Get Your Brand Story Straight

To those of us who develop strategies for brands and marketing campaigns – and who believe that without strategy you can only have short-term hits and short-lived success – it’s surprising to see how few brands have articulated a brand story for themselves. What is a brand story? There are many definitions, but here’s a go at it. A brand story is the underlying narrative that a brand represents to mass consciousness. It sits at the border of strategy and creative, and although it’s rarely if ever printed on a website or used as copy, you can feel it pulsating underneath everything the brand does and says.

Here’s one that I like to quote, from one of the most famous and beloved brands in the world.

Humans are the creators in this world. As such, they should sit above systems and processes, and not be subordinate to them.

As a brand story goes, this one is abnormally short, and just plain unusual. It doesn’t even contain the name of the brand itself. Can you guess what it is? Apple. It’s really a philosophy, a credo, a vision and a promise – all in one. It’s the story of how Apple sees humankind, and implicit within it is the central role that Apple plays. Another way to say it, much less poetic, would be:  “Machines serve humans (especially the cool ones), humans do not serve machines. And we at Apple will make sure you always feel this way.”

Brands without a brand story – are all over the map. A cool tactic here, a nice endorsement there, an arresting ad once in a while. But never quite lodging itself into mass consciousness as essential and incredibly desirable. Like Sony, can you feel a brand story underneath that once powerful brand? Not so much.

Generally, we recommend that a brand story be around three paragraphs and no more. It should pose a question or challenge or drama at the beginning, and then position the brand as the solution or hero. Finally, it should vividly illustrate a vision of what happens when that hero wins the day – and everybody wins. And it should do all this in a way that feels true and undeniable.

The stories we tell about ourselves – as brands and as people – determine our destiny. Many psychologists have talked about this. Getting the story right, and telling it well – is really what the Art of Brand is all about.