Why brands must become natural storytellers

The author and historian Yuval Noah Harari once said that storytelling is our speciality. It's the basis for everything we do as a species. Indeed, human beings' unique ability to weave a yarn has enabled us to collaborate, innovate and flourish.

Why brands must become natural storytellers

The author and historian Yuval Noah Harari once said that storytelling is our speciality. It’s the basis for everything we do as a species. Indeed, human beings’ unique ability to weave a yarn has enabled us to collaborate, innovate and flourish like no other. It has ensured our survival. Of course, Harari, in his book Homosapiens highlighted the darker side of storytelling. There is our subconscious propensity to favour fiction over truth even if it is so flagrantly nonsense, and there are brands with unhealthy propositions aligning with wellbeing in their narratives to negate a more unpalatable reality.

Luckily, consumers these days are far too wise (and tired) to fall for large corporations’ lies. They seek brands underpinned by principles that give back to the community and the environment, supporting organisations who’ve shown their humanity at a time where great social inequalities have never been clearer. 

Of course, the ways in which stories are disseminated might have changed but the tenets of an effective narrative remain as old as time. As any tribesman or ancient Norseman will tell you: a good story that’s informative and engaging will get passed on from person to person, spreading the word far and wide. 

It’s time that businesses reclaim storytelling from the murky clutches of misinformation machines and use it to tell their own compelling narratives rooted in their truth. It must communicate purpose, be inspiring and, most importantly, be real ‘ devoid of all untruths and hyperbole. And this should be done visually ‘ in terms of look and feel ‘  as well as verbally. Effective branding espouses effective storytelling. 

Perhaps this is stating the obvious but good branding doesn’t start or finish with a great logo ‘ despite this being an intrinsic part of a business’ brand language. What’s more important is the robustness of your elevator pitch which articulates your proposition ‘ and this then informs all relevant brand touch points. Done properly, it distils your offering into one impactful, digestible shot. There is beauty in simplicity, yet simplification is not an easy process. Mark Twain’s famous quote I apologize for such a long letter ‘ I didn’t have time to write a short one succinctly captures the enormity of the task at hand. 

You must get to the core of what makes you, as an organisation, tick. Don’t get distracted by the peripheral; be ruthless in the process. You can trim down flab by asking yourself, at every point: if I take this aspect away from my offer, is it weaker? If it the answer is no, bin it. Write everything down and then go through a process of gathering what’s essential to your offer. Do this by extracting items that makes you unique as a business: this is your essence; this is what differentiates you from the competitors. 

Given the process is so laboured, a combining of heads is often required. Workshops with creatives and strategists ‘ both internal and external ‘ facilitates lateral thinking and fresh eyes allows for unbiased perspectives. Ultimately, you need a party that can play the devil’s advocate, challenging your assumptions so you may try, fail and tweak within a controlled environment to ensure that what you eventually communicate is resounding, unequivocal and easy to understand by all. Such sense-checking is vital as your passion and in-depth knowledge can occlude rationale and overcomplicate things.  

Your elevator pitch, of course, might work well on paper, but in business conversations it may come across as too salesy. The wider part of brand storytelling must be natural and authentic, informative but not pushy. 

When we consulted with The English Tea Shop, the brand wanted to emphasise their point of difference in a saturated market place resplendent with a dizzying selection of household, boutique and artisanal offerings. Their branding and communications needed to capture their uniqueness clearly in order to cut through the noise and elevate their burgeoning business to the next level. 

Eventually we crystallised the thinking into a simple concept, From Farm to Cup, which acted as a platform for narrating the ethical and sustainable operations of the business alongside the quality of the product itself. This simplified phrase captured provenance, a sense of community, and a respect for the independent producers. Alongside this, it engendered a feeling of transparency and wholesomeness in the process ‘ something of profound importance given how the tea industry has fallen under greater scrutiny for historically unethical practices. It is mind blowing to see how much can be communicated with so little.

A new brand identity was formed from this concept over the ensuing months, but The English Tea Shop’s CEO, Suranga Herath, told us that he started using the story the very next day after the concept was born at a buyers’ meeting. He could immediately sense that this refined narrative was a turning point for the business. Investors got it. The message resonated. And it translated in sales: the brand went on to be the number one specialty tea in Australia and the business continues to grow to this day. Not only did this story hone their brand and communications but it helped build momentum in their R&D and product development where they recently launched 100% recyclable packaging. A good story can be a crucial springboard for ideas that connect to a brand’s single universal truth. 

In the eyes of the consumer, brand and product are one and the same; it is impossible to say when one starts and other ends. Branding can innovate not just design but from a product perspective too. This duality, this reconciling of tensions is part of the important work that businesses must do in order to engage with today’s consumer.

Nick Dormon
Nick Dormon

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