3 Types of Brand Stories: Functional, Emotional, Moral
What an interesting Academy Awards season. So many different kinds of stories that were told! From Roma to Black Panther to The Favourite, the scale, story arcs, and scopes of the stories were remarkably different.
And that same variety applies to brands — there's a unique kind of brand storytelling for each.
When you think about the kind of story your brand wants to tell, not only should it definitely be different than other competitors in your space, it should also be a different kind of story. I’m not talking about stories being funny or dramatic, I’m thinking about something much broader.
In my class I ask each student to give a “Tour of Brand.” This is a 20+ minute presentation about a brand they love, and talk about the history, the aspects of the competition, and most importantly why that brand speaks to them. Now that I’ve been teaching for about 10 years, I’ve probably seen about 400 of these “Tours of Brands.” So many brand presentations!
From those, I’ve learned that there are three types of brand stories that are being told. For your brand, think about which story you’re telling. And, it could be more than one. I’ve included links to videos to illustrate these stories.
The Functional Story: 'Help My Life Easier'
Functional stories help make things a lot easier in life. There might be some emotion tied to that (I feel better when things are easier), but basically these stories show how they make the customer’s life is just a whole lot easier to manage. Stuff gets cleaner, takes less time, etc. A great example of this kind of storytelling is from Lemonade, an insurance company. Their whole pitch is to make insurance simple, clean, easy, modern and accessible — especially for Generation Z. Does it make me feel better? Sure, it could. But the emotions are borne out of things just being a simpler and more understandable way of getting insurance.
Emotional Story: 'Help Me Feel Something Real'
These are powerful stories. Emotional marketing is, of course, something we all respond to and remember. The hippocampus and amygdala are two centers in the brain responsible for memory and emotion, and they are physically right next to each other. Emotional reactions link us together across culture and time, and bind us together as humans. The better brands convey their emotional marketing messages with authenticity and a realness that aligns the purpose of the brand with the tactics, images, and words.
And with videos as the primary mover of emotional storytelling, brands have no excuses to not find those good, emotionally real stories. One of my favorite is the P&G Thank You Mom Campaign. Give yourself a treat and spend 2+ minutes watching this.
They have built an entire collection of these kinds of stories, and the first one debuted in the 2012 Olympics:
And if after watching it, you’re not crying, I can’t help you.
Moral Story: 'Help Me Become More Than Myself'
The Moral Stories are the most powerful ones a brand can tell. They reign supreme by connecting you and the brand to something larger and more meaningful in life. They show you that you — as a consumer — can be a part of a movement and massive social change that has real impact in the world. These brands empower you to be a force of good, and to be the change you want to see in the world.
My favorite recent example is Always. They finally understand that they’re not just selling tampons. A girl’s confidence plummets during puberty, and they realize that they can be a part of this story. They can help girls who are going through a brand new and somewhat scary experience understand that it’s a step towards empowerment and strong life-stage. Always can be a big part of this message, and they fully embraced it with #likeagirl campaign. They rode the wake started by the Dove Evolution Campaign, and have done a strong job of creating awareness that an entire generation of confident girls can make major change across the planet in the next 10-20 years and beyond.
And in this one caption, you can sense the large macro-drama that Always is asking users to be a part of. They asked the same questions to girls who were in their late teens & early twenties and to girls who haven't yet hit puberty:
Interviewer: “What does it mean to run like a girl?”
Older Girl: [Flailing and prancing weakly] "Uhnnnnn ..."
8-year old girl: “It means ... run as fast as you can.”
Here are two of their solid Moral Storytelling videos.
When it comes to your brand, I guarantee you each have a functional story to tell. My hunch is that you have an emotional story to tell. And for those brave souls willing to put it out there, think deeply about a moral story. The world needs more of those.
So, go ask yourself and your team: What kind of story are you telling?
As always, I'd enjoy your feedback.
Chris Foster has been teaching Brand Strategy and Positioning at UCSD Extension since 2009. He has lead professional workshops and presented at numerous San Diego Marketing Association events as well as national events for the Direct Marketing Association; been guest lecturer at SDSU Marketing Courses; and participated in numerous professional panels.
For the past 20 years he has worked in all aspects of marketing and creative direction for start-up, growing, and established business environments. He has a passion for helping any-sized business transform their brand so they can more authentically connect with their audience.