Tuesday, January 3, 2023

B2B Marketing, B2C Marketing, Branding

Own Up to Your Story

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just tell people what to think about us? We’d never have to go through the process of proving we’re trustworthy or smart or capable. People would just automatically think we were because we told them so.

We know we can’t get away this. Nobody can. But do you know who tries? Brands. It’s true. We’ve all seen it. Brands make their whole brand story about themselves, tell their customers what to think, and then dust off their hands, pat themselves on the backs and wait for their brand to grow.

The oversight here is that customers are human. And humans think for themselves regardless of what they’re told. If Netflix or Nike or Nestle could just tell customers what to think about them, they’d be the wealthiest companies in the world. They’d smoke the competition, and they’d never have to think about their brand perception again.

But this is reality where we do have to think about the story our brand is telling. And do you know what? Your brand story—the one you debated with your team for a year and a half and rewrote 17 times—it’s not actually about you. Because your brand story is not what you say about you. It’s what your customers say about you.

Too many brands make the mistake of ignoring how their customers perceive them and try to tell another story that ends up coming off as disingenuous, or worse, tone deaf. Let’s look at some examples of bad storytelling from brands that selected the wrong narrative for their story.

The Savior Narrative

Pepsi inserted its brand into a hot button topic that had nothing to do with them. And because that apparently wasn’t cringeworthy enough, they positioned their product (and Kendall Jenner) as the savior. Double cringe.

The video got a lot of views, but Pepsi felt the backlash almost immediately and pulled the ad. You can still watch it on YouTube though.


The Lifestyle Narrative

Some brands are a lifestyle—Patagonia, Apple, Starbucks. Others are not. Miracle Whip is not. But oh, did they try. You can watch their saucy attempt here.


The Imaginative Narrative

I’m all for being creative, poetic, whatever. I’m not for being nonsensical. If people walk away from an interaction with your brand confused, that’s a missed opportunity.

Then again, if we’re going to watch someone ramble, at least it’s Brad Pitt.


The Melancholy Narrative

Marketers can’t resist pulling at those heartstrings every now and then—and every now and then, they’re allowed. However, Nationwide went a little too far. The biggest problem with their 2015 ad is not that it takes a dark turn; it’s that Nationwide’s services don’t even align with the message.

Watch the weirdness for yourself.


And now that we’ve shown you some bad storytelling, here are three takeaways for telling your own brand story better:

  1. Remember—Your brand story is an opportunity to talk about your customers, not yourself.
  2. Relax—You can’t control what people say about your brand, but you can influence the conversation.
  3. Revisit—No brand story is ever complete. Give your brand room to ebb and flow and keep your story fluid.

Thanks for reading. If you’d like more insights on branding and brand stories, you dive deeper into our blog (just don’t drown) or contact us. We’d love to talk with you about your brand strategies.


Todd Steen
Kristie GraySmith
Jackson offices