The concept of brand storytelling, a mere buzzword a decade ago, is now ensconced in our marketing best practices and informs nearly every aspect of our approach.  The unrelenting requirement to churn out fresh content presents marketers with challenges to brand story consistency and cohesion. After all, how many different ways can you tell the same story?!?

As it turns out, there are actually quite a few.  And the good news is that you can tell your story in innovative and effective ways by using classic story ‘templates’ as frameworks for sharing your unique stories, including challenges you’ve met and successes you’re celebrating.

Here are three classic tales that could work as foundations:

1. Last Chance to Change – or “How we Held Our Breath, Took the Plunge and Saved the Day”

Mythology is loaded with ‘last chance to change’ stories… very often with unhappy endings.  Our jokes are, too, like the one about the storm survivor who rejects efforts to rescue him by truck, boat and helicopter only to pass away and complain to his creator that the creator had allowed him to die.  The creator cites the various attempted rescue efforts, thus revealing that the offer of the helicopter lift had been this guy’s last chance to change. As a brand story, this narrative type is either a cautionary tale not to summarily reject opportunities. But this tale can also be an effective way to tell a success story.

Consider the small woman-owned PR agency enjoying great success for many years providing public relations services to hotels and resorts in a foreign country. A change in that country’s government causes contracts to be delayed to such an extent that the owner wonders if the business is drying up permanently. Repeated efforts to resurrect them through existing channels are unsuccessful. But shortly thereafter, the CEO starts to hear from other companies also effected by the change in government, suggesting that she consider partnering with them to pool resources, services and offerings to the new government.  She has not had success with partnerships of this sort in the past and is leery of trusting other companies, some of whom may have been past competitors. And her company has begun all sorts of promising new business development initiatives.

She tells herself not to proceed with the partnership, convinced that the foreign country’s business climate will soon change, and that the firm’s current new business and diversification efforts will yield results as well. But several months down the road, very little has changed and she has had to lay off some staff. There’s a very good chance that even more will have to be laid off soon and no new business is imminent.  When one of the potential partnership firms reaches out again – this time with a potential opportunity, she pursues it with caution.

Fast forward a few years and her agency is not only part of a consortium of successful partner companies, but some of the business development efforts initiated during the downturn are also bearing fruit. Had she not jumped at the partnership when she did, the agency would not have survived.

2. The Little Engine That Could – or “How we Never Gave Up”

Remember story about the little train engine tasked with pulling a huge line of full freight cars over a hill after all the bigger engines claimed it would be too difficult for them?  The little engine hit lots of snags and difficulties along the way but he kept chanting his mantra, “I THINK I CAN”, until the job was done! Here’s a brand story told as a “Little Engine… tale:

Two product engineering executives join forces with a vision of providing all the engineering and design services necessary to develop and deliver finished, complete products – both hardware and software – under one roof. It is a daunting task – product development is a labor-intensive endeavor. High-level talent is not cheap.  The business is fraught with unknowns at every turn because each new project presents a set of challenges never faced before.   Managing the manufacture and delivery of finished goods offers a whole new set of hurdles. But like the little engine who pulled the heavy freight train over the mountain while repeating the mantra “I THINK I CAN”, the 2 founders don’t give up.  They nearly face extinction during a severe financial crisis, but within 3 years they have rebounded and have about 20 full-time employees. After 10 years, they have nearly 70 with another 30 contract employees in the mix.  Their company is then acquired and they continue to add services and grow the firm.

3. David and Goliath – or “How we Slayed the Dragon”

 This is an ‘against all odds’ story – one where the small, obviously disadvantaged character ends up destroying the ogre.  Are you a startup that has survived more than a few years? How have you managed to survive?  You may be a prime candidate for this kind of brand story:

In this fairy tale, two young adult artists come up with a great idea for a new, permanent adhesive that competes with existing super gluing products sold by craft shops, retailers, and office suppliers. Made from tree sap, it is all natural, and although it costs a bit more and it takes a little longer to dry than the petroleum-based glues already on the market, users do not run the risk of having their fingers stuck to each other or to their projects in an instant. The product is non-toxic and safe for young children to use. It creates permanent bonds between wooden, plastic and metal surfaces, enabling hobbyist model builders, sculptors, and product designers and architects to create both prototypes and finished pieces of work with ease. The startup begins selling the product through their own website and through social media.

Eventually, the founders discover a source for higher volume, readily available shipments of the tree sap, enabling them to increase production and lower the price of the product. At this point, a large maker and distributor of traditional adhesives and other products approaches them with offers to buy the company – and at first they are elated. But they soon realize that the manufacturer is most like only interested in purchasing rights to the product to in order to take it off the market; it poses a threat to the market for traditional adhesives in which they are highly invested and has made them millions.

Afraid that the large company might attempt to destroy their business, the artists take their story to their fan base, social media following and to the local press. Their predicament goes viral and attracts the attention of a big PR firm, specializing in firms environmentally safe products and services. The PR company successfully pitches the startup’s story to a very well-known business magazine. Investors interested in eco-friendly products approach them, a deal is made, and they all live happily ever after. (At least until their next challenge!)


What is your story? Are there story types that you’ve heard that can help you tell your brand story more effectively? Reply with a comment and let us know!

In future posts, we’ll look at other kinds of stories, and some real-life examples of how marketers and designers apply well-known themes to make their brand stories come to life.