Seven Elements Of Impactful Brand Stories

Carmine GalloJune 5, 20182 min

“Signature brand stories represent a critical asset that can be leveraged over time and which can provide inspiration and direction both inside and outside the firm,” write David and Jennifer Aaker, marketing professors at the Berkeley-Hass School of Business and the Graduate School of Business at Stanford. “Signature stories are a powerful way to gain awareness, communicate, persuade, change behavior, and precipitate discussion. They are almost always far more efficient and impactful than simply communicating facts or features.”

In a paper about signature brand stories, the Aakers use the following example: “A Nordstrom customer in the mid-1970s walked into the Fairbanks, Alaska, store and asked to ‘return’ two worn snow tires. It was an awkward moment. Nordstrom, which had evolved from a shoe store to a department store, had never sold tires (although another company once did at this store’s site). Despite that fact, the salesperson that had been on the job only a few weeks, relying on a customer-first culture supported by a generous return policy, had no doubt what to do. He promptly took back the snow tires and refunded what the customer said he had paid.”

Nordstrom (John Nordstrom pictured above) is known for its generous return policy, and it empowers employees to make the right decisions for its customers. Nordstrom leaders—as well as executives in many companies such as Nike, Accenture, KPMG, Southwest, and others—use stories to reinforce the values of their company cultures. Memos, e-mails, PowerPoint slides, or binders full of training material cannot replace a compelling signature brand story.

David and Jennifer Aaker say an impactful signature brand story includes the following seven elements:

1. It’s a story. A signature brand story is just that—a narrative with a beginning, middle, and end (a resolution).

2. It’s intriguing. According to the Aakers, an intriguing story is “thought-provoking, novel, informative, interesting, entertaining.”

3. It’s authentic. The characters, settings, and challenges must feel real. A story that doesn’t ring true will be perceived as fiction and may harm the speaker’s credibility.

4. It includes details. Small, vivid, or important details enhance the authenticity of the story.

5. It reveals a surprise. In a movie, this is the twist. It’s the M. Night Shyamalan moment when the audience says, Whoa, I didn’t see that coming.

6. It introduces empathetic characters. The listeners should be able to see themselves in the shoes—or context—of the hero.

7. It has conflict and tension. This is the stuff all great narratives are made of. If there’s no struggle or conflict, it makes for an uninteresting story. An empathetic hero overcoming a meaningful hurdle—and succeeding in the end—is irresistible.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Carmine Gallo, adapted from his new book Five Stars. Copyright © 2018 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press.

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