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The Shortcomings of Brand Stories

I have a lot of crap on my desk. Some of it is useful, some of it was useful, and some of it I don’t even remember where it came from. In fact, I don’t know where any of these things came from, really. I mean, my lipstick is South Korean, my phone designed in the US but made in China, and I’m pretty sure my water bottle is French. But even though I’d count these objects as useful and say I like the brands behind them, I couldn’t give you their stories without access to Google.

Storytelling is often touted as one of the most powerful tools in branding. And that’s hard to deny. Human beings latch onto stories like nothing else. Some of the biggest brands are stories – Star Wars, James Bond, etc. Give us an interesting character and something with a beginning, middle, and end and we’re listening. People also find it easier to take in and remember information through stories, and I don’t need to tell you about the value of attention and memory in branding.

But brands can get their stories very wrong, sometimes making them feel like a one-sided conversation from someone you can’t seem to get away from at a dull party. Sure it can be interesting to hear how, when, where, and why brands got started but that’s only when it’s an interesting story. Brand stories don’t have to be origin stories either; sometimes they just sum up what the brand is all about. And some of them do it brilliantly but the fact is audiences aren’t always going to care.

The real power of storytelling in branding comes from people making and telling their own stories. I could tell you Nintendo was founded as a playing card company in Kyoto in 1889 but I could also tell you one of my earliest memories is being handed the box for Pokémon Red while my parents told me they were buying me something called a ‘Game Boy Colour’. I was 4 years old, I had no idea what a Pokémon was, but I still remember holding that box in my hands thinking what a strange looking creature on the cover. That’s the story that matters to me.

We appreciate the stories we’re told but we also want stories we can tell. Of course we all like to talk about ourselves but the main connection we have with a brand is based on our own experiences with it. If these experiences become fond memories and stories to tell, positive sentiment and brand loyalty grows. Nintendo could tell me all about the new technology they’ve come up with for their upcoming Switch console and I’d appreciate it but what I’m most excited about is playing it and swapping stories with friends.

So keep writing brand stories but know that for many customers these won’t be the most important ones. Let them tell their own stories and share them. After all, there wouldn’t be much of a brand story to tell without them.

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