No Story? No Brand. Transparent Storytelling in Marketing Helps Brands Win.

Debbie Williams

Written by Debbie Williams on Thu, Aug 16, 2012

no story no brandThis is article is an introduction to a book in development Brands in Glass Houses by co-authors:  Sprout Marketing co-founders  Debbie Williams and Dechay Watts and brand marketing consultant Said Baaghil. No Story? No Brand.

In a recent AdAge article by Laura Ries, she took the position that, “... the best way into the mind is with visuals, not with words. Visuals play a more important role in marketing becausethey hold emotional power that sticks.” We greatly respect Laura’s opinions, but in this particular case, we’d like to offer a counter perspective.

Of course visuals and images are compelling, and necessary, but words are equally important and work to create the essence of a brand. Every brand has a story, and that story can’t be told through visuals alone.  While great design might lure you in, it’s not enough to sustain a relationship.

Imagine if you were looking for a new face cream and found dozens of packages with only colors and pictures and no description of the product benefits, ingredients, product history or promised results? Or imagine searching the internet to find a new camera and just seeing pictures of cameras, with no information on features or product reviews? Words matter and brands that tell stories have a huge competitive advantage.

The Starring Role of Stories

Stories bring brands to life, giving them a perspective and personality. But where are these stories told?  Stories create conversation between brands and consumers through packaging, websites, e-newsletters, blogs, brochures, magazines, and social media channels like Facebook and Twitter.  These vehicles give brands a voice and become a storytelling platform where conversation happens and relationships are nourished.

The Art of Content in Brand Storytelling

A brand’s mission or brand statement isn’t just for the internal marketing team, but must shine through in the experience it creates with customers.  Content must be emotionally driven, describe the brand positioning and communicate the differentiating factors about a product. Here are a few essential steps brands must take to begin its storytelling.

• Identify your target audience.
• Create a persona.
• Know what makes your product different from the competition.
• Create messaging to easily relate those points to your audience.
• Choose the most effective communication channels (i.e., website, packaging, social media).
• Be consistent and keep the story going with a content marketing plan. 

Types of Brand Stories

Lifestyle stories make an emotional connection with their audience. They are often adopted by brands entering an already established category and tell stories with great personality.

monsterdrinksA great example of brand lifestyle storytelling is found with Monster Energy Drinks (the #2 selling energy drink brand in the world). The package design and logo is vibrant and stands out on shelf, but it’s the story on each flavor’s package that sets it apart in the booming energy drink category. Monster is completely clear on their positioning and audience - energy drinks for extreme sports enthusiasts (young males), and their on-package story speaks to this lifestyle.

Here’s the story on the Monster Khaos product: “Our Pro Athletes are always looking for an edge, so when they’ve got an idea we listen. After months in the lab we perfected the “Juice Monster”.  We started with our original Monster flavor, mixed in a killer combo of natural juices, then powered it up with the full load of our energy blend and stood back.   It’s Alive. Monster Khaos, an insane Juice-Monster hybrid bubbling with the great Monster taste and the big bad buzz you know and love.   50% Juice – 100% Monster.”

The story clearly speaks to health-conscious athletes looking for a pre-workout pick-me-up. Monster smartly carries this conversation on through its website and social media channels to develop a lasting relationship with its loyal fan base.

Heritage stories are based on function and factual history.  They are often told by longstanding, legacy brands to explain how a specific product will make your life easier, more efficient or better in some way.

A great example of heritage storytelling is found in Kleenex® tissue. Their brand story is told like a chapter out of a history book on their website:

“In 1965, the first Kleenex® tissue ad appeared in the Ladies Home Journal as "the new secret of keeping a pretty skin as used by famous movie stars..." Soon, ads were in all the major women's magazines like McCall's, Good Housekeeping, Harper's Bazaar, Vogue, Cosmopolitan and Redbook…”

The story clearly speaks to a loyal consumer looking for a product they can trust. Kleenex carries this conversation on through its promotions, even letting consumers design their own box of tissues on their website.  Even the names of their products reflect direct benefits like Everyday Tissue, Anti-Viral and Ultra Soft. 

Here is an example of the type of storytelling chosen by several major brands:

Lifestyle / Emotional Brands

Heritage / Funcational Brands




Maxwell House







Be original, not a “me too”.

No matter which type of storytelling a brand chooses, the most important thing to remember is to tell one. Many brands lose their competitive advantage because they lose focus and thus lose the attention of their loyal customers.

equalEqual® vs. Splenda® is a perfect example of two brands in the same category, competing for an identical customer, but one owning the story.  When Equal, the former alternative sweetener leader, was challenged by the launch of Splenda, it made storytelling mistake #1 – blatantly copying Splenda’s story in order to compete.  Equal, made with aspartame, was a well-branded product known for its light blue packets. When Splenda launched onto the scene in its sunny yellow packets, it quickly captured the market by introducing Sucralose, a new zero calorie sweetener “made from real sugar.” Instead of forging ahead with its own unique story to compete, Equal copied Splenda’s story and launched a similar product in the same exact color package.

Here is the product story verbatim from the Equal website:

"Equal Sucralose is the new, great tasting zero calorie sweetener that’s made with sucralose; the same sweetening ingredient used in Splenda®1 No Calorie Sweetener but at a better value. Equal Sucralose is perfect for cooking and baking and can be used to replace sugar without compromising on taste."

Equal may have attempted to compete with Splenda in the Sucralose category, but a story copycat will never be the winner.  And, never mention a competitor's prodcuct in your own proudct description! Splenda takes storytelling so seriously it dedicates an entire part of its website to it www.splenda/com/story.

What brands should be telling their story?

Every brand that wants to compete and stay relevant in the market should be telling their story. Stories are essential to a brand’s success because, as part of oral tradition, they compress a product narrative to the heart of the brand’s DNA.  As important as a captivating design, stories makes people decide if they like you, if they trust you, if you understand their needs and if they want to do business with you.  Stories leave an indelible mark on people that can last for years to come, continue to grow, and deepen the relationship.  You need a story to be a competitor.

what brands do you think tell a great story to distinguish themselves in the market?

Book is in the works! Stay tuned for more developments!

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