Why the Best Brands Use the Power of Storytelling

Who are You?

Why the best brands use the power of storytelling to communicate their identity and purpose

 By Brett Bourbon, Ph.D

You have a name that refers to you, but this is not who you are. Who are you? You might answer with a list of qualities. Those qualities matter, but they are not who you are. The question is often a trick question, because when asked, it really means, ‘Why should I care about you?’

In business terms, the question, ‘Who are you?’ is the question, ‘What is your brand identity?’ Your brand identity should articulate not only who you are, but why you matter and why people should care.

In business terms, the question, ‘Who are you?’ is the question, ‘What is your brand identity?’ Your brand identity should articulate not only who you are, but why you matter and why people should care. And, the best answer will almost always be a story.

It is rather easy to recognize which brands are successful and which brands offer an answer to the question, ‘Who are you and why should we care?’ Starbucks, for example, answers this question with great clarity.

The Starbucks brand is the Starbucks story. Howard Shultz, in his 1997 book Pour Your Heart Into It, describes the genesis of the Starbucks brand: "Starbucks sold great coffee beans, but we did not sell coffee by the cup. We treated coffee as produce, something to be bagged and sent home with groceries. We stayed one big step away from the heart and soul of what coffee has meant through the centuries."  

A story is built out of conflicts that get resolved. In the case of Starbucks, the initial conflict is between "coffee as produce," a mere commodity like fruit and vegetables, and "the life with coffee that is its heart and soul," its true value in human life. It has a history that remains alive in Italy, but not in the United States.

Starbucks recovers this "heart and soul," reanimates its history in its own particular way, for a mass market. Kevin Lane Keller describes the brand identity Schultz created and articulated: “Starbucks delivers the romance and sense of community defining Italian coffee bars and appeals to all senses—not just taste” (The Brand Report Card, HBR). 

A brand ... is the embodiment of an essential set of stories, given life by the company. Stories are about how people live, what they do and what they care about. If your product or service is a part of people's lives, then it is part of a story; It is as simple as that.

Starbucks embodies a story about coffee, offering an experience and not just a product. That is its story and its brand identity.

A brand, therefore, is the embodiment of an essential set of stories, given life by the company. Stories are about how people live, what they do and what they care about. If your product or service is part of people’s lives, then it is part of a story; It is as simple as that.

If you can’t tell the story of your brand, you don’t have a brand.  You might have a logo, a product, a position in the market; but you are only a blank face in a crowd. A brand is a face on which the life of a company can be read; It is a great and continually relevant story. 


Brett Bourbon

Brett Bourbon, Ph.D., is an associate professor of English at the University of Dallas and a consultant. He will direct a new Master of Leadership program to be offered by the University of Dallas

Connect with Brett Bourbon on LinkedIn

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