Storytelling Wins Hearts:
Ten tips for creating captivating brand stories

by Dennis Bruce

I've made the case that every brand has its own story. And that the job of brand management was to nurture the brand story, fitting it into the pattern of the consumer story. This is no easy feat. So let me try to help. To dovetail the brand story into the consumer story effectively, there are a number of things you must do. Here, for starters, are the top ten:

1. Nurture your brand story both inside and outside the company.
Take Nike, for example. It puts a lot of emphasis on corporate stories, with corporate storytellers explaining the company heritage to everyone from vice-presidents and sales reps down to the cash register jockeys in Nike stores. Nike's stories shape their culture and motivate their people.

2. Listen to your consumers' stories. Understand what makes them laugh, what makes them cry. Be aware of their struggles, their priorities, their loves and hates, their hopes and dreams, their fantasies and fears.

3. Speak with an authentic human voice. Hack all the marketing jargon out of your vocabulary and your advertising. Nothing turns off TV viewers more quickly than marketing-speak put into the mouths of actors.

4. Try writing your brand strategies in story-form instead of boring bullets. It's hard work but it will pay big dividends. Take a creative writing course instead of yet another mind-numbing seminar on management processes.

5. Use humour whenever you can. Humour is a great disarmer. People will love you for it. The self-deprecating kind works best. A classic example: The VW Beetle capturing the hearts and minds of North Americans with the adroit use of humour like this:

"Once upon a time, a young lady visited our plant.
'What a sweet little car' she said. 'It looks just like a beetle.'
Now we're a pretty down-to-earth bunch.
At that moment we were figuring how much larger our brake area would have to be if we stepped up our horsepower.
She stopped us cold.
After we'd made some discreet inquiries, we found out that a good many people shared her opinion.
But we also found out that people never said "beetle" nastily.
Always affectionately.
So we grew resigned to our nickname, and finally rather pleased with it.
It seems to say a lot about our attitude to car-making:
determined, painstaking, unpretentious.
After all, some people try like mad to create a favorable impression.
We'd simply tried to make the Volkswagen a practical car.
And we'd gotten our very own image."

6. Tell your story with imagination. A dull recitation of product benefits will never capture your consumer's heart. As David Ogilvy once pointed out, "You cannot bore people into buying your product."

7. Put your heart into it. Your story needs heart. We hear a lot about share of mind these days. Share of mind is good. But share of heart is motivating.

8. Have a sense of proportion. Keep your brand story in proper proportion to people's lives. Remember people are not living and breathing your brand the way you are.

Don't emulate a commercial on air right now for a computer (I've forgotten the name, which tells you something) that shows a man preparing to welcome his wife home. He sits a cute little puppy in the middle of the floor with a red bow tied round its neck. Cut: The door opens. A woman enters. Her eyes widen. She smiles from ear to ear. You think, "Hey, she's seen the puppy." But no, she dives past the puppy to the computer set up on a table. What a mistake! Real people don't do that sort of thing in real life. The brand story is totally out of whack with the human story and rings false.

9. You can't control all aspects of your brand story, no matter how hard you try. The Internet has changed everything. The days of command and control are over. Your customers have their hands on the control levers now. Case in point: Surfing the Internet a while ago, I came across a site called "Futile Shop." It posted the complaints of frustrated Future Shop customers.

10. Your brand story must have integrity. Your biggest asset as a brand manager is your brand's integrity and the trust your consumers put in your brand story.

In my view, the art of brand storytelling is not just another interesting option. In the years ahead it will be seen as a vital necessity. For too long, managing brands has been treated as a science, tumbling numbers, looking for proofs, building predictive models. What's been missing, in many cases, is the art of storytelling. It's only with a compelling brand story that we can win consumers' hearts and thus earn their loyalty.


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