Brand Storytelling 101

Part 4 of the groundbreaking series on The Storytelling Matrix: a subtle field of energy at the heart of all business matters. You may also enjoy the first post in the series, Problem and Paradox, the second, The Power of Personal Disclosure, or the third, Three Ways to Turn Obstacles into Gifts.

1. When we name something, our relationship with it transforms.

“If a cow is given a name by her owner, she generates more milk than a cow that’s treated as an anonymous member of the herd,” according to a research study by Newcastle University.

Names provide us with purpose and direction, often revealing the inner purpose and destiny we are expected to fulfill. Those names impart an energetic connection that shapes us. When you name the people, creatures, and places around you, your connection with the universe is strengthened, all through the stories you tell.

Brands operate in a similar way. A brand represents the complex emotional relationship between the storyteller – the one who is sharing something about that brand – and the audience. Put in a more traditional context, a brand represents the emotional relationship between a consumer and a product.

If you know I‘m a computer user, you make certain assumptions about me. If I tell you I’m a Mac user, you make some additional assumptions. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the well-known travel site Orbitz is admitting to sending Mac users to more expensive hotels.

Names change things, don’t they? It comes as no surprise to storytellers, this intense power of names or brands. Your brand is only as strong as the stories people tell about you.

2. Brands and names are psychic containers for the meaning of stuff.

Nearly anything can be branded. It’s a natural human impulse to want to put a name to the images, energy, and patterns that are a part of a shared experience, event, or relationship. Consider Fast Company’s 2008 article titled, “The Brand Called Obama.” That campaign marked the first time in election history where a president, along with all that his story encompassed, were so clearly and powerfully branded.

Personal branding is a relatively new phenomenon, accelerated by social media including blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Even if you would rather avoid the personal branding movement, you may have difficulty doing so. Because when you don’t craft and maintain your brand story, other people will do it for you. Can you afford to outsource your storytelling?

Building successful relationships for your brand or your business comes down to the stories you tell as well as the stories other people tell about you.

3. Every storyteller has a brand and every brand has a story.

A storyteller can’t be separated from his or her story. If you google yourself, you’ll see that you already have a brand, whether or not you’ve had a hand in creating it. The real question to ask yourself is “What value does my brand have?” Or, what stories are people telling about me? People remember stories more than they remember names. Take a careful look at the stories you see being told about you online. Do they reflect the story you wanted or expected to be told?

Here are 3 questions that can help you begin to think carefully about the value of your brand story:

Does your brand hold relevance? Do you have an obvious audience in mind? Are you making your audience the hero of the story? How are you serving, supporting, and empowering your audience to overcome their obstacles?
Does your brand have an origin? Provide a back story that explains where you came from. Pedigree can be established in any number of creative ways. The ingredients you use. The unique manufacturing process. Your royal seal of approval. There’s no better way to legitimize your brand then by anchoring it in the past.
Does your brand feel authentic? The old marketing saying “content is king” is only part of the truth. Trust is the empress. No one cares about your content until they’re ready to trust you. How are you making yourself real, accessible, and approachable?

4. We all need something to believe in.

What do you stand for? What do you fight for? Your brand story needs to define how it sees the world. This is why brands will go so far to create a manifesto (e.g. Whole Foods) or a set of deeply held core values. This gives you the opportunity to clarify and expound your point of view. 

Seth Godin, reminds us, “Great stories agree with our worldview. The best stories don’t teach people anything new. Instead the best stories agree with what the audience already believes and makes [them] feel smart and secure when reminded how right they were in the first place.”

You want your story to become their story. As your audience sees their own values, hopes, and dreams in the story you create, they will deepen their emotional connection to your brand.

5. Brand stories shape culture.

How do you hope to change and improve people’s lives? Consider how iPods have transformed our music listening habits. Think about how Ubuntu and other open-source communities are shifting the way we interact with technology.

The crowdfunding brand Kickstarter is another company that beautifully showcases how brands can change culture. The new LunaDisc is a crocheted flying disc with LED lights, inspired by a third grader who brought home a crocheted project she’d made in school. A Kickstarter campaign to fund the LunaDisc project was launched in June (and runs through August) so that the Mayan weavers who create the discs can be paid a fair wage. The campaign also allows backers to pay for much-needed school supplies and lunches for Mayan children.

Just as we are hard-wired for storytelling, we are hard-wired for brands. Today’s global, interconnected world creates unlimited possibilities and opportunities to make unexpected connections across former boundaries and limits. Your storytelling brand provides a framework for this expansive marketplace of ideas.

Where are you on the branding journey? Join the conversation.

As storytellers, we have a responsibility to tell better stories, the kind of stories that speak to our rapidly evolving world and re-establish our connection to the people and cultures around us.

  • How have the stories you’ve heard told about other brands influenced you?
  • Are there particular areas of your brand story you’re struggling to incorporate?
  • Share a branding success story with the community! We’d love to cheer for you.

You can join the conversation by adding a question or comment below.

10 thoughts on “Brand Storytelling 101”

  1. Great tips Mike. You might be interested how a story changed my brand.

    Like many speakers, I used to use my own name (Dave Howlett) as my brand. But I had a vision for my company that was more than just speaker. I was also concerned that an exit strategy of selling Dave Howlett Inc might, one day, be a difficult job.

    My brand is about assuming everyone is intelligent and knocking down silos.  Adi Treasurywala is a specialist in life-sciences technology
    commercialization and a friend.  He once told me he only  placed his first name on a name-tag when attending events. It eliminated much of the generalization and stereotyping that occurred when people saw a foreign name or notice a lot of credentials. He told me it felt more authentic and he could connect with people as real human beings.

    Adi intended to visit a conference in Harvard. The conference organizer requested his
    professional credentials for his name-tag. Adi asked that they list
    his first name only. He was then reminded that the medical conference attendees networked by degrees and titles and therefore first and last name and professional credentials were mandatory. So he requested
    that his nametag read: “Adi Treasurywala, PhD, BSc, RHB.”
    During the conference, a company president dropped by Adi’s table, and soon commented that he did not recognize RHB on Adi’s name-tag. “Real Human Being,” Adi
    replied. The name-tag was a hit as the president started introducing him to to other participants as “This is Dr Adi Treasurywala, he’s an RHB you know!”I began to tell that story in my talks. The course of my company changed when a lady approved me after a keynote and asked if I could speak to her company as well. “We need to have more RHBs in our company” she commented.I went out the next day and registered the word-mark and trademark for Real Human Being Inc.

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