What Is a Brand Story? And Why Do You Need One?

Writing a brand story on the beach

What inspires you as a storyteller?

As marketers, we’re nothing if not storytellers – at least if we consider ourselves brand marketers or content marketers. (Or how about PR people – they’re all about stories, too.) But we don’t generally use the term “storyteller” to describe ourselves at cocktail parties or whatever. Meaning, we don’t focus on it, think about it a lot, analyze it as a process, or figure out how to train our latest young hire on how to do it. (“Let’s sit down, son. I want to tell you a story about how I became a marketer…”) No, we just kinda do it. It underlies our whole life as a marketer or content creator or designer. It’s part of our DNA.

But let’s talk a bit about one aspect of storytelling that is perhaps the ultimate. Or, to use one of my favorite Hawaiian-isms, let’s “talk story” about brand stories.

What is a brand story? That question is answered eloquently by an amazing Australian blogger, advisor, speaker, and author by the name of Bernadette Jiwa.

“A brand story is more than content and a narrative. The story goes beyond what’s written in the copy on a web site, the text in a brochure, or the presentation used to pitch to investors or customers. Your story isn’t just what you tell people – it’s also what they believe about you based on the signals your brand sends. The story is a complete picture made up of facts, feelings, and interpretations, which means that part of your story isn’t even told by you.”

Another take on this topic is from David Aaker, author of several books on branding and Professor Emeritus at the Haas School of Business, who’s been called “The Plato and Newton of Branding.” He uses the term “brand signature stories” in this post:

“Stories are a hot topic in marketing because they have been shown to be superior to facts in getting attention, being remembered, in changing opinions, in stimulating social activity, developing emotion, and curiously, even in communicating facts. Many firms have added journalists, editors, and filmmakers to their staffs to create or find meaningful stories and present them in a compelling way. Stories are often thought mainly to support tactical short-term communication objectives. But there is also a role for ‘signature stories’ that represent some form of strategic statement about an organization’s mission, values, brand, customer relationship, or strategic intent.”

This “signature story” is really the ultimate type of brand story, but of course it must be real, not contrived. David Aaker has another post related to the topic of brand stories, this one on “Brand Personality.” He says having a personality is helpful to brands, especially in the digital age.

“Not all brands have, or even should have, a strong, distinctive personality, but those brands that do have a significant advantage in terms of standing out from the crowd, having an on-brand message, and supporting a relationship with customers. Personality is an important dimension of brand equity because, like the human personality, it is both differentiating and enduring.”

He says having a brand personality is a good thing because of these reasons (and he cites specific brands as examples for each in his post):

• Enhances customer self-expression

• Provides the basis for a relationship

• Represents a functional benefit

• Guides brand-building programs

• Helps to understand the customer

• Provides energy and a sustainable advantage

So, personality is one key aspect in your brand story. But an even bigger one is trust. Neil Patel has a great take on this, published on the Kissmetrics blog: “How to Create an Authentic Brand Story that Actually Improves Trust.”

Do You Need a Brand Story?

Again, Bernadette Jiwa addresses that in her post above, under “Why you need a story to tell”:

“If you don’t have a story, you are just another commodity. A replaceable cog in the consumption machine. You have no way to differentiate your brand or your business. Creating a brand story is not simply about standing out and getting noticed. It’s about building something that people care about and want to buy into. It’s about framing your scarcity and dictating your value. It’s about thinking beyond the utility and functionality of products and services and striving for the creation of loyalty and meaningful bonds with your customers. A brand story is not just a catchy tagline that’s pasted on a billboard to attract attention for a week or two. Your story is the foundation of your brand and a strategy for future growth… 

“Marketing often happens when you are not listening and your customer is telling a friend how your product changed her life. It’s your job to give your customers a story to tell.”

There you have it.

Who’s Doing Brand Stories Well?

In the opinion of a couple of other marketing writers, here are some companies that get it. Michael Brenner, CEO of Marketing Insider Group, cites some “genius examples” of brand storytelling in this post he wrote a few months ago.

Sujan Patel also called out several examples of brand stories he thinks hit the mark — by, above all, being authentic — in this post: “7 Companies That are Killing It with Brand-Driven Storytelling.”

And How Do You Get Attention for Your Brand Story?

That loops back to my (brief) mention of PR in the first paragraph. Well, David Aaker addresses that very question in this post: “Four Keys to Gaining Attention for Brand Stories”:

• Have a trusted story source.

• Send an immediate signal that the story is novel, provocative, out of the ordinary.

• Create uncertainty and suspense.

• During the first 15 seconds, create the expectation that the audience member will be rewarded by continuing to hear the story.

He drew inspiration for that post from an excellent book on this subject by Ben Parr, entitled “Captivology: The Science of Capturing People’s Attention.”

I’ve followed Ben for some time, as I have David Aaker (for much longer), and totally recommend books by both authors.

So, do you agree brand stories are a good thing? If so, what’s yours?

(Read more about the subject of brands on this blog here and here.)

Leave a Comment