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How to tell your brand story

Your brand has a story to tell, but will audiences buy into it?

Don’t think you have a brand story? All brands have a story worth telling, writes Hallie Donkin, but it’s the elements of that story that determine whether audiences will buy it – and buy into it.

People are accustomed to using storytelling as a way to teach, to remember and to relate to each other. Think of the last time you sat down with someone, or the conversation over your breakfast this morning: you were telling each other stories. Every story you listened to shaped your perception of the person you were sitting with, and every story you told shaped their perception of you.

So, in a world where we are surrounded by media and its accompanying advertising every moment of every day, just putting a logo and your name on a sign is no longer enough.

Your brand needs a story that your target audience will buy into. Sounds simple? You must have missed the end of that sentence. Creating a story is easy; creating a brand story that people buy into is difficult, and is all about good storytelling.

Storytelling and the ‘arc’

According to Robert McKee, renowned screenwriter and storyteller, and that guy who rips shreds into Nicolas Cage’s character in Adaptation, good storytelling is about creating an ‘arc’: where characters change from one state to another.

When it comes to telling the story of your brand, doing it well consists of two key elements:

  • The creation of your brand’s arc. This is a storyline that presents the audience with your brand’s journey, including a shift from one state to another (more desirable) one.
  • The arc that you create needs to be so enticing, so relatable, that it evokes within your audience a desire to create their own arc. In other words, your storytelling efforts must present your audience with a journey so desirable, a shift so monumental, that they want to enact their own – a process that culminates in the audience’s decision to buy into your brand journey.

Of course, creating a story that takes your audience along a path ending with them developing a relationship with your brand is a complicated task. Done badly, it is insincere. Done really badly, it is alienating.

The most common mistake is resorting to clichés and stereotypes in representations of the target market, likely a result of failing to ask people within that market how they see themselves. The best way to alienate an audience, ensuring they will miss the message you are paying for them to hear and see, is to represent them how you think they are or should be, not how they think they are or should be.


I can’t profess any great love for ‘Rhonda’ from the AAMI TV commercials, but perhaps I’m not the target market, what with not knowing how to drive. Like Derek Zoolander would say: “I’m not an ambi-turner.” Unlike Derek, I show no signs of conquering my inability to turn right. Aside from me though, it seems she is universally loved; she has serially engaged audiences for insurer AAMI over the course of a long campaign.

The keys to the campaign’s success? Arc and relatability.

First, arc: in that first ‘Rhonda’ instalment, she imagines herself driving her car through a crowd applauding her perfection. Each instalment of the TVC series contains a very short character arc for Rhonda. Her first very quick shift was to being fallible.

That fallibility is central to the second key to the success of the campaign: relatability. As we will get to later, it is also the key to tying the audience to AAMI via Rhonda, but we aren’t there yet – hold tight. For the moment, let’s focus on the fact that viewers relate to Rhonda because she is fallible.

Turning back to McKee for a moment, we can see why this is important. “We go to the movies to enter a new, fascinating world,” McKee writes. “To inhabit vicariously another human being who at first seems so unlike us and yet at heart is like us, to live in a fictional reality that illuminates our daily reality.”

Rhonda and her small world offer all of this. She doesn’t present viewers’ lives exactly as they are ‘supposed to be’.

Viewers see a bit of themselves in her. She isn’t perfect: she is past her 20s and single, she travels alone, she covers up at the beach rather than flaunting a ‘bikini-body’, gets sunburnt, swoons over the man who delivers her ridiculously touristy cocktail, and tells her friend a silly story about an imaginary encounter with him.

Every thirty-something cringes inwardly when the ‘mean girls’ tease Rhonda and when she falls and smears lipstick on the high-school crush at a reunion.

Why? Because someone finally asked their target market: “How do you see yourself?” and came back to the advertising brainstorm session with the answer ‘never perfect’, ‘someone else is better than me’ and perhaps even, a little sadly, ‘never quite good enough’.

The Rhonda ads aren’t trying to sell a lie about how viewers should always be happy, about how their lives should be white-picket-fence perfect. Rhonda can take viewers on her journey, sucking them into her story until they actually care about a character on a television advertisement and whether she finds the man of her dreams.

Why it’s genius

So, back to why her fallibility is the most important part of the character. The relationship built with Rhonda is based on her propensity to make mistakes. There are two things we know about Rhonda: she makes mistakes (‘just like me!’ rejoices the viewer inwardly), but that’s okay, because she is insured by AAMI (‘maybe little old imperfect me should be insured by AAMI too!’).

Make it work for you: 7 questions every brand storyteller needs to ask

When creating your brand story, you need to tell a tale, and tell it convincingly. You need to create a convincing character arc for your brand, your audience needs to be able to relate to it on a personal level, and you need to create a desire in your audience to go along with it, a desire to experience the very change you are offering.

To do this, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Why does your brand exist?
  • What does your brand you care about or stand for?
  • What do you want to achieve with your brand story?
  • What action do you want your audience to take when they experience your story?
  • Who is your target market?
  • More importantly, who do people in your target market think they are?
  • What link can you find between your brand and your target’s self-representation?
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