Branding is Storytelling


Personal storytelling is the most influential form of brand storytelling when it comes to everyday communication of a business’ value. The use of personal storytelling may sound like a contradiction to most marketing experts. The classical branding mandate is: keep it consistent. Use the same words, phrases, and images in your brand storytelling in order to deeply imprint them into the consciousness of your customers. Get everyone on board with this and don’t allow it to fluctuate much.

On the whole, this makes sense. Branding is about visibility, and consistency is important in the general marketplace. If the slogan “Coke and a smile” had fluctuated much since 1979 (“coke and a grin,” “coke and a wink…”), the brand would be much less iconic and its semantic power diffuse. But what comes out of a salesperson or spokesperson’s mouth is perceived very differently than the logo on his or her t-shirt or slogans printed on a can.

When we talk about personal storytelling, we’re talking about something one level down from the commons where brands compete. We are speaking of an exchange that happens between people. Here, genuineness is just as important as messaging, because messaging does not build trust. Personal storytelling, however, does go a long way toward building that trust. So for branding at the interaction level, at the level of customers and consumers being in a relational dynamic with each other of listening and telling, personal storytelling can achieve things no well-crafted branding tagline can.

Why Personal Storytelling Works

People seek variety and change. When individuals repeat branded concepts, they easily can make them hackneyed. Instead, personal storytelling expresses a personal relationship with the brand, service, or product. To allow these stories to represent the values, mission, and products and services of the company requires trust on the part of the brand. And it takes training to ensure that stories emerge that are relevant to the message, well-crafted, and told with confidence.

Working backward in that list, the more personal a story, the more confidence the teller will have. In essence, the story of the brand becomes “yours” and everything in your physiological and psychological systems comes on board to support your telling. A listener, whether a customer or potential client, will sense your embodiment of that story. Or they will sense that you are simply parroting ideas that haven’t truly sunken in.

To craft a story well takes training and practice in forming its arc and in the language-method of the telling. You can’t expect a story to, first, emerge from the wealth of experience without some guided excavation; and you can’t expect to undertake a method of telling and immediately get it right. This is true for any discipline, and storytelling is best when it relies on a disciplined under-carriage. On that foundation, creativity can also take place.

Finally, the relationship of a personal story to the brand or company’s message is not always immediately obvious, nor should it be. The priority should be a rich and genuine personal story inspired by a relationship to the brand or company’s product, service, or mission. Let that emerge and take shape. And trust the listener to be intelligent enough to make the connection. Because the essential point of personal storytelling is to make a connection with the listener on an emotional as well as intellectual and psychological level. That is priority number one, and when that bridge is built, a message can travel over it with much greater efficacy.

Trust your storytellers

By virtue of their working relationship with a company, all employees are storytellers of that company’s story. They talk about work at lunch and at home; they may think about the company’s mission spontaneously, depending on their level of connection and care. They are a reservoir of known—and untold—stories that can enrich a company’s message and expand its pervasiveness in creative and unexpected ways. They are best positioned to shed light on a company’s mission, products, and values in a relatable and convincing way.

Under the umbrella of great copywriting, design, and strategic thinking, a culture of storytelling breathes life into every brand’s message. An exchange of original stories informs listeners and tellers alike about the relevance of the brand to each other’s lives.