How to define your brand story

We sat down with Rob Self-Pierson, co-founder of Brand Language Studio to talk about the role of storytelling in branding. He shared 4 things we can learn from The Wizard of Oz about building great stories that can easily be translated into the brand world.

What’s your story?

Imagine The Wizard of Oz with no tornado. 

Instead of stepping from her black-and-white bedroom into glorious Technicolor, Dorothy Gale sits at home, looking after her dog. 

There’s no evil cackle of a Wicked Witch. No army of winged monkeys hunting Dorothy for her ruby slippers. No Scarecrow looking for a brain, no Tinman in search of a heart, and no Cowardly Lion. And there’s absolutely no climax as the curtain is opened to reveal the truth about the mysterious Wizard. 

The Wizard of Oz is a masterpiece in storytelling. It contains the critical elements every story needs to win and hold someone’s attention. It’s why we use it to help us teach brand story techniques. 

So, what can we learn from the story?

Find your character

When the tornado hits Kansas, it threatens Dorothy’s dear Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. Yet, she rushes into the storm to save her family. Her brave spirit makes us care about her. We are compelled to go on her journey because we must know what happens next to Dorothy.

In this way, a great character is a starting point for an emotional connection between a story and an audience; and a great brand personality can be a starting point for an emotional connection between a company or product and a person. 

So, whether your brand character is the company founder, a fictional representation of the brand, the product itself or something else—dig deep to define their character. 

Ask yourself: who are they? Where do they come from? What do they care about? What scares them? What might provoke them to take a risk? Why should people care about them?

Embrace conflict

Stories are driven by the energy of conflict. It’s when a brand faces up to a challenge that it is at its most relatable. 

A challenge might be anything from trying to transform an established market or responding to a corporate crisis; from changing strategic direction to dealing with tough competition. And so on.

Most brand narratives glide over the challenges, dilemmas and difficulties that make the business interesting. But this is your narrative gold! A truly powerful story will clearly set out the nature of the conflict, what’s at risk, what the character is doing in response, and how their world will be changed if they succeed.

Put simply, a great story is created when a compelling character encounters conflict, takes action in response, and so transforms their world.

With your brand story, start by identifying the conflict at the heart of your business. What do you stand for and what are you against? What gets in your way? What action are you taking in response? What’s at stake? And why should people care whether you succeed or fail? 

Think conflict, action, transformation.

Make it real

Picture the open pastures of Dorothy’s Kansas. See the contrast with the vivid colours of the Yellow Brick Road, and the strange architecture of the Emerald City.

Now think back to your brand story. What does it look like? If you’re struggling to see it, that might be because you haven’t set the story in a tangible place and time. There is no texture, no scent, no sound, no landscape. It is floating in the ether.

Contrast this with the founders of Innocent Drinks, testing whether their idea for a smoothie business would work by going to a music festival, giving away drinks and asking people to put their empty bottle in a bin that says ‘yes’ or a bin that says ‘no’. 

With your brand story, set your character and their actions in a time and a place. What does that world look like? How does it taste, smell, feel and sound? 

Bring together these three critical elements—character, conflict and making it real—and you have the beginnings of a brand story that can inspire people. So, what’s your story?

If you would love to create stronger brands join our Branding Masterclasses – where Rob will share his lessons on winning attention, provoking emotion and leaving people wanting more.

Photo credits in order of appearance: Mgm/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock, The Wizard of Oz (1939) - In Pictures, Gfycat, Mgm/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock


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