Beyond The Brand Storytelling Myth

Mark Di SommaAugust 29, 20131 min

Great brands have great stories. But a great story doesn’t automatically create a great brand. For years we’ve told ourselves a story about what story is and how it works: develop a product; build a story around that product to give it value; sell that product at a greater degree of profit. We’ve allowed ourselves to believe that stories are the lynchpin of competition and that the best storytellers will win.

But that in itself is a myth.

Ultimately consumers don’t buy a story. They listen to a story. They are influenced by a story. But what they buy is a truth that directs their behavior, captured in a story.

You don’t succeed just because you have a story. You succeed when you have a story that inspires people to buy your brand. The most beautiful, uplifting story in the world won’t cut it commercially if it doesn’t achieve competitive connection – if it doesn’t provide customers with reasons to connect with your brand at the expense of someone elses.

Stories may influence behaviors. But only when powerful and distinctive motives drive the stories. In other words, only when, as Rajant Meshram says, it has “ground truth”. And only when the experience customers receive then lives up to the story they allowed themselves to buy into.

Otherwise, it’s a fairy tale.

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Mark Di Somma


  • Stephen

    August 30, 2013 at 4:52 am

    And this is where Michael Porter’s concept of competition becomes crucially important: the truth of difference must be operationalized — through activity systems designed to deliver substantially different value. The value must be one that customers care about enough that it leads to behavior change.

    But the difference also must be one that is real — an actual difference in the offering itself — and also sustainable, that is, which resists imitation.

    In other words, successful positioning depends on the integration of three areas of difference: semantic difference (story), substantial difference (offering), and operational difference (organization).

    What this means is that brand positioning has grown far beyond the reach of branding and advertising agencies. Adding market research to the mix is helpful, but unless it impacts the design of products and organizational practices, it will stay stuck in mere semantic difference.

    To stay relevant (or, more accurately, to recover relevance) branding and advertising agencies will have to rethink themselves, redesign their offerings and retool their organizations to do much more than tell new stories about stories.

    Good luck y’all.

  • Alan 'Brand' Williamson

    September 1, 2013 at 12:23 am

    Marketects are the New MythMakers – designing branded stories for the next-generation of consumers starved of cultural meaning in their lives – at home and at work.

  • Glenn Myatt

    September 2, 2013 at 5:21 pm

    Positioning and a brand story now go hand in hand. But as noted, to be effective they need to follow the same well worn ‘rules’. Are they relevant to why people will buy into the brand? Are they ownable by the brand? Do they set it apart? (This last point is arguable as brands can tell similar stories but be distinctive in the way they tell them).

    Brand storytelling is not a myth, but the idea that any interesting story will do is. There are too many brands trying to build lighthouse identities on big things that people care about but which they don’t have the credentials to own and/or have little connection to the categories they operate in.

    What is a myth is that just telling a story will now be enough. Brands need to live and demonstrate their stories through their actions. Hence the recently coined term ‘storydoing’.

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