye on.

Not all stories are right for all seasons, and what worked five years ago, might not work anymore.

The easiest way to learn if your story is still effective, and is helping you reach your goals, is to listen to the people you’re telling your story to.

If you have customer or audience feedback that is full of confusion, critical feedback, and argument about how you’re presenting yourself… you want to pay attention!

If your story doesn’t match your actions, it looks like you’re just blowing hot air, and that is a PR nightmare none of us want to deal with.

Sara Hawthorn tells a story about how Dyson in the UK has been branded as extremely hypocritical.

She says the CEO was an active and vocal campaigner for leaving the EU. He recently announced he’s moving the entire company to Singapore, which incidentally has just signed a massive trade deal with the EU.

Connect Emotionally

Finally, if you want to really connect with your audience through storytelling you need to be empathetic and emotional.

Not emotional like sobbing on YouTube, but emotional like getting people to connect emotionally with what you’re sharing.

Empathy and emotion go hand-in-hand.

If you aren’t aware of and responsive to the problems, challenges, needs and wants of your customers, you won’t know how to connect with them on an emotional level.  

For instance, Amy Parker says:

Nike’s “Find Your Greatness” campaign from Widen+Kennedy to this day is one of the most effective stories I’ve seen, and personally struck a chord.

I saw this piece while marathon training with the Leukemia and Lymphoma society and the ad was encouraging. I had never run more than a few miles before training, and during the process I realized the difficulty, physically and emotionally, of what I signed up for.

Among other drivers, this ad was in the back of my head in tough moments for training and it helped power through my first race, the Maine marathon, the 2013 Boston marathon bombing, Philly, and a powerful redemption run in Boston 2014.

The insight that greatness is “made up,” is brilliant.

These kinds of interactions are part of your overall brand story as well because, as you see, people love to talk about them!

Your Storytelling Challenge Today

It might seem a little counterintuitive, but some of the best brand storytelling happens without you ever noticing it.

When a narrative is so consistently and expertly applied to all communications materials, interactions and campaigns, you barely notice it at all—it just works—and that’s what you’re going for.

Your challenge for today is to think about your brand story.

If you have it well outlined, and well understood, then look at your communications, and customer interactions and see if the narrative is working.

Then keep doing what you’re doing, and think about new ways to convey your story.

If your story isn’t so clear, that is what you need to work on!

Tell us in the comments below or in the Spin Sucks community how it’s going, what you’re working on, and how your story manifests out there in the real world.

Photo by Mike Erskine on Unsplash

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She also has run, built, and grown an agency for the past 14 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.