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Learn everything about Brand Narrative in 5 minutes

Updated on July 5, 2015


Brand narrative is the story behind the brand that helps guide and narrate the customers’ experience of using the products. When people pick up a drink and drink, we do more than just drinking in a physical way. We think, sometimes subconsciously, sometimes consciously about the drink we have. If you choose Red Bull when trying to do something crazy that requires mass energy, then you have fallen for Red Bull’s brand narrative. You consume the can, and deep inside you is an imagination of how this energy drink will boost your mentality.

Coca-cola or Pepsi were made to consume with fast food. But in Asia, Coke and Pepsi have associated themselves with normal daily meals, telling the story of how food become better when we consume it with this sugar drink. Similar to the placebo effect in medicine, we believe the drink makes the food better because we are told so.

Or take the example of Harley Davidson, its brand narrative makes the men imagine the feeling of adventure and freedom when sitting on the Harley bike. In short, the brand narrative puts fuel in people’s mind when they ride a Harley.

Harley Davidson- one of the greatest brand storytellers
Harley Davidson- one of the greatest brand storytellers | Source

Steps to build great Brand Narrative

There are different methods and different schools. However, the most basic way is within this process: Defining the Brand Positioning in the market, Stating what Promise the Brand makes to the society and life, and finally, Telling a Brand Narrative that guides the customers' experience.

Building Brand Narrative Process
Building Brand Narrative Process

A brand should originate from its positioning in the market. As you may know, our whole marketing foundation was found from this positioning, mostly spread by Al Ries and Jack Trout, known as the fathers of Brand Positioning. Basically, brand positioning is the position of the brand in the consumers’ mind. This school argues that brands should compete for a certain position in the consumers’ mind, for example, Heinz is “slow” or Volvo is “safe”. They believe that position should be unique and specific, thus some generic word like “delicious”, “quality” is unacceptable.

From the Brand Positioning, a Brand Promise is formed. In some sense, Brand Promise is the Brand Mission- what value the brand will bring to the society and its customers. Most of the time, the brand promise should not focus on the functional benefits of the products, but instead showing a higher purpose that the brand wants to deliver for life. To make it simple, imagine the Brand as a superhero, what would you like your Brand to save the world for? Bring optimism to everyone, fuel everyone’s adventurous blood in everyday life, or boost people’s motivation to exercise? That is considered a great Brand Promise. Note that Marketing term can be very confusing. So, to replace Brand Promise, sometimes we use Brand Mission, sometimes it is referred to as Brand Vision. I know it is not correct to use them as replaceable terms, but due to relativity of language, especially in this Marketing field, let's feel those words, rather than argue about the definition.

The picture below shows 3 examples of great Brand promises.

3 Greatest Brand Promises
3 Greatest Brand Promises

After defining the Brand Promise, you should create a Brand Narrative that tells how your brand is going to fulfill that promise. One tip to generate great Brand Narrative is to look at the brand category in a broader view.

Nike’s Brand Narrative is “Just do it”, not something like “The best quality athletic shoes”, because it views itself more than just a shoes business. Nike is a business of training motivator that believes “if you have a body, you’re already an athlete”.

Airbnb successfully narrates the story of “belonging anywhere”, because it views itself more than a real estate broker. Down to Earth, isn’t Airbnb just another real estate broker? Correct, but what makes it stands out is Airbnb views itself as a tourism and travel company.

Or what about Lego? Isn’t it just a plastic brick manufacturer? If it viewed itself like that, the Chinese manufacturers would have won over the competition a long time ago. Instead, Lego defines itself as a content publisher, who produces characters and stories via movies, books, and of course, toys.

From that broader look of what business our brand is, we can come up easier with the Brand Narrative to guide our customers’ experience. If you are in a food business, try to think broader, for example, you are not another food company, but a business of life enjoyment, or a business of building social relationships. Try to think of the experience when your customers consume your products. By that way, you can easier come up with an inspiring Brand Narrative, such as “Life is too short to eat average food” or “Great friends come after great meals”.

A great Brand Narrative inspires!
A great Brand Narrative inspires!

What's next after the Brand Narrative?

This approach comes from the brand itself, thus before this, we haven’t defined our target audience yet. Therefore, a thorough profiling of the target customers is necessary at this time. We explore how we will communicate our story to them; what tools, medium and touch point that must be utilized.

After defining our target customers, we develop our Brand Narrative into details. First of all, it is the Brand Identity, the brand's outlook. A brand story that is motivating should have a motivating brand appearance. Inconsistency is not acceptable, because it makes any communication effort wasteful. The Brand Narrative is the core story, thus everything on the outer circles should reflect that core story. Secondly, it is the Creative expression: print ads, websites or TVCs. Again, they all should tell the same story, using the same words, and expressing the same style.

Starbucks' Brand Narrative

Case study- Starbucks building Brand Narrative

How Startbucks grew from a coffee shop to a cultural icon is an interesting brand narrative lesson. It proves how great brand narrative can spur a commodity business to huge success. Stanley Hainsworth, the creative director at Nike, Lego and then vice president global creative at Starbucks was the man behind this Starbucks’ icon.

To build great brand narrative, Stanley began with the business vision. Every great business has a vision. So does Starbucks. The Starbucks’ vision originates from Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ CEO. His vision is not to look at the café as a place where people drink coffee, but as a social environment where people come to connect to a particular culture. In other words, his vision is to create “a third place”, a business of creating a community, not coffee shop. That vision shapes the brand story.

Stanley said that one easy way to come up the brand narrative is to imagine about the “end-state” result of consuming the product/ service. Our customers buy things because they feel that the brand provides them an emotional connection. Imagine how a customer consumes at Starbucks. Before office time, he or she visits the store, buys the coffee and then involves in the store atmosphere. They might sit alone wandering, chat with people nearby or eavesdrop others’ conversation. What all of them have in common is a step from a different world outside to a completely unique environment inside: a community. That is how Starbucks has successfully differentiated itself from other ordinary coffee shops, who don’t build a unique and consistent culture. They just plainly sell coffee. From the brand narratives, Starbucks come up with the furniture design, the music, the brand identity and its communication, all of which focuses on telling the same brand story.

How much do you understand this post about Brand Narrative?

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    • profile image

      Sara Lyhn 2 years ago

      The case study is very interesting. Especially the Lego one.

    • profile image

      Laura Razer 2 years ago

      What you write is interesting, but i hope i have more background to fully understand

    • profile image

      Miu Angel 2 years ago

      So glad finally there is someone writing about this. Are you an ad planner? (Only these people know, cuz i'm a planner too).

    • profile image

      Macrn Nizz 2 years ago

      I just come across this. It's very useful indeed. Thanks, mate

    • profile image

      Reckless Rin 2 years ago

      Starbucks is the master of creating brand narrative. Keep on with your work

    • profile image

      Mic Keyle 2 years ago

      That's very insightful and clear to me, maybe because i work in advertising.

    • profile image

      Lam 2 years ago

      Thank you for your comment! really appreciate that!

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thanks for this nice summation on how mass marketing becomes part of culture.