Brand storytelling is an increasingly popular approach to marketing that taps into the foundational human need to connect with others through story. It’s a method that centers your customer as the main character in the narrative, not your brand or your product. When you share relatable stories about life experiences that matter to your audience, you create strong emotional connections with your ideal customers.
Those connections build brand awareness, keep attention on your marketing channels, and establish trust. Not everyone agrees on the best approach to brand storytelling, but everyone knows it matters. Let’s examine why brand storytelling is so important, look at examples of best practices, and explore some ideas for getting started. But first, let’s agree on a clear brand storytelling definition.
What is brand storytelling?
Brand storytelling uses narratives to create an emotional, value-driven connection between your customers and your brand. The most powerful stories are authentic and connect back to why your brand values.
Effective brand storytellers paint pictures of people, events, places, and experiences that connect audiences to the values a brand stands for. The great ones (e.g. Nike) do it without force-feeding anyone a direct narrative about their company, product, or offering. If you sell athletic equipment or are a pro sports team, you can tell stories about the thrill of the winning goal. Or the crushing disappointment of a missed free throw in overtime.
People are influenced by accounts of real-life challenges and victories, our emotional responses to the ups and downs, and inside looks at the lives of other humans like them. Your task as a storyteller is to consistently make your brand and products part of a larger story that’s meaningful to your customers. That means you can’t just repetitively talk about your product or brand. You get to tell stories about how people’s lives are impacted because of what you do. Share dreams for the future. Reminisce over shared histories.
Every channel from your website and social media presence to your product packaging and retail spaces provides opportunities to add life to your brand’s story. Make sure you weave all your individual stories together to create a brand experience that can build customer loyalty.
Why is brand storytelling important?
As with many things in life, people are more likely to connect to something on an emotional level. Sometimes, they can’t even explain why. Perhaps it reminds them of something from their childhood. Or, there’s a positive resolution to a challenge they struggle with. And this emotional connection creates a bond.
When it comes to brand storytelling, you want your brand identity, design, and content to create consistent, positive brand associations. And it’s the marketing team’s job to develop a strategy to do this.
A large part of a marketer’s job is to understand their audience. What they want. What they need. What keeps them up at night. Understanding this will help marketers create brand stories that resonate with their audience instead of just trying to make a sale. A marketing strategy that’s based around compelling stories is more likely to build and maintain strong brand loyalty over time.
Brand storytelling examples
Some brands have a meaningful story embedded in their company and product DNA (e.g. TOMS shoes) and some have to come up with a creative story that makes their product meaningful (e.g. most enterprise SaaS companies).From Warby Parker to Nike, here are some examples of some of the world’s best brand storytellers.
Warby Parker transformed the eyeglass industry when they made designer eyewear affordable, better for the environment, and easy to try on at home. Their brand comes from a great story, too. One of their founders spent the first semester of grad school without eyeglasses because he lost his on a backpacking trip and they were too expensive to replace. He and his team decided to fix that problem and do it with a plant-based frame construction that’s better for the environment.
Eyeglasses aren’t available to everyone — 2.5 billion people around the world need glasses and don’t have access to them. When you buy a pair of Warby Parker sunglasses, somebody in need gets a pair. That means your purchase changes someone’s life story by giving them the capacity to work or learn. Warby Parker designed their brand with a meaningful story as a foundation and they use their channels, like Instagram and YouTube, to expand it with expert insights about vision and tell interesting stories about people who wear their glasses.
Airbnb is a marketplace, so the product itself isn’t worth telling a story about. Their audience doesn’t want to hear about the technology and filters that help them find places to stay, they want to hear stories about the experience of staying somewhere new. They want to know about the people they’re staying with. They want to know about the homes, the countries, and the experiences Airbnb’s brand makes possible.
No one can tell those stories better than hosts and travelers. Airbnb’s website has a section dedicated to giving you an inside look at the lives of their hosts across the world. This helps prospective hosts and travelers feel more connected to the people who run the properties they’ll be staying in. On their YouTube channel (with over 251,000 subscribers) you can see what Airbnb is like in different countries, learn from superhosts, and get useful guest tips.
This company started with a serendipitous hitchhiking encounter that led to the creation of one of the most well-known natural skincare brands in the world. The first product to hit it big was their lip balm made with beeswax — which you can probably find in every Whole Foods store.
Burt’s Bees does an incredible job of telling their story on their website. They share their history in a visually appealing way that any brand can learn from. And their core values are on display in a rich media format. Everything from their imagery to their taglines match up with their brand story. With a solid brand identity established, they’ve built a strong foundation for some brilliant brand storytelling.
Their YouTube channel is full of high-production quality videos and Burt Talks to the Bees installments are educational and entertaining. They also include beauty tips and short instructional product videos.
Over the years, Burt’s Bees has issued over $2.4 million in grants through The Burt's Bees Greater Good Foundation and used social media campaigns to cultivate more than 10,000 acres of honey bee forage. They’re a great example of a brand with a solid identity that considers brand storytelling in everything that they do.
Nike established itself in people’s minds with great storytelling in the 1990s.They released a brilliant commercial in 1999 to commemorate the career of Michael Jordan. At a time when everyone was pushing a hard sell (because TV airtime was expensive), Nike let Michael Jordan’s story speak for itself. “Just Do It” and the swoosh appear at the end, and that’s all the space their brand took up. The story made an emotional connection between the fans and the athlete — Nike itself was a tiny part of the exchange.
Fast forward to today and Nike uses Instagram to share engaging video and photo ads that we can all learn from. Can you imagine what the “Best Day Ever” in global sports would look like? Nike already did with this video ad that includes amateurs waking up to run, female athletes launching video games, and running shoes grown from a seed.
Nike’s blog is filled with“stories that move you,” and you can read about everything from a college athlete overcoming starting line panic to getting advice on how to help your kids fall in love with movement. These stories don’t push products directly. They inform, inspire, and solve problems. This kind of brand storytelling connects with athletes and builds brand awareness and loyalty over time.
You might not ever have a budget that comes close to their $34B marketing strategy, but you can learn from them and start to reach for the substance of their storytelling.
How to use brand storytelling in marketing
Incorporating brand storytelling into your marketing mix takes time and practice. It will help if you have brand guidelines so that no matter who’s telling your story, they’re conveying it consistently. Here are a few other things to keep in mind when you’re using brand storytelling as part of your marketing strategy.
Be helpful, not hype-full
Telling real, authentic stories will resonate with your audience more than being overly promotional. Consider the communication you receive from your favorite brands. Are they making false promises? Offering unrealistic or unattainable solutions? Probably not because if it sounds too good to be true then it usually is. Find stories that communicate to your audience how you can help them. Being human in your marketing interactions will go a long way.
Incorporate your customers
Let your customers tell their own stories. According to Boast, 92% of consumers read online reviews before buying. Buyers want to understand if current users are satisfied before investing. This is true for B2C as well as B2B brands. Possibly even more for B2B brands since the cost and time investments are usually quite significant. Incorporating quotes, case studies, and review sites into your marketing strategy helps new customers feel more confident when they’re making a purchasing decision.
Deliver your story consistently
Brand guidelines are one way to ensure you’re telling a consistent story, but it also must be delivered consistently. Disjointed visuals, inconsistent logos, and outdated content can all lead to consumer mistrust. Incorporating tools like a digital asset management (DAM) solution to support your brand guidelines and organize the brand assets used in your marketing efforts will help ensure the content being used is approved, on-brand, and easy to access. Making it easier to tell and deliver consistent stories to your audience.
If you’re ready to get started with brand storytelling, use some of the examples above as inspiration and a roadmap for your own strategy. Create a solid foundational story about who you are, identify your values, areas of expertise, and outline the real-life challenges in those spaces. Find or create stories about experiences that are meaningful to your customers. Solve their problems and entertain them without trying to sell them a product.
When you’re ready, start putting your stories out into the world. Just remember, brand storytelling does not mean telling the story of your brand or product over and over again. Center stories around the experiences of real people and use them to show your customers that you care about the same things they do. Create an emotional connection. Product sales will follow.
Brand storytelling is a complex mix of branding disciplines. To do it well, you need a solid brand identity, a brand management strategy, and a clear understanding of how to tell on-brand stories consistently. To understand more about these foundational branding tactics and how to become a successful brand storyteller, visit our blog.
Note: This article was originally published in July 2021 and has been updated to remain current.