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[Review] StoryBranding

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: Creating Stand-out Brands Through the Power of Story” 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 proposes 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 chronicles why brands need to clothe truths as much as stories do. Instead of focusing on selling, brands should epitomize values, beliefs and themes which resonate with their prospects. They should also develop “plots”, “themes” and “characters” – just like a story.

Four Levels of Brand Growth.

In developing a strong brand, we’re told that our products or services must graduate through four levels:

1) Product function awareness - prospects mostly interested in the functional benefits of the product;

2) Product feature comprehension - prospects keen on the superior features of the product relative to competitors;

3) Brand acceptance - prospects’ familiarity with the brand makes it more desirable in and of itself; and

4) Brand affiliation - prospects identify and associate strongly with the brand on a deep visceral level.

Six Cs of the StoryBranding Process.

To reach the holy grail of brand affiliation, Signorelli walks us through the six “Cs” of the StoryBranding process. Comprising analytical and creative processes, the sequence culminates in the development of a story brief which is then translated into marketing communication materials.

Collect the Backstory

Chronicling the brand’s unique origins to where it is today, the backstory explains the company’s values, customs and traditions. Its main purpose? To mine the prospect’s beliefs and values, and see how these can be associated with the brand.

Characterize the Brand

First, we should find out what the brand truly stands for (as opposed to what the customer needs) and discern the brand’s inner layer (beliefs, values and themes) through in-depth interviews with management.

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

Characterize the Prospect

Through a series of laddering “Why” questions, we can probe deeply into the prospect’s problem which the functional features of the brand can solve. At the same time, we can unearth our prospect’s deeper beliefs and values relating to our brand. Projective techniques and ethnographic research can also be employed to dig more deeply into the prospect’s buying motivations and behaviours.

Connect the Characters

To connect the brand to the prospect, alignment between the outer (solving of functional needs) and inner layers (beliefs and values) of both brand and prospect are needed. We should also evaluate the size of the opportunity (quantity) and the ease of persuasion (quality).

Confront the Obstacles

The obstacles between brand and 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) and brand affiliation (failure to identify with brand). To achieve resonance between both parties, these obstacles need to be overcome in stages.

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 backstory, 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”).

Finally, we should develop the Unique Value Proposition (UVP) – a statement that sums up the unique human value associated with a given brand such as love, freedom, ruggedness, or stability. In story terms, the UVP is the brand’s theme while the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) forms the plot. 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.

Unearthing 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, we should subscribe to the belief that truth is not what is said, but what is believed. As such, our stories should contain eternal themes that act like magnets attracting themselves to beliefs which already exist in our prospects. These “Big-T Truths” appeal to the emotional side of our brains.

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 organization.


Walter is a seasoned marketer and publicist with almost 19 years of experience in marketing, communications, social media engagement, events management, strategic planning and corporate development. A judge of the Singapore Blog Awards, he blogs at Cooler Insights.

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