Brand Storytelling 101
A Brief History of Branding
Even though the actual practice of branding harkens back to much earlier times, the actual term comes from the Old Norse—from those multilinguistic nomads who roamed the earth during the middle ages, also known as The VIkings—and literally means ‘burned wood’. Centuries later, it was converted into a verb and its meaning translated to ‘mark with a hot iron’.
Today, we mark, or brand, everything, from our shoes, to our soaps and from toilet paper to toothpaste to cars, and Hollywood stars—even Elon Musk's rocket ships are branded with the Space X logo. Product owners are claiming ownership, not just of their commercial wares but of the intentions and intellectual ideas and creative capital behind them.
Storytelling IS Our Cultural DNA
We exist through language and all of human culture is derived from storytelling. From the dawn of man and the earliest cave paintings to the mythological figures of the Greeks, to the legends of how the world was created and why humankind was put on this planet, passed down from generation to generation through song and dance and prayer, as told by our native American Brothers and sisters, our entire culture has been created by these stories that have survived thousands of years and continue to this day. And the one story that is told over and over is the hero’s adventure.
The Hero's Journey
There are many versions of the basic premise—what Joseph Campell, one of our great modern mythologists calls—a monomyth.
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man,” Campbell explains.
Brand Storytelling—The Hero Is Your Customer
More recently, Donald Miller published his best-selling book Building A Storybrand and condensed Campbell’s 12+ stages of the hero’s journey into 7 simplified steps.
- A character – The customer is the hero.
- Has a problem – Successful companies attend to their inner frustrations.
- And meets a guide – The customers are looking for a guide.
- Who has a plan – Customers trust a guide who has a plan.
- And calls them to action – Customers are challenged to take action.
- That helps them avoid failure – Everyone is trying to avoid a tragic ending.
- And ends in a success – This principle shows people how the product can positively influence their lives.
Visually, that would look something like this.
Miller makes the distinction that your brand story isn’t about you, it's about your customer. They are the hero and you’re merely the guide that is helping them across the river so they can get what they want, whatever that may be. He also recommends that his readers clarify and simplify their brand message.
Modern Day Branding
From day-time soaps on the early days of television to the Madmen era of money-making marketers of the 50’s and 60’s… now we think of a brand as a set of values and ideas. This product is for me because the people who make it understand me and share my values. But how do we know that? Because they brand marketers behind that
Today, everyone is a brand—modern-day marketing and how to stand out online and across social. But where do marketing and advertising come in?
- Marketing - this is the vehicle. Think of marketing as the myriad of ways to get your message out to the public. Its the channels that get your messages out to support your brand goals
- Advertising - this is the content—the actual creative ad unit that you see in a magazine, online or on TV.
How To Tell A Great Brand Story—Start With Why
Gone are the days of big advertising agency spending accounts, three martini lunches and banging the secretary with the big boobs for some afternoon delights.
As Simon Sinek so succinctly put it in his runaway-best seller, Start With Why,
What's Your Why?
Why do you exist? What are your core values and why should consumers consider buying your goods and services? More importantly, why does your brand matter? Tell them a great story where they are the hero and guide them to a resolution—a satisfying solution to their needs and wants—so their brand choice becomes obvious, and establish a life-long relationship with them by providing excellent customer service so they will continue to buy from you, again and again.