Building Brands through Storytelling

PrintUsing Story to Create Brands with Longevity

Our areas of specialty – luxury food and beverage – have seen an explosion of new brand introductions in recent years. Although we thrive on the constant stream of creative projects this generates, we have noticed a trend that concerns us. While brands launched by scrappy small companies often enjoy tremendous growth and longevity, those developed and introduced by companies with a large portfolio of established brands too often follow a disturbing pattern: they launch to great fanfare and generate strong initial sales, only to then flatten out and lose traction.

A Brand Concept is Not Enough

When we work with clients to design a new brand we are usually given a fairly comprehensive brief. The marketing team has identified the perceived white space, or market opportunity. Their project brief describes the brand concept, the competitive set, price point and target consumer. All of these are critical components of a well-crafted strategy, and we are grateful to have such smart and thorough marketers as clients.

We’ve realized recently, however, that this is not enough. In order to create a brand with long-lasting emotional appeal, we must first develop a meaningful and engaging brand story. This story provides the depth and richness the new brand needs to maintain its initial momentum: to capture the hearts of consumers, and grow into an established brand with longevity.

Story: The Fuel that Propels Your Brand

The story grows out of your brand concept and business strategy, and becomes the foundation on which the brand identity, package design and all marketing communications are built. Designing an identity and package without this foundation is like building a beautiful house on an insufficient footing. It looks great at first glance, but doesn’t hold up over time.

Once the newness of launch wears off, substance and depth are needed to fuel a long-term relationship with our audience. The marketing and design team needs a rich narrative they can draw upon as they provide the sales team and the trade with new reasons to talk about the brand. And, in the age of constant and instant social media communication, we need to give consumers interesting things to get excited about, and subsequently share about, our brands.

Key Elements of a Great Brand Story

Any good story, and especially the story of a premium brand, has the following key ingredients:
1. It’s emotional
2. It’s unique
3. It’s credible
4. It has depth

It’s Emotional

A great story elicits an emotional response. This creates a connection between the brand and its audience at a deep, universal level. A few examples of universal emotional needs that brands can leverage include: a need for belonging and approval (prestige stories), a desire for escape (stories of rebellion), a quest for meaning (sustainability stories), and a need for excitement (the story of discovery).

It’s Unique

As great as your story may be, if it is the same as your competitors’ stories, you need to go further. What are the one to three things that make your version of a universal story unique? One category we have worked in extensively, wine, has long relied on the classic messaging of quality and prestige. While these are both important and still resonant with consumers, there are far too many wines telling this same story. It’s become almost generic and has lost its luster. Wine marketers can grab consumers’ attention with a unique version of this classic story – for instance, is this a passion project a renegade winemaker did on his own time, using grapes that come from a neglected corner of the estate? Or, was your wine created by a woman who realized she appreciates a specific, honeyed flavor profile at the end of a stressful, over-scheduled day?

It’s Credible

Consumers today are savvy. They are willing to knowingly suspend disbelief for a playful fantasy. If your brand depends on being outrageous and irreverent, just make sure your audience is in on the joke. On the other hand, if your brand claims heritage and/or expertise as its platform you’d better be able to substantiate your claims. We’ve seen how consumers respond to false claims of sustainable practices – they have the means to find out the truth, and will turn against a brand they believe is misleading consumers.

It Has Depth

Your brand story needs to be deep and rich. Once you’ve grabbed your audience’s attention and created an emotional connection, make sure your story invites more study and sharing.

Brands that catch on today do so through the social web, through one consumer at a time sharing something that is intriguing or meaningful to him or her. A story that is share-worthy has detailed and well-drawn characters with compelling motivations. It includes interesting anecdotes. It describes challenges your characters encountered and then overcame. Most of all, it gives your brand a reason for being, and your audience a reason to care.

Tying it All Together

To build and evaluate your brand story, use the classic narrative arc. First, grab their attention with an emotional hook, next set the stage with unique and engaging characters and circumstances, then build tension, and finally resolve that tension with your brand as the hero.

Give your brand longevity by starting with a unique story that captures the imagination of the trade and the hearts of consumers. Then make sure to strengthen that bond by revealing more depth as they get to know you.



Here are some of our favorite books on the topic of storytelling – why it works and how to use it.

Human minds yield helplessly to the suction of story. No matter how hard we concentrate, no matter how deep we dig in our heels, we just can’t resist the gravity of alternate worlds.” Jonathan Gottschall book, The Storytelling Animal, is an engaging read about the roots of the power of story. Read a review here.

Written for writers, but just as relevant for brand marketers, Lisa Cron’s book, Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence, gives us a glimpse into how the brain experiences story. Find it here.

Building Brands through StorytellingSterling Creativeworks
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