Old fashioned typewriter with "Once Upon a Time" typed.

Storytelling: A Framework for Brand Development

Old fashioned typewriter with "Once Upon a Time" typed.Our industry has been in a frenzy of innovation these past few years. We’ve created new brands that have captured the hearts of consumers and skyrocketed in sales volume. Other new brands have fallen flat, though, and never gained traction. Why do some catch on when others don’t?

New product development can be a messy process, and it’s helpful to have an organizing framework for our innovation efforts. I believe brands built on the framework of a compelling story have the best chance of transcending the melee and creating a true emotional connection with consumers. This emotional connection drives purchase decision, enhances the consumer’s product experience and determines how likely they are to share their discovery. In wine and spirits, we are selling story at least as much as we’re selling product.

Why Story?

Story is universal to our human experience. Our response to story is hard-wired into our brains, and is central to our ability to process and understand our world. In other words, a story delivers content in a way that is easily digested.

Using the elements of story in our development process helps us create meaningful brands that have substance, impact in the marketplace, and staying power.

Story Elements as a Framework

First, let’s do a quick overview of four essential story elements and then we’ll look at how to use them as a framework to flesh out a compelling brand concept:

  • Setting: The place, social conditions, mood or atmosphere in which our story takes place.
  • Plot: The events in the story and their sequence. This is what gets us emotionally hooked.
  • Character: Our brand’s qualities or characteristics. We want a distinctive personality that differentiates us from competitors and makes us relatable, memorable and desirable.
  • Theme: The theme in a piece of fiction is its controlling idea; for our purposes, it’s a brand’s underlying meaning.

Examples from the Marketplace

How can we use this framework to strengthen and invigorate a tired brand or innovate a new one? Let’s look at both the classic wine story and an innovative lifestyle story.

A classic wine story framework for a heritage-focused brand goes something like this:

  • Setting: The romantic mystique of an old wine estate, with a “chateau” and picturesque vineyards.
  • Plot: Our estate is rooted in the ancient tradition of classic winemaking, using secrets passed on for generations. We use time-honored winemaking traditions and the best vineyards to make sure our wines are consistently excellent.
  • Character: Authentic, trusted, romantic, venerable. It looks and sounds classic, credible and traditional.
  • Theme: Wine is complex and mysterious, but you can trust the quality produced by a long line of craftsmen.

Now, here’s a framework for a lifestyle brand – we’ll use Cupcake as an example:

  • Setting: A happy childhood memory of a delicious sweet treat you enjoyed.
  • Plot: Grown up life is complicated, but our wines take you back to the simple delights of your childhood. Cupcake makes life easy, yummy and fun again.
  • Character: Indulgent, whimsical, pretty, fun, slightly naughty.
  • Theme: Wine is a yummy, grown up treat that is as much fun as a cupcake. You deserve a little treat.

These two stories offer different emotional hooks and appeal to a different consumer. One consumer is seeking reassurance and craftsmanship. The other is seeking permission to have some fun and have an indulgent treat.

Give Consumers a Reason to Care

I don’t think I need to point out that our category is oversaturated with the straight traditional story. We can start there, but to build a truly meaningful story we must go somewhere new with our plot. If you keep the classic theme, refresh the plot with a new twist.

Most of the innovation work we do with our clients is in the lifestyle space, and is designed to appeal to consumers who aren’t interested in the classics – they want wine to be about more than winemaking. Fortunately, there are story themes and interesting plots all around us if we reach beyond the wine category for our inspiration.

Use the framework of a well-constructed story to build a name, package design, brand copy, launch materials and ongoing marketing campaigns on a solid foundation. Not only does this underlying story provide clarity for you and your team during the brand development process, it also provides consumers with a compelling reason to believe and gives your brand a life of its own. What’s your story?


Here are two nuggets from brilliant storytellers in the entertainment world. Take a couple of minutes to learn from the masters and let’s see how we can adapt their insights to brand innovation.

How to make your audience care: Andrew Stanton, the genius writer from Pixar, is responsible for the three Toy Story movies and Wall-e. If you don’t mind a bit of graphic language, watch his TED Talk about storytelling here.

Finding the great stories: And from a series I highlighted previously, here is the amazing Ira Glass talking about the process of finding the really great stories. Stay with him – the gold is towards the end of the video.

Storytelling: A Framework for Brand DevelopmentSterling Creativeworks

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