Brand Storytelling – Buzzword or Brand Builder?

Who would have thought that the term “brand storytelling” or simply connecting the word storytelling to the world of advertising would evoke such robust debate? Don’t believe me? Google it.

Advertising that emotionally connects via a strong narrative is a choice for some companies while others believe that every bit of white space, every second of airtime and every pixel should be selling, selling, selling.

Who is right?

Research out of the U.S. by Hill Holiday’s consumer research arm, Origin suggested there is a proven opportunity for companies to charge more for their product or service if they inject story into their pitch to consumers.

See the article here.

With all that said, there are insanely successful companies using high-impact retail approaches that seem to shout at the potential customer. You see it in retailers a lot. It’s the “sale-a-bration” that is happening “right now”.

Effectiveness can be proven in both the direct shouty approach and the storytelling approach, but what can’t be ignored is that with the current state of the internet being social media platform focused, the need for brand content that educates, entertains or explains its way into someone’s stream is very real. We, as consumers are less likely to put up with interruption as a sole delivery method for brand messaging.

At True Syd we believe that brand narratives need to be held accountable. Content shouldn’t use the fire, aim, ready approach and hope, it should be well planned, aligned to a strategy and be completely measurable to business goals.

So, how do we tell a better brand story?

Here’s some advice from filmmaker Andrew Stanton (“Toy Story”, WALL-E”)

Take a look at his TED Talk here.

Know your storytelling goal going in

We talk a lot about this in marketing, “what’s the ROI”?  Andrew says, “storytelling is knowing that everything from your first to your last sentence is leading to a singular goal.” Brand storytelling is the same. Ensure you know what you want the outcome to be before you start. If you aim at nothing you’re bound to hit it.

Make the audience care

This is also about knowing your audience. What interests them? What makes them laugh, love or loathe something? Why would they give you their time? What will make them react the way you want them to? Mr. Stanton talks about it like this, “Make me care, please, emotionally, intellectually, aesthetically, just make me care.”

Allow your audience to put the pieces together on their own

In Andrew’s TED talk, he says, “We are born problem solvers. We are compelled to deduce, and to deduct.”  He explains, “Don’t give the audience the entire story. Don’t give them 4. Give them 2+2.” This can be a big shift when it comes to traditional advertising, but is fast becoming essential for social content.

Construct anticipation

Andrew talks through the power of anticipation, “When you’re telling a story, have you constructed anticipation? In the short-term, have you made me want to know what will happen next? But more importantly, have you made me want to know how it will all conclude in the long-term?” This is hugely important with brand storytelling because the thing that might happen next or in the long term could be the purchase or the exchange of their information for something that your company has to offer.

If you believe that Andrew is right, but believe movies like Toy Story are a long way from Madison avenue or more like the Mexican restaurant down the street, think again. In Scott Donaton’s article in Adweek he highlights that brands committed to making their own content including: CNN, Marriott, Pepsi and Red Bull are investing big dollars into their own content studios that not only create branded content, but original programming.

In the end, advertising really is a value exchange. Is the advertising message you’re pushing giving enough value for everyday humans to give you their attention? In other words, is it worthy of something they value more than money – their time?


Eric Stephens
ECD | Managing Director

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