By April 19, 2013 Read More →

StoryBranding: Creating Standout Brands Through the Power of Story (Book Review)

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A great brand personality can be your X factor.  If you work on your brand building skills, a brand can be one your greatest catalysts in work and life.  You can apply brand building to you, your business, your products and services, or wherever you work.

Brand building is how you express who you are, and what you are about.  When you create an effective brand personality, you can connect with people in a more meaningful way.

And, with great brand, comes great advantages.  With a great brand, you help protect yourself in the market, especially during economically trying times. You can set higher price points.  Better brands increase your opportunities.  People prefer name brands over no names, and they want to work with brands they know.

But you have to take your brand building beyond the text books.

Enter StoryBranding.  When you combine the power of story with the power of brand building, you create connections at a deeper level.  That’s the power of stories.  Just like a story can help us know characters, a story can help us know, and connect with, a brand personality.

In StoryBranding: Creating Standout Brands Through the Power of Story, Jim Signorelli shows us how to build effective brand personalities, reveal our truths, and connect at values in an authentic way.

With StoryBranding at your side, you have a powerful brand-building framework, and Signorelli’s extensive experience at your fingertips, helps you sell the truth.

Before we dive in, what is a story?  Signorelli offers a twist on Kendall Haven’s definition of story: “A narrative about a character dealing with an obstacle to achieve some important goal.”

Here is my guided tour of StoryBranding

What’s In it For You?

Here is a sampling of some of the challenges that StoryBranding helps you with:

  • How to use stories to create authentic brand identities.
  • How to uniquely communicate the essence of a brand
  • How to use “I AM” statements to empathize with the potential client and the brand
  • How to reveal truths about a brand in a way that resonates
  • How to connect at a deeper level and create meaning through shared values

Chapters at a Glance

    • Chapter .5 Almost Chapter 1
    • Chapter 1 The Inspiration
    • Chapter 2 Why Stories?
    • Chapter 3 What is a Story?
    • Chapter 4 The Brand Story’s “Cells”
    • Chapter 5 What is a “Good” Brand Story?
    • Chapter 6 The StoryBranding Process
    • Chapter 7 Where are We Now and How Did We Get Here?
    • Chapter 8 Brand First
    • Chapter 9 The Brand’s Inner Layer
    • Chapter 10 Using Archetypal Analysis
    • Chapter 11 The Brand’s Outer Layer
    • Chapter 12 The Prospect’s Layers
    • Chapter 13 Finding the Right Match
    • Chapter 14 The Obstacles
    • Chapter 15 The StoryBrief
    • Chapter 16 I AM Statements
    • Chapter 17 I AM Examples
    • Chapter 18 The Unique Value Proposition
    • Chapter 19 Testing
    • Chapter 20 Big-T vs. small-t Truth
    • Chapter 21 The Care and feeding of the Creative Animal
    • Chapter 22 Sell the Truth

Features at a Glance

Here are some of the key features of StoryBranding:

    • Easy to read.    It’s easy to read.  For a book like this, it’s important to be easy to read, because you’ll find yourself going back to it multiple times, either to use it to apply StoryBranding, or to dig a little deeper into a concept or skill.  Each time you read it, you’ll pick up a little more, or something will sink a little deeper.
    • Framework and methodology.   Signorelli gives you a step-by-step framework, made up of a three-part formula:  the StoryBrief, the “I AM” statements, and the Unique Value Proposition.   Each of the parts is useful on its own, but they are “better together.”
    • Examples.   The extensive examples are key to the book.  They help you get a sense of what to aim for, and they help you see whether you are on track.
    • Models.   Signorelli organizes him information into simple conceptual models that are easy to follow and visualize.   This helps consume the information and make it stick.
    • Relevant for the real world.  You can instantly apply what you learn, whether to help you build the brand of you, or you apply your brand building skills to build a better brand personality for your business, or products or services.  Brand is the difference maker in the online world.
    • Simple visuals.  Stick figures and simple visuals help you see what Signorelli is talking about.  They also give the book a nice raw and real aspect, that is refreshing.

Here is a sampling of some of my favorite nuggets from the book …

Truth is Not What is Said …. It is What is Believed

Truth speaks louder than words.  Signorelli writes:

“Stories don’t create our beliefs.  Rather, their themes are like magnets that find and attach themselves to beliefs that already exist.  Additionally, the best stories amplify the importance of existing beliefs by charging them with emotion.  Telling someone that war sucks conveys the information.  Showing someone how war destroys the hopes and dreams of innocent people conveys the same information with power.  Additionally, stories provide an easily digested context for truth.  Logan Pearsall Smith, the American essayist, once said, ‘What I like is a good author is not what he says, but what he whispers.’”

Be True to Yourself First

To be authentic and to find your juice, start from the inside out. Signorelli writes:

“Regardless of what the king says he wants, there’s only so much change a brand can make, given who the brand is.  Marketing conceptors say, Study the king first.  We say, Be true to yourself first.”

Stories Reveal Truth, They Don’t Preach It

Stories help reveal our beliefs.  Signorelli writes:

“Stories have been and still are, the most persuasive tools in the arsenal of human communications.  Why?  Well, there are a lot of reasons that serve as the foundation of a process we now call StoryBranding, and the best among them is that the stories clothe truths by not getting in the way of truth.  They get around our natural resistance to being sold by not pushing beliefs.  Rather, they stimulate and resonate by inviting us to acknowledge beliefs that are already in place.  They do this by fascinating us with identifiable characters and by inviting us empathize with their experiences.  Certainly all stories intend to sell us something.  Whether it’s to demonstrate the importance of love, courage, or freedom, some human values always underlie the reason stories are told.  But stories reveal truth, they don’t preach it.”

Stories Help Us Know Brands

What’s the brand about?  That’s what a story helps us understand at a deeper level.  Signorelli writes:

“StoryBranding is a process designed to help us know brands the way stories help us know characters.  It’s a process that also helps us know a brand’s prospects in ways that will foster lasting relationships, immune from any competitive claim or coupon.”

4 Levels of Connection

The journey to a strong connection is like moving up the stack.  According to Signorelli, there are 4 levels.  Level 4 represents the ultimate goal of brand marketing communications.  The brand doesn’t really start to add value to the product until it reaches the third level of connection (before that, the focus is really on the product.)  Here are the 4 levels according to Signorelli:

  1. Level 1: Product Function Awareness
  2. Level 2: Product Feature Comprehension
  3. Level 3: Brand Acceptance
  4. Level 4: Brand Affiliation

The StoryBranding Process

According to Signorelli, the StoryBranding process is:

  1. Step 1: Collect the Backstory – Provide the background to explain the problem that marketing must solve.
  2. Step 2: Characterize the Brand – Understand the brand’s value and belief system and how this is supported.
  3. Step 3: Characterize the Prospect – See what functional and emotional needs are being left unfulfilled.
  4. Step 4: Connect the Characters – Look for the fit between the two characters, the brand and the prospect.
  5. Step 5: Confront the Obstacles – Prioritize the obstacles that the brand must deal with now in order to form a strong affiliation between the brand and the prospect.
  6. Step 6: Complete the StoryBrief – Outline the entire brand story.

The Brand’s Inner and Outer Layers

Signorelli writes:

“The brand’s inner and outer layers are akin to themes and plots in stories.  Story themes, like the brand’s inner layer, consist of a deeper purpose.  Themes provide the means through which the author or the brand supply meaning.  The plot, like the brand’s outer layer, explains the how.  For stories, plots tell how the character deals with certain obstacles to achieve some goal.  For brands, the outer layer explains how a brand’s features and benefits help the prospect deal with certain obstacles to achieve.”

Achieving Alignment

Your inner layers and outer layers need to line up, or at least, not be inconsistent or at odds with each other.  Signorelli writes:

“If one of your brand’s archetypes is the Imagineer, then to support it you must be able to dramatize beauty and celebrate your imaginative products.  If you see that your brand can be like the Conqueror, then ultimately you must be able to demonstrate achievement or explain how your product can help prospects achieve.  The outer layer should empirically support the belief you want prospects to associate with your brand.”

12 Brand Archetypes

Signoreli provides a nice synthesized list of archetypes, drawing from a number of sources.  For each archetype, Signoreli shares sayings the archetype might live by, values they champion, their disdains, their opposites, what kind of brands they are for, and examples of people and brands that illustrate the archetype.  Here is a summary of the 12 brand archetypes according to Signoreli:

  1. The Purist – wholesome, exemplary, and highly ethical.
  2. The Pioneer – an individualist, blazing their own trail in pursuit of freedom, adventure and new experiences that feed their soul.
  3. The Source – the all-knowing provider of knowledge.
  4. The Conqueror – an ability to meet and overcome adversity.
  5. The Rebel – unsatisfied with the status quo and abhors convention.
  6. The Wizard – seeks out experiences that transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.
  7. The Straight Shooter – abhors pretension and is non-nonsense.
  8. The Seducer – desires romance, intimacy, and sensual pleasure.
  9. The Entertainer – your typical clown or prankster — a fun-loving free spirit who wants only to live in the moment and have a good time doing it.
  10. The Protector – puts other first, providing tender loving care, support, and reassurance.
  11. The Imagineer – an artist, an innovator, and a dreamer.
  12. The Emperor – the boss, the chief, king of the castle, the capo di tutti capi.

Shared Values are the Foundation for Strong Relationships

Values are the lightening rod for meaning and depth.  Signorelli writes:

“Both the intensity and number of shared values explain the importance of any relationships we have with other individuals, groups, or possessions.  If our shared values are inconsequential, so is our relationship.  On the other hand, shared values that are considered important serve as the basis for strong friendships, marriages, and group affiliations.”

Just watching Mad Men alone isn’t going to build your branding skills (though it helps).  Brand building is a big deal, and it’s a skill that pays you back over your life time.  Consider StoryBranding and what a powerful brand can do for you in terms of your business or your career.  It might be just the twist you need to get more out of work and life.

Get the Book

StoryBranding: Creating Standout Brands Through the Power of Story, by Jim Signorelli is available on Amazon:

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2 Comments on "StoryBranding: Creating Standout Brands Through the Power of Story (Book Review)"

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  1. Evan says:

    Thanks JD. This sounds like the book I have been looking for for years.

    I suspect I may be a Straight Shooter. Do you have an archetype you identify with?

    • JD says:

      This book is a real gem.

      I’m definitely a blend, mostly between the Imagineer, dreaming up what’s possible, and the Conqueror, dealing with adversity, and growing capabilities.