Brands Are Not Stories

Paul BaileyJanuary 27, 20213 min

It has become popular to talk about brand in terms of a story. Let’s be as clear as possible with this, a brand is not a story. If it is then it’s created using William Burroughs ‘Cut Up Method’.

What have I got against stories?

Nothing, it is just that they don’t fit with how we need to consider brand. A story is linear and singular. There is a beginning, middle, and end, which every reader will experience in the same order. But is that really how we remember stories?

Think of your favorite story. Do you remember it word for word? Or do you actually remember the key moments in the story?

A story isn’t memorable in its entirety, but in a series of moments which create the key points of the narrative. So a great story is actually one which has a series of memorable moments which when experienced in series create a narrative.

Great – so why shouldn’t we consider brand as story?

A brand is shaped through the accumulation of memorable moments over time.

Why a story is a poor example to use is that as brand leaders we have little control over the order in which people experience these memorable moments. There is no singular or linear thread to how people experience the memorable moments which shape the brand. People will experience these moments in different orders and at different times.

A brand can be continually shaped by a clear strategy that is experienced through the accumulation of memorable moments over time.

So what do we mean by memorable moments?

A memorable moment might be seeing a logo, viewing a website, dealing with a member of staff, seeing an advertisement, hearing a piece of audio, talking to a friend, seeing a tweet, being in a shop, seeing the price of a product, etc etc etc. These are all moments we might experience which relate to the brand, some of which we will remember if they have been designed well to appeal to us as a target audience.

The two key points from this are:

  • there is no linear and singular order in which people will experience these memorable moments
  • there must be an overarching strategy from which to shape every memorable moment for people to experience, so that they create a coherent brand regardless of the order in which they are experienced.

It is this accumulation of the experience of memorable moments that continually shapes a brand.

But what about William Burroughs?

Well, if you insist on creating your brand as a story then be aware that people will probably not read it in the order in which you had written it. William Burroughs’ ‘Cut Up Method’ consisted of him writing a page and then cutting it into pieces, rearranging the pieces, and this new order was the new story. Although a fantastic technique for encouraging creative thinking and new ways of seeing something, it’s probably not the best way to shape a brand if you want people to be able to make sense of it.

Unless you want your brand to be a Cut Up brand, then forget about stories.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Paul Bailey, Strategy Director at Halo

At The Blake Project we are helping clients from around the world, in all stages of development, redefine and articulate what makes them competitive at critical moments of change through online strategy workshops and extended engagements. Please email us for more about our storytelling workshops.

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Growth and Brand Education

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