The Important Differences Between Storytelling and Storybranding

People often think of business storytelling and storybranding as the same thing. Both can be found in the same story toolbox, but they are as different as a flat blade and a Phillips screwdriver. Both storytelling and storybranding are part of attraction marketing.

Storytelling is the more commonly used tool.

You may not be aware of it, but anytime you talk about events associated with how you or your company has had to deal with some problem, you are telling a story. If your story is well told, your audience will be able to visualize what happened and identify with the central problem as you describe it. And if you’ve captivated their interest, you might hear a “Wow!,” “Really?,” “Oh No!,” or get some other emotional reaction.

Stories clothe facts with emotion. For this reason, storytelling in business is a way to involve audiences with messages more memorably and with greater impact than facts alone. It’s unlikely that you will ever see anyone get goose bumps looking at a line graph. Embed those same facts within a story? Still, goose bumps may be asking for too much. But the chances of gaining some emotional engagement will definitely be increased.

This is why telling stories has always been a go-to technique in advertising. And it is why more and more companies are training their leaders and salespeople how to use storytelling as a business tool.

Storybranding is a different tool used for a different business purpose.

Unlike business storytelling, storybranding isn’t used to help audiences identify with events the way storytelling identifies events. Rather, storybranding is used to help brands associate with a strong and enduring value or belief system. In brand briefs, this is sometimes mistaken for a description of the brand’s personality or how it should be portrayed i.e. bold, unique, caring, or responsive. But directing a brand to exhibit a personality trait is like directing a stage actor to show passion or be courageous. It becomes more natural for the actor to show passion, courage, or any other personality trait by helping him get in touch with his character’s belief system.

Storybranding ratchets brands up to something more powerful than a display of certain personality traits. It does this by defining the brand’s authentic motivational thrust underlying its personality. This thrust could be the strongly adhered to the value placed upon scooping competitive rivals with technological advancements, the belief that being friendly is not the same as “doing” friendly, or the importance that is placed on being obsessive about quality control. In effect, storybrands internalize beliefs that more naturally manifest themselves in their outward appearances.

The most important purpose behind storybranding is to help companies become identified with certain ideals. And it’s a purpose that comes with a very big reward. This was demonstrated in a study conducted Jim Stengel, the former global marketing officer with Procter and Gamble. In his book Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit for the World’s Greatest Companies, Stengel documents how brands that could be identified by their ideals, outperformed the S&P, on average, by over 400% over a 10-year period.

To take full advantage of how the use storybranding, companies need first to do some internal processing. My friend Joey Reiman best describes the most important aspect of this process in his book, The Purpose of Story. He states that management has to first make clear the distinction between a brand’s point of difference and its point of view. The former has to do with the brand’s function. The latter has to do with the brand’s cause, or its crusade.

Read more on Integrating Storybranding With Your B2B Marketing Strategy

Features and benefits are copied or upgraded all of the time. For this reason, focusing on unique functional properties may provide short-term rewards, at best. But, baring events that could derail their images, storybrands like Harley Davidson, Disney, Virgin and Southwest Airlines will be known for their unique points of view long into the future. The reason for this is that these brands, and others that follow their example satisfy the primal need for belonging, a need that is satisfied when potential buyers become assured that there’s a company that shares their beliefs. Satisfying this need far outweighs the long-term value of any functional benefit the brand provides today and is surpassed by a competitor tomorrow.

In many ways, storybrands are like authors who want to provide their audience something more than an interesting or exciting plot. These are authors who care a great deal about the theme of their stories as well their plots.

Finally, unlike storytelling, which is a communication tool anyone in an organization can put to use, storybranding is a tool that requires the guidance and support of the company’s leadership. Once that guidance is provided, and only when it is provided, can marketing, operations, human resources and other departments combine efforts to bring their brand’s story to life.

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