Brand Strategies and the Art of Storytelling
by Dennis Bruce

In last year's Massey lectures, entitled The Triumph of Narrative - Storytelling in the Age of Mass Culture, delivered on CBC Radio, Robert Fulford explored the centrality of stories in society and in our individual lives.

Our view of life, says Fulford, begins with the stories we're told in childhood by our parents. Without stories, a child's intellectual growth is stunted and he or she grows up without a sense of place in the world.

Telling our stories to our children conveys our values and beliefs to them. Children without stories are lost. "Deprive children of stories," Fulford says, "and you leave them unscripted, anxious stutterers in their actions as in their words…. There is no way to give us an understanding of any society, including our own, except through the stock of stories which constitutes its initial dramatic resources."

The way children learn to deal with the world is by hearing and reading stories. It continues with adults. We all have our own stories. And we consciously construct our individual identities and sense of self-worth on those stories.

The same is true of brands. Brands have their own stories, too. And if a brand is to have a sense of self-worth, it must have a good story. But here's the really interesting part - the stories of the brands we use contribute to our own personal stories.

Let me illustrate what I've just said. Most of you know very little about me personally other than that I write an occasional column for this magazine. But if I tell you a little bit about the brands I use during a typical day, you'll begin to form a more definitive picture of me.

Every morning at 6 a.m., my sleep shattered by a Westclox alarm, I tumble off an Obus Forme mattress, throw on a Baycrest dressing gown and stumble out onto the porch to retrieve my Globe and Mail.

After staring at the paper blearily for about 45 minutes, I don a pair of Canterbury shorts, slip my feet into Nike running shoes and engage in a bit of semi-vigorous exercise, following which I head for the shower, where I soap myself with a bar of Irish Spring and shampoo my largely departed golden locks with Finesse.

After I paste my pearly whites with Crest and fight bacteria and gingivitis with Listerine, I trim my beard with a Braun electric shaver, splash Old Spice on my rosy cheeks, check the time on my Swiss Army watch, wriggle into a pair of Levi's, pull a Gap T-shirt over my head, tie the laces on my Timberlands and head for the kitchen.

Breakfast consists of Weetabix and Kelloggs All-Bran topped with a Dole banana and Danon yogurt. After making a few notes to myself with my Bic pen, I leave the house, jump in my Subaru Outback and head out to a client meeting. On route, I top up my tank with Sunoco Ultra 94 and tune in to Andy Barrie on the CBC.

Later, back in my office, I boot up my Macintosh G4 computer while taking a call from my London Life insurance agent about my Freedom 55 policy.

Suddenly, it's lunchtime and I head out to pick up a slice of pizza from Pizza Hut and… "Something to drink with that sir?" "Yes, make mine a Pepsi." While I'm munching on the pizza, I check my stocks on MSN and read a few book reviews on Amazon.

I've just taken you on a brief tour of my personal brandscape.

Now, do you feel you have a better handle on me? Hmm. Regular guy, practical, down-to-earth type. A solid citizen. Yes?

Now let me change a couple of items. Take out the Bic ball-point and put in a Mont Blanc fountain pen. Change the Swiss Army watch to a Rolex Daytona. Replace the Subaru Outback with a Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet. (I just lost three points for speeding. It's true!)

Has your view of me changed a little? Not such a solid citizen? Bit of a rascal, maybe?

What's the point I'm making? Every brand has its own story and each story contributes to my personal story and the way the world perceives me. The job of brand management, therefore, is twofold; it is to nurture the brand story and to fit it into the pattern of the consumer story. No easy feat.

In a brand story, the brand becomes a person with human characteristics. A brand can be cool, intelligent, fun, warm, sympathetic, loyal and trustworthy, and just like me. When I, as a consumer, hear a brand story that resonates with my personal story, I adopt that brand as my own and it becomes a part of who I am.

Now, where did I leave my Silly Putty?


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