StoryBranding: Creating Standout Brands Through the Power of Story

by Gregg on April 8, 2012

I was on my way back from Puerto Rico in early February when I spotted Jim Signorelli‘s book StoryBranding: Creating Standout Brands Through the Power of Story in one of the shops at the Orlando International Airport. I had just finished reading Martin Lindstrom’s Buyology, and it seemed like a natural transition – almost felt like I was meant to find it.

I’m glad I did. StoryBranding pushed my thinking in new directions because it approaches telling the brand story through a process Signorelli refers to as the Six C’s, which personifies both the brand and the prospect, creating the raw material for how that brand’s story is shaped and delivered through a StoryBrief:

  • Collect the backstory
  • Characterize the brand
  • Characterize the prospect
  • Connect the characters
  • Confront the obstacles
  • Complete the StoryBrief

For me, the most profoundly interesting part of the process is the way the brand and the prospect are defined. Signorelli, founder and CEO of ESW Partners here in Chicago, says that the StoryBrief "defines the elements of the brand’s story. As such it identifies both the brand’s and the prospect’s inner and outer layers. Additionally, it defines the most important communications obstacles that have to be confronted for the brand to move closer to achieving a strong and enduring relationship with the prospect."

So what are those inner and outer layers, and why are they so important? Well, the first thing to recognize is that the layers are different for the brand and the prospect: The brand’s outer layer describes its features and benefits, while the inner layer is its deeper purpose for existing. Conversely, the prospect’s outer layer defines his or her functional need, while the inner layer entails why that need is significant.

The key in developing a brand’s story, then, is to strategically and logically align the brand and the prospect’s inner and outer layers. For example, the outer layer of a given brand of laundry detergent is the fact that it makes clothes 15% brighter than the market leader; using character archetype analysis, the brand’s inner layer could be viewed as The Wizard, or one who "seeks out experiences that transform the ordinary into the extraordinary." Meanwhile, the prospect’s outer layer can be defined as mothers who want laundry detergent that brightens clothes, while the inner layer is the fact that brigher clothes validate them as good mothers. Signorelli emphasizes using "I AM" statements to help flesh out all those layers by placing them in human terms – so the marketer, and ultimately the consumer, can better relate.

The StoryBrief, then, captures all this data through a series of questions via the framework of the aforementioned bullets, but that’s not the point of the book – at least not for me. The Six C’s challenge marketers to "think higher," beyond features and beneifts and the consumer need to what truly drives both – hence, the "I AM" statements, for example. Chapter 16 provides a great explanation of the unique value proposition (UVP) that must be written in conjnunction with the StoryBrief before the messaging proces can begin. The UVP is "the unique belief that we want both employees and prospects to associate with the brand, beyond its functional purpose." Similarly, he talks at length about Big-T Truth versus small-t truth, the former being the type of Truth that is believed, and not simply stated.

I can guarantee you that this is a book I’m going to have to read a few times, because it is procedural in nature and deals in abstractions, e.g., what is the validation that a customer needs in daily life, in part through the brands he or she selects? It’s not something I felt I could grasp strongly enough the first time through, but that’s good, because I always find more in secondary and tertiary reads.

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