Ideo: Good Stories Make Good Brands. Here’s 4 Tips and 7 Examples

People trade experiences and ideals through narrative; brands can (and should) be part of the exchange.

This is the latest piece in our PATTERNS series by IDEO. Read more about the series here.


Every product needs a story, as does every brand. The product’s origin. The creators’ ideals. Or a unique experience. These stories provide value.

Consumers are looking to share narratives as a way to express their knowledge, identity, status, and connections. As the DNA of viral marketing, these stories help people connect more deeply with a brand, a product, and others around them.

TAKE ACTION: Designing for Life’s Changes

1. Share what you care about
How might design authentically express values to attract like-minded consumers?

2. Empower people to make it their own
How might we encourage consumers to participate by telling their own stories?

3. Localize
How might we speak to community to provide deeper meaning and connection in an increasingly commoditized world?


4. Be discriminating
How might we identify the key aspects of design that connect to the story’s focus?

THE EVIDENCE: Stories from Around the Globe

Shoes Make the Man

A self-proclaimed sneaker geek, Carl has over 500 pairs in his collection. His current favorite? A pair of laser-etched Nikes he picked up in Japan. The detailing is subtle, but to those in the know, they have enormous value. The specialty stores he visits on his travels, like Alife in New York or Kicks in Los Angeles, fly a bit below the radar. Knowing about them is all about making the right connections. To garner sneaker cred, Carl participates in online communities, sharing his knowledge and proclaiming his status through his collection.

Bragging Rights on a Global Scale


A lot of people travel to Costa Rica to take surf lessons. But only a handful can learn from an internationally renowned pro during a weeklong, invite-only surf camp.

Lee, a 36-year-old investment banker from Manhattan, works hard to attract opportunities like this. She and her banking industry friends are adrenaline junkies, always on the hunt for the next exceptional experience. Whether it’s indulging in local treatments at an exclusive $1200 per night spa in Thailand or bypassing the months-long waitlist at a trendy restaurant in Vegas, Lee gathers experiences to increase her social and professional profile.

Working in a typically male-dominated industry, she may not always get invited to go bear hunting with the guys in Alaska. But she can still impress the firm’s partners with her access to exclusive resorts in remote parts of the globe.

Discerning Chickens Cause a Stir

In Andhra Pradesh, India, a region where clean water is scarce, one humble local farmer’s chickens are better off than most people. Searching for a way to differentiate his product, he took a big risk by starting to give his chickens purified water to drink. Soon after the switch, the farmer’s chickens started growing faster, suffered less disease and produced more eggs. Overall, they were much healthier than the neighboring villagers’ chickens being fed water from the local well.


News about these high-quality chickens spread rapidly through the local community. Not only did the entrepreneurial farmer’s sales shoot up, but sales of purified water went through the roof.

Red Cross

With IDEO’s help, the Red Cross not only has a redesigned mobile center, they have a deeper connection with their donors. The key to altering the overall experience was to switch the focus from the recipients to the donors. Each donor now writes a postcard with their own personal story about why they were motivated to donate blood. These postcards are then posted on the wall at the center for others to read and be inspired by.

The Perfect Ingredient for Self-Expression


Lori’s cupboards overflow with obscure artisan food products. She spends a great deal of time scouring the Internet and boutique stores, focusing on details about ingredients and the artisans themselves. To deepen her knowledge, she also subscribes to online newsletters and attends food conferences.

30 and single, Lori isn’t that engaged with her career, so she has a lot of time and money to spend on food. And her friends reap the benefits. “All summer long, I entertain on the front porch,” she
says. “My friends tell me I’m in the wrong line of work.”

Shun Knives

The shimmering pattern of a Shun knife’s layered steel blade is a distinctive visual clue that can elicit pangs of jealousy at a dinner party. This “Damascus look” tells a more evocative brand story about Japanese heritage and craft than anything Shun could ever express focusing on SUS410 High Carbon Stainless Steel or VG10 core.



Tesco is a company that emphasizes locally-grown food as a link to safety. From health challenges like Mad Cow to environmental impacts due to importing, Tesco encourages regional sourcing whenever possible. And by finding local products across the UK and Ireland, they can connect not only with consumers’ sense of security, but also their national pride.

Be a Pattern Spotter

Now that you’ve been exposed to a few different examples, don’t be surprised if you start seeing Life’s Changes patterns all around. Keep your eyes open and let us know what you find, especially if it’s the next new pattern.

PATTERNS are a collection of shared thoughts, insights, and observations gathered by IDEO through their work and the world around them. Read more pieces from the series here.

Suzanne Gibbs Howard specializes in human factors and design research at IDEO. She has knack for finding new approaches and synthesizing insights to drive design, brand, and business strategies.

[Top image by Mo Riza]