Why Most Brands Will Suck at Storytelling


As buzzwords go, story isn’t entirely bad — for years I’ve pushed clients to be storytellers. I’ve berated the descent of story into a furtive sea of “content,” stripping all emotion from human pursuits.

So I’m good with story. But let’s be honest, success lies not in the idea but in the execution. And the truth is most brands will suck at storytelling.

Why? Because most brands won’t do what good storytelling requires.

Stories – real, honest, emotional, transformative and inspirational stories – have conflict. They have villains. They have winners and losers. They have personality and flaws, great highs and severe lows.

In other words, stories have many of the things that brands don’t want anyone to know about. So the content – err, sorry, the “stories” they create – get sanitized. Every story ends with “and they lived happily ever after.” That’s great for fairytales but not for real life.

The non-fiction story about a company is inherently more interesting than any fiction created for the purpose of earning friends, followers and customers. It’s what has always worked for marketers and still does:

  • Tell a great story
  • Create emotional impact
  • Embrace your friends and respect your enemies
  • Acknowledge mistakes, then fix them
  • Don’t ask for trust or loyalty, earn it

Notice I didn’t use the word “strategy.” That’s essential, of course, but too often companies create a strategy first, and then the story. A better approach is first to have a story – not a mission statement or a press release, but a real story. The strategy is the easy part.

Brands aren’t buildings and companies are not logos. There are human beings behind them all, not a great and powerful Oz.

Just tell us a good story, we’ll listen. And if you still just want to produce “content” that’s fine, as long as you keep calling it “content.” Leave story alone.

2 thoughts on “Why Most Brands Will Suck at Storytelling

  1. Hi Gary — great post! And very refreshing. I liked it so much I brought it into my curated content on business storytelling, and then posted in to my social media accounts. You can see it here at http://bit.ly/IBafkm. Thank you and keep writing such great stuff!

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