The Key to Brand Storytelling Isn't Telling, But Showing
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The Key to Brand Storytelling Isn’t Telling, But Showing

The best advice I ever received about journalism: “Show, don’t tell.”

The business magazine editor who shared these words of wisdom explained, “People don’t like being told what to do or think. Rather than telling readers how to be successful, show them how other people have achieved success.”

She made an excellent point: What did I know about successful careers? I was 23 years old and just starting mine; my power to influence lied not in sharing my opinion, but in sharing other people’s stories.

This principle is as important for brand storytelling as it is for journalism—if not more so. Today’s skeptical consumers don’t trust companies to be objective about their own products. But they can be influenced by a powerful example or a great story.

Simply put: All companies say they’re the best at what they do. It’s far more credible when you can prove it. Or better yet, let someone else prove it for you.

I’ll Believe It When I See It

Customers today aren’t going to take your company’s word for it. Half of Americans say that when they are aware of advertising, they don’t trust what they see, read, or hear, according to a survey by

A Nielsen study found 58 percent of global online consumers do trust “owned media,” including messaging on brand websites, and 50 percent trust content in marketing emails they’ve opted into. But more than anything, they believe what their peers have to say. Ninety-two percent trust word of mouth and recommendations from friends and family above all other forms of advertising—an increase of 18 percent since 2007.

Collecting testimonials for your website and having positive reviews on third-party sites certainly lends credibility to your brand. But the real value of your brand advocates is not their kind words—it’s their powerful stories.

In a presentation for, Stanford marketing professor Jennifer Aaker explains why people are 22 percent more likely to remember ideas or presentations that include stories, rather than statistics alone.


“When most people advocate for an idea, we think of a compelling argument, a fact or a figure,” says Aaker, author of The Dragon Fly Effect: Quick, Effective, and Powerful Ways To Use Social Media to Drive Social Change. “But research shows that our brains are not hardwired to understand logic or retain facts for very long. Our brains are wired to understand and retain stories . . . A story is a journey that moves the listener, and when the listener goes on that journey they feel different and the result is persuasion and sometimes action.”

This is what makes brand storytelling so effective, particularly when you’re not telling people how great your company is, but rather showing them you’re a thought leader.

3 Storytelling Strategies That Don’t Amount To Tooting Your Own Horn

Brand storytelling is a multichannel medium. Your blogs, white papers, case studies, and video campaigns all provide opportunities to illustrate the real-world ROI your customers are getting—not just with hard numbers, but with compelling examples that help potential customers envision how your product could help them achieve their goals.

Here are three storytelling strategies that transform content marketing into customer journeys:

1. Tell an Unexpected Story

Even if you’re marketing an unglamorous product—say, denture adhesive—at least one of your customers is probably using it in a fascinating way, or for an emotionally moving reason. Find that story and tell it.

Fixodent gets extra points for creativity with this video featuring an unexpected customer: a white tiger named Aslan, who needs dental work.

The short documentary features Kevin Richardson, an animal behaviorist who started the wildlife sanctuary where Aslan lived with his pride; that is, until he broke his canine teeth. Richardson explains, “He’s become more aloof, more agitated, more aggressive. He’s isolated himself from the pride. He’s just a different cat.”

After a six-hour surgery, complete with root canals and tooth extractions, Aslan got partial dentures and a new lease on life. By the end of the video, he’s back with his pride, cuddled up next to one of his friends.

It’s a story of friendship between man and beast, community among majestic creatures, and people caring for animals (albeit, animals who could eat them). And yes, it’s also a story about dentures. But it’s quite possibly the most interesting one that’s ever been told.

The result: more than 7 million views after just two weeks online.

2. Let Your Customers Tell Their Own Stories

When your customers share their success stories with your products, they do more than provide a compelling testimonial for your business. Done right, these stories also provide actionable insights prospective customers can apply to their own lives or businesses.

Microsoft has achieved this (and then some) with “Stories.” A specially branded section of the corporate website, this is where Microsoft customers can, as the tagline promises, “Get an inside look at the people, places and ideas that move us.”

Screen capture of Microsoft Stories

For example, in one featured article, National Geographic photographer Stephen Alvarez talks about documenting the Seven Natural Wonders of the World using only Microsoft smartphones. The article tells the story of Alvarez’s life and career, the daring lengths (and heights) he’s gone to for his craft, and, of course, how he used the Lumia camera for his latest project.

3. Tell a Story That’s Not About You

The best content marketing doesn’t talk about your company or products. Instead, it demonstrates the thought leadership, expertise, values, and stories you want associated with your brand.

The most remarkable thing about Nike’s new commercial, “Ripple,” is that the word “Nike” never comes up—not in the dialogue and not on the title screen.

Released just before the start of the 2015 Masters, this commercial tells the story of rising golf star Rory McIlroy and how Tiger Woods influenced his career—from the time McIlroy was a young boy watching Woods tee off on TV, through his golf-obsessed youth, until he is finally playing alongside his childhood hero.

Throughout the ad, the Nike symbol remains in the corner of the screen, and both golfers wear hats and shirts featuring the logo. However, Nike is never front and center—it’s just there in the background, a unifying thread connecting generations of athletes.

Brand marketing doesn’t need to tell customers what you do—they already know. Instead, it shows what you stand for, and that’s a story worth telling.

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