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July 2009

Secrets To Brand Storytelling Can Be Found In The Past


Effective brand storytelling is a combination of both rational and emotional components. Even major productions at Hollywood studios follow this concept.Behind every directors vision and screenwriters script, there's a solid marketing and business plan that outlines the day to day details needed to get a movie made.

In the consumer world, most of our decisions involve a combination of rational and emotional decision-making. Not only must a brand tap into our emotions, on some other level it must also give us a valid reason to buy it. If the product doesn't serve our purpose - or doesn't work very well - chances are we won't buy it. At the very least we might give it a try, but switch brands if we end up having a bad experience.

When I worked as a sales rep for NCR in 1985, we were given a book during our training sessions whose concepts are still valid today. The book is called "Open the Mind and Close the Sale" and was written by the then Vice-President of Sales John M. Wilson. The year was 1953.

To be successful in selling, Wilson stresses the importance of using a balanced and integrated approach in your routine. He discusses the importance of having a plan, of the need to arouse interest through visual aids, and the ability of humour and enthusiasm to arouse the emotion needed to close the sale.

Wilson was also a master at tapping into a prospect's emotional side, while appealing to their sense of rationality as well. He listened to his customers, and that skill translated into profits. He tells the story of how he visited one of his prospects who had just moved into a new store. When he stopped by to congratulate the customer, he just sat back and listened. His final proposal integrated the prospect's sense of pride in the store - and he got the sale.

The technology has changed, but the principles behind buying and selling are the same as they were 56 years ago. The same is true of effective storytelling. A finely woven tale has the ability to last generations, and one that is used to tap into brand power has the ability to persuade beyond any marketers dreams.

In the spirit of fine salespeople and marketers everywhere, I'll let Wilson explain why people buy: 

"He had a basic need for what he was buying, and I felt that he would eventually place an order. But the little extra that closed the sale that day and eliminated many recalls was the frequent use of the pride motive - an emotional appeal- to supplement rational reasons for buying."

Why do you buy a certain brand? Did advertisers appeal to your rational or emotional side? Did the brand tell a story - and was that story effective in getting you to buy the product? 

Brand Storytelling Puts Our Lives Into Context

Brand storytelling is a way of creating and maintaining a relationship between a brand - and its end user. The way we react to a brand defines who we are, and involves a complex set of relationships and emotions established in our previous relationship with the brand.

I just returned from a family reunion in Ottawa. While sifting through old photo albums, I realized that many of the products I still use today were products and brands that I used throughout various stages of my life. It seems that every parent took pictures of childhood birthday parties, and every party was filled with images of little ones chowing down on hot dogs and cake. What I wasn't prepared to see, was a bottle of Heinz ketchup - front and centre in the pictures.

Brand storytelling is a way of putting our lives into context. It reminds us of who we are - and why we use certain products. Somewhere underneath, there are deep rooted reasons as to why we keep going back to certain brands. Using brands, it's possible to create a "brand journey" map that offers insights into the brands we choose to use - and why we choose to use them.

For example, on Days 1 and 5 of my journey, I chose to eat at Wendy's. Why? Wendy's logo

1. Their reputation for quality food and fast service makes it the ideal choice for a road trip

2. The brand experience is in line with my expectations - it's consistently good and when I drive by a Wendy's I have fond memories of summer road trips

On Day 3, we went to my mother's for dinner where she promptly pulled out a bottle of Mateus from the fridge. She remembered how, as a young adult, I loved to drink Mateus at the cottage - as well as on family picnics. The brand image conjured up positive and fond recollections of family gatherings, even though those gatherings happened over 20 years ago.


Using brand images, it's easy to map out the rest of my trip. Tracing these brands would give you a better idea as to my priorities and preferences, as every brand image tells a story. It would give you more insight into who I was as a person and would be an effective tool to connect with people who shared similar experiences throughout their lives. What stories come to mind when I mention Old Dutch chips, Suchard Milka chocolate, Bicks pickles or Starbucks coffee?

Do you think brand story mapping is an effective way of connecting with consumers? Which brands remind you of certain times in your life - and why? How can marketers/advertisers use these principles to their advantage?