Good Examples of Brand Storytelling

Writing a brand story

Successful brands know how to use stories to clarify their message and they know that brand storytelling is a very powerful marketing tool.

Let’s look at some of the best examples of interesting brand stories.

Why stories?

  • Because story is the greatest weapon we have to combat noise.
  • Because it organizes information in such a way that people are compelled to listen.
  • Because it’s the most powerful tool in the world to compel a human brain.

To put it simply:

Story in marketing is a filter that allows us to simplify the message.

So that people can see us, hear us, and understand.

Telling stories make it easy for us to understand the world.

They are the only way we know to spread an idea.

But marketers didn’t invent storytelling – they just perfected it.

Whether you run a small company or a big corporation, confusing your customers is costing you money.

How many people are buying from your competition because they’ve communicated more clearly than you have?

How long will you last if you keep talking about aspects of your products that customers don’t care about?

Things can be different – to clarify your brand message you need a formula.

This formula needs to organize your thinking, reduce your marketing effort, obliterate confusion, terrify the competition, and finally get your businesses growing!

So here’s the formula – here’s nearly every story you see or hear in a nutshell:

How Story Works

A hero who wants something encounters a problem before they can get it.

At the peak of their despair, a guide steps into their lives, gives them a plan, and calls them to action.

That action helps them avoid failure and ends in a success – that results in the hero’s transformation.

First, let’s look at some of the famous brands and the stories they tell.

And then I will explain how to tell a compelling story that resonates with your audience.

Good Examples of Brand Storytelling:

  1. Apple
  2. Starbucks
  3. Tesla
  4. Nike
  5. Rolex

1. Apple

Apple grew much larger only after Steve Jobs began filtering his message through the lens of story.

Apple tells a story that makes their customer a hero, a creative individual who thinks differently.

Transformation in his thinking happened after working with (and partially creating) the genius storytelling factory that is Pixar.

Apple Brand Story: “You’re different. You’re a creative individual, who challenges the status quo”

When Jobs came back to Apple after being surrounded by professional storytellers, he realized story was everything.

Apple became customer-centric, compelling, and clear in their communication.

The first campaign he released went from nine pages in the New York Times to just two words on billboards all over America: Think Different.

When Apple began filtering their communication to make it simple and relevant, they actually stopped featuring computers in most of their advertising.

Instead, they understood their customers were all living, breathing heroes, and they tapped into their stories.

2. Starbucks

Starbucks exploded by not just offering customers a cup of coffee but by giving them a comfortable, sophisticated environment to relax.

Starbucks tells a story that makes their customers feel more sophisticated and enthusiastic about their life.

Starbucks also offers a place for people to meet in which they could experience affiliation and belonging.

Starbucks Brand Story: “You deserve a sophisticated place for conversation, where you’re always welcomed.”The brand changed American culture from hanging out in diners and bars to hanging out in a local, Italian-style coffee shop.

Starbucks took a product that Americans were used to paying fifty cents for and were able to charge three or four dollars per cup.

How? Because their understood how their customers wanted to feel.

Their customers are willing to pay more for coffee because they sense greater value with each cup.

3. Tesla

When the Tesla Model S was launched, its primary function was to tell a story that, for a lot of luxury car neophiliacs, would break their current car.

Tesla positions its customers as early adopters and tech geeks who are audacious and care about the environment.

Tesla tells a story that breaks the luxury car owner’s story on many levels including the performance.

Break it in the sense that it wasn’t fun to own a luxury car anymore – it wasn’t worth bragging about.

Tesla Brand Story: “You’re an early adopter of new technology, a tech geek who saves the world.”

Owning a luxury car don’t increase your status as a smart, wealthy person, who was clearly smarter and wealthier than everyone else.

This luxury car owner went to sleep the night before, delighted that the car in the garage was shiny, new, and state of the art.

That it was safe, efficient, and worthy – and then he or she woke up to discover that the story was no longer true.

Tesla understood that no one who bought one of the first fifty thousand Teslas actually needed a car – they all had perfectly fine cars.

So Elon Musk created a car that changed the story that a specific group told themselves.

Now, owning a Tesla gives you the status of early adopter and tech geeks and environmentalists – they make you a hero.

4. Nike

From its inception in 1971 the Nike’s mission is: To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.

Nike tells a story that everyone who has a body is an athlete and you don’t have to be a star on the court or the field to earn that label.

What defines and athlete?  Co-founder Bill Bowerman once said, “If you have a body, you are an athlete.”

Nike Brand Story: “As long as you have a body - you’re an athlete and you can achieve anything! Just do it!”

Nike sees sports as a universal language that transcends cultures, borders and barriers.

And that’s how it approaches storytelling – the Nike story is based on a hero archetype.

But instead of its audiences competing against outside forces, Nike knows who all of us battle – our inner self.

The part of us that wants to sit on the couch instead of go run.

The part of us that wants to hit the snooze button instead of hit the gym.

It’s something that we can universally relate to and it hits a strong emotional pain point for us.

Are we going to pursue our dreams? – the Nike’s slogan “Just do it!” perfectly captures that message.

Nike inspires you to go out there and take an action, they make you feel like victory.

5. Rolex

People always buy something that helps them survive and thrive.

But buying a Rolex don’t make much practical sense in terms of survival, right?

Not when you consider the importance of status – in any tribe it’s a survival mechanism.

Rolex tells a story of abundance, being an exceptional human being and having unlimited possibilities.

It projects a sense of status that may attract powerful allies, repel potential foes (like a lion with a loud roar).

Rolex Brand Story: “You’re an exceptional human being and you deserve to be wealthy and successful”

And when we consider status it surely helps us survive and thrive.

If we’re into shallow companions, status might even help us secure a mate.

Rolex and other luxury brands sell more than just watches – they’re selling an identity associated with power, prestige, and refinement.

Is it worth it? – Depends on who you ask.

Status really does open doors, and by associating their brand, and thus their customers, with success and refinement, they offer them status.

6. Tidal

And lastly I want to show you an example of what bad brand storytelling looks like.

Consider the failure of the music streaming service Tidal.

Never heard of it? There’s a good reason.

Tidal tells a story that positions the customer brand as the hero and screams at their customers that they ought to pay for the music.

The fatal ramifications of positioning our brand as the hero could be huge.

Jay-Z founded Tidal with a personal investment of a whopping $56 million.

Tidal Brand Story: “You should respect the artist and pay for the music!”

His mission was to “get everyone to respect music again.”

So instead of being owned by music studios or tech companies, Tidal would be owned by musicians.

This would allow them to cut out the middleman and take their products directly to the market.

And as a result, the artists would pocket more of the profits – sounds like a great plan.

But Jay Z failed to consider the mistake of positioning himself and other artists as the heroes.

“Water is free,” Jay Z quipped. “Music is $6 but no one wants to pay for music.”

He continued, somewhat confusingly, “You should drink free water from the tap—it’s a beautiful thing. And if you want to hear the most beautiful song, then support the artist.”

Were artists going to buy music from each other? – Of course not.

He needed to position the customer, not the artist, as the hero.

How to tell a brand story

The biggest problem that young brands make is that they position themselves as the hero.

Remember the Tidal example and learn from it – your customer is the hero (not your brand).

Your brand is simply the guide that helps the hero win – that takes them somewhere.

Not the other way around, why? – because human beings always look for guide who helps them solve their problems.

Your customers are not looking for another hero – this is their story.

As storytellers, we need to understand the customer story and fit our brand into that story in order to connect and engage them.

So first, you need to define what your customers need as it relates to your brand.

  • What does the hero want and need? e.g. The hero might want to “buy a home” and that would translate to “the need to feel safe and comfortable”.

The goal for our branding should be that every potential customer knows exactly where we want to take them.

Is it a luxury resort where they can get some rest?

Are you helping them become the leader everybody loves?

Or just to save money and live better?

Remember that needs must have roots in the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Then you need to position your brand as the guide, and you can do that in two ways:

  • Express empathy e.g. “I feel your pain and I understand your problem” (Nike knows you’re fighting against yourself)
  • Demonstrate authority e.g. “We’ve helped over 2,000 clients solve this exact same problem”

The next element in storytelling is having the plan.

Your brand needs to give the customer a plan to solve their problems:

  • Process plan – The steps your customer needs to take to do business with you.
  • Agreement plan – a list of agreements your brand makes with customers to ease fear and tension. (e.g. Starbucks promise to make your drink until it’s right)

The next thing we need to include in our brand story is call-to-actions:

  • Direct CTA e.g. “Buy now”, “Schedule an appointment”
  • Transitional CTA e.g. “Watch this webinar”, “Download our free PDF”

And finally in our story we have to deal with stakes in the game.

What can be won or lost if customers do business with us?

What failure looks like in their life if they don’t do business with us?

And of course what success looks to them if they do?

This is how to create a complete brand narrative that people will understand and respond to.

And this is how some of the famous brands tell their stories successfully.

Want to learn how run storytelling workshops for yourself or your clients? – check my premium Storytelling Guide.

Hungry for more knowledge? – check the original book:

"Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen" by Donald Miller

This article was written based on the book “Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen” by Donald Miller.