Eight principles of storytelling

Storytelling exerts a strong, almost magical hold over the human psyche. Stories have the power to entertain us, touch our hearts, and illuminate the world we live in.

A well-crafted, compelling brand story is an ideal way to get the word out, connect with an audience, and inspire loyalty. Apply these eight principles as you create a story that will help people remember your brand—and maybe even fall in love with it.

1 Brand stories are ongoing

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Unlike books with linear plots, brand stories evolve over time and are expressed through many channels. Wherever people encounter a piece of your narrative—a subway billboard, a Facebook post, a TV commercial—they should be able to enter the story’s flow and experience your brand through it.

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Performance lies at the core of Nike’s brand story. In its Twitter stream, its workout tips, its sponsorship of sporting events, we find everyday athletes motivated to reach their personal best. And each time the Nike swoosh appears, in each venue, you can hear it whisper: Just do it.

2 Stories are more than words

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The best storytelling is visual and visceral as well as verbal. Image and color, symbol and sound, texture and scent all contribute to telling your brand story at multiple sensory levels.

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The flash of red sole is the unmistakable signature of Louboutin shoes. No words are needed to say exclusive, expensive, sexy, untouchable.

3 Focus cuts through the clutter

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People are bombarded with an overwhelming amount of input every day. Once you’re on their radar, you may have only three seconds to get your point across. Be clear and concise. Stick to one message at a time for maximum impact.

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Absolut Vodka has been running the same basic ad for more than 30 years: brand name + iconic bottle + a single, well-chosen word. Distilled to its essence, the simple vignette never fails to captivate. One promotion featured 4 million distinctively painted bottles, each different from all the others: Absolut Unique.

4 Voice claims the territory

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Forget jargon and hype: Get into the soul of your brand and speak from there. Defining your brand’s tone and staying true to it make your messages indelible.

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Old Spice took audiences by storm in 2010 with its Smell Like a Man, Man campaign. The outrageously sexy model and his irreverent, tongue-in-cheek commentary brought an epic level of absurdity to male grooming. Viewers were laughing, sharing, imitating—and giving Old Spice another try.

5 Tribal loyalty runs deep

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We all want to belong—to our families, our societies, our teams. Wise brands tap into that universal desire for community by inviting people to participate in a larger story and giving them a sense of shared identity.

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Apple’s clever I’m a Mac, I’m a PC ad series did more to reinforce the Apple user personality than any product or service could have. Even non-Apple owners were coaxed into the Mac tribe through these brilliant comedic spots using props, sight gags, and “guests” to keep the saga unfolding. 

6 Story is built on emotion

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Feelings are the catalyst for action, and storytelling is the perfect vehicle to engage people’s emotions. Use its power to make customers care about your brand. Give them a reason to want you, love you, champion your cause.

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P&G’s Thank You, Mom Olympic campaign was a defining moment in emotional connection. From the montage of wake-up routines to the carpools in subzero temperatures, years of steadfast devotion were packed into a scant 30 seconds. In that half-minute, P&G won the hearts of countless parents and turned them into customers for life.

7 Brand plays a supporting role

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Your brand is never the main character in your story. Savvy brands recognize this, and they don’t try to steal the spotlight from the real star: the customer.

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Created in 1960, sturdy Dr. Martens shoes were soon supporting the feet of a diverse cast of characters. Housewives liked their comfort and durability. Punk rockers adopted them as a badge of protest against a rigid class system. Throughout its colorful history, the brand has remained quietly in the background. Even today, lacing up a pair of Dr. Martens feels like stepping into the shoes of a rebel. 

8 Customers are now coauthors

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Social media has changed the game for brands in ways unimaginable 10 years ago. Today’s consumers have far-reaching tools to make their voices heard, and their candid opinions carry weight. Encourage your customers to speak up and join the brand story. They may well write its next chapter.

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The most important people you’ll find on Patagonia’s website aren’t the founder or the leadership team. They’re the brand ambassadors—a group of climbers, fishers, skiers, and surfers who work hand in hand with the design department to continually improve the company’s outdoor gear. The story of Patagonia is the story of these adventurers. 

Jason Bice, Nick Foley, and Trevor Wade contributed to this piece.

Images used with permission from Christian Louboutin, Absolut, P&G, and Dr. Martens.
© 2014 Landor. All rights reserved.