Building Value Through Storytelling

Building Value Through Storytelling

Though the term “brand storytelling” is brandished about rather carelessly, few companies actually take the time to explain what it means or how it works. Brand “stories” are rarely told in a “once upon a time” situation but, rather, they are the cumulative effect of all the things you do for a brand that gives meaning to its story.

One objective in brand building is to create a mythology and perceived value for your brand. For example, the brand story of Bayer Aspirin stretches back more than 100 years. That might have something to do with explaining this:

The fact that 26% buy the more expensive version is because they believe the mythology that it is better. Brand storytelling doesn’t stop with packaged goods. The idea that a diamond is rare is a mythology that has been constructed by the diamond industry to drive up prices. Lest you think I’m spouting a conspiracy theory, here’s some proof.

Does it surprise you to learn that diamonds are NOT actually rare, but advertising (and tight control of the market) has crafted this mythology? So how do you create a mythology? It starts with a story. How much is this nickel worth?

If you are a collector, you might look to any number of references, but a simple google search led us to which valued this nickel at a rate of anywhere from 35¢ if it is in poor condition to $1.15 if it is in mint condition. The assumption is that those in better condition are worth more because they are rarer, right?

But what if I told you that this nickel was in the pocket of John F. Kennedy the day he was assassinated? What is this nickel worth now? Do you see how a simple mythology changes the value of the object? The entire sports memorabilia industry is based on the immeasurable quality of the mythology surrounding the object.

At times the mythology works in the opposite direction. For example, in the classic sweater experiment people were asked if they would wear Hitler’s sweater. Many physically recoiled at the thought and would still refuse even after it had been dry cleaned. Such is a power of an effective story.

This is known as contagion bias. Remember cooties? It’s also the key driver of the bottled water industry. Countless studies have proven that water from the tap is just as pure – and in some cases purer – than bottled water, yet we just can’t over that bias.

Those of you who saw The Wolf of Wall Street might recall the line “Sell me this pen.” Most of us naturally try to fall into a supply and demand tactic. We try to contrive a reason a buyer would  need a pen. That can work in some cases, but what if your pen is a commodity? What if there are thousands of pens to choose from? That’s where the story shifts from needing this pen to wanting this pen. That’s where brand storytelling comes in – and the best story wins. What value would the pen have if I told you that Nick Saban used it to sign his contract? What if I told you that I’m selling these pens as part of a fundraiser for my daughter’s softball team? What if I told you this brand of pen was preferred by Ernest Hemingway?  That’s how storytelling creates a mythology – and helps you sell.