Brand Storytelling: Connecting With Your Audience

At its very core, marketing is storytelling. The best advertising campaigns take us on an emotional journey—appealing to our wants, needs and desires—while at the same time telling us about a product or service. A brand's story comes from the company's own information, and if successful, it is accepted and integrated into the consumer's story. You must understand how your brand emotionally resonates with customers and then position your message in the right place to tell the right story at just the right time.

Corporate marketers have countless tools available to help them share their stories, including online and offline advertising, out-of-home, events, Web sites, marketing collateral, retail presence and public relations. Knowing how and where your target customer consumes media—or will be exposed to your message—allows you to position your story most effectively.

htc 8525 ad

For example, when sharing the story of the AT&T 8525 by HTC, a Windows Mobile smartphone, we targeted harried business people who needed real-time access to their productivity tools, such as email and Microsoft Office programs, at all times. An out-of-home campaign in airports, subway stations and table trays on Alaska Airlines jets showed how the 8525 kept users calmly connected, as if they were sitting in their offices. An emotional need was met—to stay calm and connected—while the consumer was actually in a usually stressful travel environment.

The goal with corporate-brand storytelling is to transition the consumer from awareness to trial to advocacy. You want people to use your brand to describe their life: A "Windows User," a "Mac Guy," a "Honda driver" and so on. Once the consumer adopts a product into his or her personal story, brand exposure increases greatly.

But beyond the profound influence of one-to-one interactions consumers have with their friends, family and co-workers, they also have many more tools at their disposal to share joy or dismay about your brand with the world at-large. Blogs, email, online communities, and review options on Web sites can create a firestorm of awareness about your brand—good or bad.

Still, consumers can be amazingly loyal, and if they have taken the story of your brand to heart, they can forgive many transgressions. In the mobile phone operating system wars, Apple has clearly done the best job in winning over the hearts and minds of users. But the company's phones can be buggy, and they don't do all things well. However, the form factor and user interface design, the application innovations and the philosophy of the company have created such a powerful story that people want to be a part of it. BlackBerry, Palm, or Windows Mobile smartphones don't carry the same emotional cachet. At least, not yet.

To be a successful brand storyteller, you must first understand how your brand's products and services meet a customer's emotional needs. Even business-to-business products and services fulfill emotional needs: I will get promoted. I won't get fired. I will be a hero if this works.

Next, understand not only where your customer will be exposed to your message, but what his or her emotional state will be when engaged with that media.

Lastly, tell a consistent story about your company, your product or your service regardless of where the message is delivered. Inconsistencies degrade the power of the story and cause mistrust.

Every brand has a story. Tell it well, and you'll give your customers a reason to believe.

Read more of Melinda Partin's Work Tank blog

Melinda PartinAs CEO and co-founder of Worktank, Melinda leads the company's strategic direction with the goal of worldwide expansion to better serve our global customer base. Her vision is central to Worktank's mission of helping clients find new and compelling ways to establish meaningful relationships with their customers.

Drawing on over a decade of interactive experience, Melinda helps companies transition from traditional marketing to Web- and interactive-based channels. Her wide-ranging background includes Fortune 500 and small- to mid-sized companies in technology, real estate, corporate housing, and telecommunications, and the non-profit sector in HIV/AIDS and hunger issues. Melinda moved to the agency side after stints with Microsoft Sidewalk and Microsoft Studios, where she pushed the edge of media technology.

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24 Comments

  • Great article, and very true! Although this article was written 5 years ago, I guess using the example of mobile phones and the user connection is even more important these days. Considering how much time we spend using our phones on a daily basis, the user experience is now more important than ever. If you get it right, in the case of Apple, then you will create strong connections between brand and user. Gareth | http://www.brandnucreative.co.uk

  • Mash Bonigala

    Great article Melinda... I agree 100%. In fact I had transformed myself from a logo designer to a brand storyteller (it is still happening since I guess it is an ongoing process) and I see I add MUCH more value to my client's identities and their bottom line. In fact I wrote about this recently at http://www.spellbrand.com/from....

  • Megan K.

    Millennials are one segment that love to see brand storytelling. I used this article as a source in a blog post I wrote for YAYA Connection, a student-run agency that aims to bridge the gap between marketers and the youth and young adult generation. vhttp://yayaconnection.com/201...

  • Barbara Mckinney

    Right on Melinda! You have to win consumers' heart. You can do this by effective storytelling. Who doesn't love to hear stories? Stories that can embark something on your heart and can spark many thoughts every time you see that brand.

  • Mark Lightowler

    Thanks Melina for telling your Story. Apple does do a good job but there are thousands of brands that do the same big, small and some just being discovered. I think there are a couple of aspects of brand storytelling that can also be added to your well written article. Stories are not just what you tell, its what your customers tell about you (Word of mouth, WOM). Its how you generate this that defines your effectivness. Storytelling is the righthand side of the brain (emotion) justifying the facts (lefthand side). With out emotion (the story) people can only agree or disagree with the facts of your brand and thats just a transaction not building a fan base to keep them comming back or to tell your story to someone else. More about brand storytelling here http://newbrand stories.wordpress.com

  • Chris Glennon

    Your statement, "tell a consistent story about your company, your product or your service regardless of where the message is delivered. Inconsistencies degrade the power of the story and cause mistrust." is powerful. But until now the product and company 'back stories' where lost or worst, changed, as the product travels through the supply chain or distribution channel. However, with interactive labeling technologies such as JumpGauge Interactive Labeling (http://www.JumpGauge.com/) customers are engaged and educate, consistently and accurately. It is the engagement that is crucial. The more engaged a customer is with the product information, the more likely they are to purchase and will luck the engagement will lead to real knowledge transfer, resulting in brand loyalty.

    Chris Glennon
    JumpGauge Interactive Labeling
    chris.glennon@jumpgauge.com

  • Nikos Mourkogiannis

    Dear Melinda,
    You are of course right about the connection between story telling and Brand. Brand is the best story that can be said about a person, a company, an agency, a country. However, Brands,as all assets, can turn into liabilities if they are not fit for Purpose. We have a lot of good story telling these days, but a lot of branding is also backfiring when deemed lacking in authenticity. Would you agree with that?
    All the Best,
    Nikos Mourkogiannis
    Author,"Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Companies."
    Nikos@Nikos.com

  • Nikos Mourkogiannis

    Dear Melinda,
    You are of course right about the connection between story telling and Brand. Brand is the best story that can be said about a person, a company, an agency, a country. However, Brands,as all assets, can turn into liabilities if they are not fit for Purpose. We have a lot of good story telling these days, but a lot of branding is also backfiring when deemed lacking in authenticity. Would you agree with that?
    All the Best,
    Nikos Mourkogiannis
    Author,"Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Companies."
    Nikos@Nikos.com

  • Nikos Mourkogiannis

    Dear Melinda,
    You are of course right about the connection between story telling and Brand. Brand is the best story that can be said about a person, a company, an agency, a country. However, Brands,as all assets, can turn into liabilities if they are not fit for Purpose. We have a lot of good story telling these days, but a lot of branding is also backfiring when deemed lacking in authenticity. Would you agree with that?
    All the Best,
    Nikos Mourkogiannis
    Author,"Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Companies."
    Nikos@Nikos.com

  • Nikos Mourkogiannis

    Dear Melinda,
    You are of course right about the connection between story telling and Brand. Brand is the best story that can be said about a person, a company, an agency, a country. However, Brands,as all assets, can turn into liabilities if they are not fit for Purpose. We have a lot of good story telling these days, but a lot of branding is also backfiring when deemed lacking in authenticity. Would you agree with that?
    All the Best,
    Nikos Mourkogiannis
    Author,"Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Companies."
    Nikos@Nikos.com

  • Nikos Mourkogiannis

    Dear Melinda,
    You are of course right about the connection between story telling and Brand. Brand is the best story that can be said about a person, a company, an agency, a country. However, Brands,as all assets, can turn into liabilities if they are not fit for Purpose. We have a lot of good story telling these days, but a lot of branding is also backfiring when deemed lacking in authenticity. Would you agree with that?
    All the Best,
    Nikos Mourkogiannis
    Author,"Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Companies."
    Nikos@Nikos.com

  • Nikos Mourkogiannis

    Dear Melinda,
    You are of course right about the connection between story telling and Brand. Brand is the best story that can be said about a person, a company, an agency, a country. However, Brands,as all assets, can turn into liabilities if they are not fit for Purpose. We have a lot of good story telling these days, but a lot of branding is also backfiring when deemed lacking in authenticity. Would you agree with that?
    All the Best,
    Nikos Mourkogiannis
    Author,"Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Companies."
    Nikos@Nikos.com

  • Nikos Mourkogiannis

    Dear Melinda,
    You are of course right about the connection between story telling and Brand. Brand is the best story that can be said about a person, a company, an agency, a country. However, Brands,as all assets, can turn into liabilities if they are not fit for Purpose. We have a lot of good story telling these days, but a lot of branding is also backfiring when deemed lacking in authenticity. Would you agree with that?
    All the Best,
    Nikos Mourkogiannis
    Author,"Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Companies."
    Nikos@Nikos.com

  • Nikos Mourkogiannis

    Dear Melinda,
    You are of course right about the connection between story telling and Brand. Brand is the best story that can be said about a person, a company, an agency, a country. However, Brands,as all assets, can turn into liabilities if they are not fit for Purpose. We have a lot of good story telling these days, but a lot of branding is also backfiring when deemed lacking in authenticity. Would you agree with that?
    All the Best,
    Nikos Mourkogiannis
    Author,"Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Companies."
    Nikos@Nikos.com

  • Nikos Mourkogiannis

    Dear Melinda,
    You are of course right about the connection between story telling and Brand. Brand is the best story that can be said about a person, a company, an agency, a country. However, Brands,as all assets, can turn into liabilities if they are not fit for Purpose. We have a lot of good story telling these days, but a lot of branding is also backfiring when deemed lacking in authenticity. Would you agree with that?
    All the Best,
    Nikos Mourkogiannis
    Author,"Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Companies."
    Nikos@Nikos.com

  • Nikos Mourkogiannis

    Dear Melinda,
    You are of course right about the connection between story telling and Brand. Brand is the best story that can be said about a person, a company, an agency, a country. However, Brands,as all assets, can turn into liabilities if they are not fit for Purpose. We have a lot of good story telling these days, but a lot of branding is also backfiring when deemed lacking in authenticity. Would you agree with that?
    All the Best,
    Nikos Mourkogiannis
    Author,"Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Companies."
    Nikos@Nikos.com

  • Nikos Mourkogiannis

    Dear Melinda,
    You are of course right about the connection between story telling and Brand. Brand is the best story that can be said about a person, a company, an agency, a country. However, Brands,as all assets, can turn into liabilities if they are not fit for Purpose. We have a lot of good story telling these days, but a lot of branding is also backfiring when deemed lacking in authenticity. Would you agree with that?
    All the Best,
    Nikos Mourkogiannis
    Author,"Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Companies."
    Nikos@Nikos.com

  • Nikos Mourkogiannis

    Dear Melinda,
    You are of course right about the connection between story telling and Brand. Brand is the best story that can be said about a person, a company, an agency, a country. However, Brands,as all assets, can turn into liabilities if they are not fit for Purpose. We have a lot of good story telling these days, but a lot of branding is also backfiring when deemed lacking in authenticity. Would you agree with that?
    All the Best,
    Nikos Mourkogiannis
    Author,"Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Companies."
    Nikos@Nikos.com