The Business Of Storytelling

A framework for developing compelling brand narratives

[Click here to download the full deck of slides and watch the accompanying video recording where I walk you through my framework.]

A lot has changed in the world of brand storytelling, especially in the last 5–10 years, but the frameworks we use to develop our brand narratives remain dated. We’re essentially using old tools to reach new audiences in new markets, and it doesn’t make sense. The challenge is twofold:

  1. Aggressive Evolution. We’re living in incredibly dynamic landscapes. Regardless of the market you’re in, change is happening at an ever-increasing rate. New entrants, bandwidth technologies, legal policy, generational personnel, emerging territories — this is not the industry or climate our parents grew up in. It is certainly not the climate that our familiar brand frameworks were once created to address.
  2. Inconsistent Behaviors. Where once you could count on the major behaviors of a generation to be consistent across age, time and psychographics, we now see a proliferation of sub-cultures and idiosyncrasies with millennials. Geek chic, bro culture, riot grrrls, foodies and hipsters are just the tip of the iceberg. Behaviors have fractured across all dimensions, and what remains is the overarching ambitions and mentality that begat them.

Taken together, these two factors necessitate a new framework, not just for brand storytelling among millennials, but any brand strategy that will resonate with an increasingly informed and empowered audience.

Watch a recording of my workshop and an in-depth look at the Active Story Framework for your own brand here.

My work with startups, established brands and B2C companies reaching millennial audiences allowed me to develop a new approach for decoding the fabric of a brand, and I was recently fortunate enough to share it during a workshop.

You can watch the video and get access to the full deck here .

The Active Story Framework

I call this the Active Story Framework because that’s exactly what it is — active. Each of the three elements propels you into the next and forces movement.

Build A Defensible Territory: Building a defensible territory as part of your brand story will 1) take you to a part of the landscape where your competitors will be unable to follow, 2) allow you to sing your siren song clearly, reaching the very target audience that is crucial to your success, and 3) allow you to be specific… because you can’t be a generalist today. If you’re not specific, you’re not valuable.

Create Meaningful Tension: There is a push and pull action that drives conversion. You ‘push’ your audience by tapping into existing (but often hidden) behaviors and either align or oppose their collective belief systems. You ‘pull’ by leveraging macro movements that resonate with those core beliefs.

Change Hearts and Minds: Your voice is key, but voice is not marketing channels or tone. Voice is tactics. Voice is gestures. Voice is actions, because when it comes to millennials, actions will always speak louder than words. Through your secret language, you have the one-on-one conversations that audiences demand in a such a noisy, static-filled environment.

All three of these elements together force movement.
They force you to make the hard brand decisions key to your success in a crowded, hostile market.
They force you to always land on the right side of the line between core market and mass market — regardless of what stage your company is in or which market you need to reach.
And most importantly, they force your audience to react, decide and convert.

What powerful brand strategy does

Think of this as a tapestry. When you look closely at the individual elements of a brand strategy, it’s hard to see what you’re really creating. But when you pull back and look at all pieces collectively, an image emerges. That image is the brand identity that your followers are looking for. A strong brand strategy gives that image resolution.

But what matters even more than that, at least in practical terms, is the power to solve problems with a strong strategy. A decent brand strategy will take 3 problems and solve them with 3 solutions. A powerful brand strategy takes those 3 problems and solves them with 1.

Don’t miswrite your own story

You can’t live outside of the story framework. You can fit into a current cultural narrative or oppose it, but you cannot exist outside its realm. We are all human, and we are all looking to make sense of the options presented to us in the marketplace. Stories help us do that.

Whether you’re an incumbent CEO or a startup founder, the worst thing you can do is miss the great story that’s sitting right under your nose.

Your hunch led you to a product. It wasn’t just a need. It wasn’t merely good product-market fit. Most leaders and entrepreneurs subconsciously see something bigger when they take the reigns of a company, and under that subconscious draw is a story. The real story. The story that wins.

Use this framework to find it.


The next step in branding.

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This article is based on what we’ve learned at our Brand Strategy agency Concept Bureau.