StoryBranding: Book Review

February 6, 2014 Content Marketing no comments


Since time immemorial, man has been bewitched by stories.

A vital weapon in our communication arsenal, great stories represent universal truths and connects deeply with us.

Drawing on the persuasive might of stories, StoryBranding by advertising veteran Jim Signorelli seeks to infuse the power of stories into the various elements of a brand. Through a systematic step-by-step process, the book proposed a framework for brands to more effectively connect with their prospects by weaving meaningful and compelling tales.

Beginning his journey with a rewritten creative brief for a banking client, Signorelli chronicled why brands need to clothe their brands in universal truths as much as their stories do.

Instead of focusing on selling, brands should epitomise values, beliefs and themes which resonate with their prospects. They should also develop “plots”, “themes” and “characters” – just like a story does.

Four Levels of Brand Growth

To develop a strong brand, you need to ensure that your products or services progress and graduate through four levels of brand love. These are namely…

1) Product function awareness

These appeal to prospects who are mostly interested in the functional benefits of your product. It is the elementary stage of brand affection.

2) Product feature comprehension

At the next level, your prospects are interested in how superior your products or services are relative to competitors.

3) Brand acceptance

Once your prospects find your brand more desirable in and of itself due to their familiarity with your brand, you would have gained brand acceptance.

4) Brand affiliation

Finally, the apex stage of brand love arrives when prospects identify and associate strongly with your brand on a deep visceral level.

Six Cs of StoryBranding

To reach the holy grail of brand affiliation, you need to consider what Signorelli termed the six “Cs” of StoryBranding.

Comprising analytical and creative processes, the sequence culminates in the development of a story brief (instead of the traditional creative brief). This is then translated into marketing communication materials.

So what are these “C”s?

1) Collect the Back Story

Chronicling the brand’s unique origins to where it is today, the back story explains the company’s values, customs and traditions.

Its main purpose? To mine your brand’s beliefs and values, and see how these can be associated and matched with your brand.

2) Characterise the Brand

Thereafter, you should find out what your brand truly stands for (as opposed to what the customer needs).

From there, you should discern your brand’s inner layer – beliefs, values and themes. This can be done through in-depth interviews with management.

Next, using brand archetypes (different personas like a wizard, sage, jester, and hero), you should flesh out your brand as a person. Once this is done, you should then develop your brand’s outer layers – the facts, features and “plot” of your brand story.

3) Characterise the Prospect

Through a series of laddering “Why” questions, you can probe deeply into your prospect’s problem. Link it to the functional features which your brand can solve.

At the same time, you should unearth your prospect’s deeper beliefs and values relating to your brand. This can be done through projective techniques and ethnographic research.

By doing so, you are able to dig more deeply into your prospect’s buying motivations and behaviours.

4) Connect the Characters

To connect your brand to your prospect, you should align the outer layers (functional needs) and inner layers (beliefs and values) of both your brand and your prospect.

You should also evaluate the size of the opportunity (quantity) and the ease of persuasion (quality). This will determine the effort and potential returns from the story branding exercise.

5) Confront the Obstacles

The obstacles between your brand and your prospect relate back to the earlier four levels of a brand’s development, ie

  • Product function awareness –> low level of awareness?
  • Product feature comprehension –> lack of comprehension of the brand’s superiority?
  • Brand acceptance –> lack of differentiating benefit for the brand?
  • Brand affiliation –> failure to identify with brand?

To achieve resonance between both parties, these obstacles need to be overcome in stages.

6) Complete the Story Brief

Weaving the 5 earlier “Cs” together, the Story Brief is a fresh take on the traditional “Creative Brief” favoured by advertising agencies. It includes a back story, definition of the brand’s inner and outer layers, description of the obstacles, and definition of the prospect’s outer and inner layers.

These components are subsequently written in the form of “I AM” statements in order to personalise them and make them real (eg “I’m the easiest and fastest way to get your car clean” or “I worry about the financial health of my family”).

Unlike traditional creative briefs, story briefs take on a narrative feel. They are written from the first person perspective through the lenses of the characters (ie brand and prospect).

Develop Unique Value Proposition (UVP)

As part of the story branding process, you should develop the Unique Value Proposition (UVP) of the brand. This is a statement that sums up the unique belief that you want both employees and prospects to associate with a given brand.

An UVP is like the “Why” behind a brand. Examples of UVPs could be as follows:

  • “We believe in the value of invention that is responsive, not just for invention’s sake,” or
  • “It’s important to do things the hard way so that no stone is left unturned.”

In story terms, the UVP is the brand’s theme. It describes the cause or mission behind the brand.

The more familiar Unique Selling Proposition (USP) forms the plot. It defines the customer benefit which the brand brings.

The goal of writing the UVP is to create a simple yet emotionally powerful statement that sums up a belief which prospects share with the brand. This universal theme would transcend multiple plots and form the overarching backdrop for your brand’s narrative feel.

Unearth Big-T Truths

With the completion of the “I AM” statements and the UVP, one can start creating marketing communication materials.

To be truly effective, however, you should subscribe to the belief that truth is not what is said, but what is believed. As such, your stories should contain eternal themes that act like magnets attracting themselves to beliefs which already exist in our prospects.

These “Big-T Truths” which form your UVP should appeal to the emotional side of our brains.

Storifying Marketing Communications

In summary, StoryBranding provides a useful way to think about how advertisements should be created.

While its proposed method does appear somewhat laborious for something as simple as filling up a creative brief, the discipline it imposes is useful in shaping how we consider the relationship between brands and their customers.

A useful read for anybody in the business of creating, managing or marketing brands in any organisation.

By Walter
Founder of Cooler Insights, I am a geek marketer with almost 24 years of senior management experience in marketing, public relations and strategic planning. Since becoming an entrepreneur 5 years ago, my team and I have helped 58 companies and over 2,200 trainees in digital marketing, focusing on content, social media and brand storytelling.

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