Not such a long time ago, we lived in a world where people believed what companies and advertising agencies told them about a product or service. Individuals gathered around their television screens to receive a steady stream of information and listen intently to the ‘truth’ delivered.

The change came with the evolution of technology; suddenly there were rivers of information flowing to these same people, in their same houses. They tried to keep up, taking in what the rivers had to tell them, but the quality was declining as the speed increased relentlessly. Soon enough, a tsunami of information flooded through people’s houses, bowling them over and disrupting their day-to-day living. Consumers have been living amidst this content flood for quite a few years now, and it’s fair to say they are fed-up, much smarter and more distrusting.

The modern world is in the midst of a communication renaissance. The old model of interruptive advertising does not work anymore.

Today, people are looking for guides. They are looking for products and services that will genuinely support them, that they can connect with, and not those that will interrupt, distract and solely exploit them for financial gain.

So, how do companies effectively and communicate key messages in the current climate?

Companies need to offer value by engaging people in a conversation that lets them know they understand what the customer is going through, what problem they are facing, that they empathise with them and are here to help. A secure emotional connection between companies and our customers should not be underestimated, especially at this time of uncertainty. It establishes trust, loyalty and longevity in the relationship.

Importantly, we need to stop talking about ourselves, how fast and efficient our services are and how many awards we have won. Most people are juggling and struggling with everything already on their plate, and we need to offer something genuinely helpful for people to listen.

To help us build trust, we can call upon a tool in our communication arsenal, both compelling and old in equal measure: story. Humans are story seeking creatures, and we are hard-wired for them. As much as 65 per cent of all human interactions take the form of social storytelling. Listening to stories activates the auditory cortex and left temporal cortex of our brain. We are receptive to stories, we learn from them, and when they exist, there is more potential for a more significant emotional connection. Fundamentally, it is a universal language we all respond to, and it can help us create clear and compelling communication.

Annette Simmons, the author of The Story Factor, says, “People want faith, they want faith in you.” It is possible by tapping into the story of our customer, understanding what they truly want, what problem they are encountering and offering our service as the trusted guide. Getting clear on our brands narrative creates clear, relevant messages that cut through the content chaos of today.

To be clear, this is not about writing a fanciful fantasy for our customers, but employing a basic story-framework (used by most script-writers) to guide us in creating compelling brand narratives. We are building a story for our brand. The story brand framework supports us in understanding our customers better and what motivates them. To foster authenticity and effectively communicate through our marketing channels: on our websites, through emails, sales letters, keynotes and more. We see successful brand stories displayed by some of the largest companies in the world, including Apple’s Think Different, Nike’s Just Do It, North Face’s Never Stop Exploring. It is fair to say that without a clear story today, people just won’t listen.

Here are three principles of Donald Miller’s story branding framework to consider:

Firstly, we, as the company, need to adjust our perspective to see our customers as the hero of the story. What do they want? The story only begins when a hero knows what they want and set out to achieve that goal. What do your customers genuinely want and need from you right now? The clarity of this answer is essential to stay relevant and become genuinely helpful.

Secondly, we, as the company, need to position ourselves as the guide. Most stories have a guide that supports the hero along the journey. They understand the problem and offer them a plan, a tool or some wisdom to help them overcome it. By positioning our company as the guide, we can employ two crucial traits of empathy and authority. We make ourselves the trusted resource to help them overcome their challenge. Communication expert, Nancy Duarte affirms this by saying, “position yourself as Yoda and your audience as Luke Skywalker. It is a small but powerful shift that honours the journey of the audience and positions us as a leader providing wisdom, products and services with our audience to survive.” To clarify our role as guide, we ask the question, who or what is opposing the hero getting what they want? Simply, identify the problem you are helping to solve.

Finally, the company needs to understand the transformation to be supported. Stories transform the hero. What will the hero’s life look like after you have helped them overcome the challenge? Branding messages need to speak to this shift to let people know how we can help them transform from weak to strong, instability to security, chaos to simplicity. How will it make their life better?

A compelling story can aid companies to float on the river of this communication renaissance. Companies begin to take charge and steer the boat when they identify what their customer needs, address the overwhelming problem they are experiencing and offer them a lifeboat to help. Consumers are looking out for these invitations and messages to help them survive and thrive, ones that they can trust to guide them to safety.


Samantha Herbert will be speaking the upcoming FEAL National Conference on identifying common values and shared belief systems to build empathy and resilience via the art of story-branding.

To register for Resilience, How to survive and thrive in a time of disruption on Thursday 6th August 2020


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