Storytelling 101, for brands

storytelling opening phrase on blackboard

[Originally posted at ‘Round the Square]

Storytelling has been with us since our earliest days. And while methods have changed over time, the power of a good story endures.


As a means of engendering common beliefs; exploring our fears; gathering context from history; celebrating prosperity, beauty and love… well, storytelling just works.

Stories move us, shape our beliefs, and carry our history forward ––and most importantly, they’re easy to share, and they stick.

As referenced by Roger Sametz in his seminal Storytelling through design (PDF) article for the Design Management Institute, storytelling expert Stephen Denning1 tells us:

Storytelling is natural and easy and entertaining and energizing. Stories help us to understand complexity. Stories can enhance or change perceptions. Stories are easy to remember…and engage our feelings…Storytelling enables individuals to see themselves in a different light, and accordingly take decisions, and change their behavior in accordance with these new perceptions, insights, and identities.

This is why storytelling is so critical to brand building. After all, thoughtfully planned, well executed, brand-focused communications should ultimately work to influence thinking and behavior––in your favor.

With the proliferation of social media platforms, and the emerging practice of intentional content strategy, it’s apparent the power of a good story is more relevant than ever. The “hows” of delivering stories through myriad communication channels is a post for another day, though.

For now, let’s concentrate on how to collect and refine your brand stories.

Engage and mine

Brand-building is the responsibility of your entire organization. The marketing group might set the strategy (in concert with overarching business goals, of course), but branding is everyone’s job––from volunteers and customer service reps all the way up to the board of directors. And those two polar extremes are often where the best stories can be found.

Engage your board members and volunteers by asking them to tell a story about your organization that exemplifies their reason for being involved.

Engage costumer service representatives and ask them what they’re hearing on the front lines. Chances are they know things you don’t!

Collect story ideas, gather the contact information of everyone involved, follow up, and fill in the details using the template below.

Make it sing

To make a story “sticky”, you need a structure and a hook. And if it’s going to help build your brand, your organization’s role in the story must be explicit.

Here’s a basic template I’ve used with a number of clients to help organizations develop a library of effective, brand-building stories.


  • What would you name the story if you were making a movie of it?
  • Pull the reader in; think evocative and emotional as well as literal.


  • Convey progress / transition; the value [your organization] added.
  • Speak to interaction between customer and [your organization].


  • Who was benefiting from [your organization] in this story?
  • What were they out to achieve? What are they passionate about?
  • Contextualize, if appropriate, within their broader life and experience.
  • Did they pursue other avenues of help / assistance first?

Enter [your organization]

  • Explain [your organization's] entry into this person’s life.
  • What role did [your organization] play?
  • Which product / program / service came into play?
  • Who from [your organization] participated?
  • What about [your organization's] role was innovative?
  • Any breakthroughs as a result?

Progress and benefits

  • Explain the key benefit / value delivered by [your organization].
  • Explain the transition / progress experienced by this person.


  • How is the person “different” at the end of the story?
  • Is the story ongoing?
  • What are the expected (future) results and benefits?

For written stories, work in quotes wherever possible. Or adapt this outline into a script, and document your stories via short conversational videos. Do whatever works best, given your established communications strategy.

Most organizations have an untapped wealth of brand stories at their fingertips. A little digging, follow-up, and editing / shaping can go a long way.

Do you know your brand stories? And could you be telling them more effectively?

1. Stephen Denning, The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations (Boston: Butterworth-Heinmemann, 2001), p. xv.

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