“There are only two ways to tell your story.”

A Venn Diagram for brands.

Credit: Ross Gunter

Getting Attention

A brand does not want attention.

A brand wants revenue.

A brand acquires revenue by selling its product.

But in order to sell its product for revenue, the brand must first get people to pay attention to that product.

So every brand needs to be in the business of getting attention whether they want to be or not.

At the end of the day, everything is PR.

There is only one way to get attention

The only way to get attention is to tell stories.

Brands should know this well, for what is a brand but a story itself.

There are only two ways to tell these stories:

You can get others to tell your story, or you can tell your story yourself.

Getting others to tell your story

Brands don’t make stories, they make products.

So to get stories made, they need to find a storyteller.

When a brand finds that storyteller, the storyteller wants to tell the brand’s story in the storyteller’s own way.

That’s the challenge.

But storytellers have large audiences, and that’s the opportunity.

Storytellers reach large audiences because the storyteller tells stories their audience wants to hear.

To the audience, those stories are timely or relevant or interesting.

The audience feels like the storyteller understands their needs.

Between the audience and the storyteller there is trust, which is the foundation of any good relationship.

Which means: when you get others to tell your story, you are renting their audience’s trust.

Large & Rented Audience: The storyteller can reach a large audience because the storyteller tells stories the audience wants to hear. The brand rents the audience.

Telling your story to others

When you tell your story to others you have control of that story, but you reach a smaller audience.

You reach a smaller audience because the story is about yourself.

Instead of understanding the audience, you are asking them to understand you.

Sadly for our purposes, but luckily for humans in general, there are fewer people who care about you than there are people who care about themselves.

That’s one challenge.

Another challenge is brands, despite being stories themselves, aren’t very good at telling more stories.

A brand is good at products, and meetings about products, and sometimes products that help you have more meetings.

But the production line for a story rarely moves at the speed of a production line for a product or a meeting, or has the same incentives.

Nobody’s bonus is tied to making stories.

All that said, when you tell your own story, you create trust with your smaller audience.

That’s the opportunity.

Trust over time equals a growing audience. But of course, there is no trust without consistency.

Small & Dedicated Audience: The brand reaches a small (but dedicated) audience by telling stories about itself. The brand owns the audience.

The third way

Misleading titles of Medium posts notwithstanding, there is actually a third way to tell your story—and that’s not to tell your story at all.

The third way is to tell an audience a story about themselves.

That is, to tell a story about an aspirational topic that exists between you and your audience and is born of mutual interest.

This is, for example, is how Vanity Fair works, and WIRED works, and whatever publication you read works.

The editors are experts in celebrity, or technology (or whatever) and they tell stories about celebrity, or technology (or whatever) to an audience who is already interested in those topics.

For the editors, the topics are an expression of their expertise.

For the audience, the topics are an expression of their aspirations.

Brands, you’re probably already aware, do this too.

GE is in the business of several industries, and GE Reports covers the future of innovation in those industries.

Autodesk in the business of 3D software, and AutoDesk’s Redshift covers the future of creative building.

Google in the business of selling information, and Google’s Think Quarterly covers the future of marketing.

The editors and their audience form a venn diagram.

In the middle are the topics they have in common.

Large & Aspirational Audience: The brand can reach a larger audience if the brand tells aspirational stories about a mutual interest, thus positioning itself as that Ozymandian of things, the “thought leader”.

Funnily enough, you may have noticed Facebook and Instagram and Google and anything that’s customized to your interests works like this, too.

They’re all expert in telling you stories that you‘re likely to be most interested in.

Which is just to say, pay attention to the stories people want to hear. There’s money in that banana stand.

And stop it with the meetings.

Nobody likes those.


This post is a part of Story Stories, a totally un-calendared series that’s published every other whenever and which explores the ups, downs, and what the actual fucks of creative storytelling. Each post is based on conversations and consultations with some of the world’s largest brands and publishers, which work with my agency, Dicks & Betties. More from the series:

  1. People care about what they already care about.”
    The importance of being relevant to your audience’s interests.
  2. You don’t get it. You are not the point.”
    The surprising reason why your brand sucks at storytelling, and what to do about it.
  3. Try helping people be themselves.”
     How to create inspiring stories for your brand’s adjacent possible.
  4. Write for your audience’s audience.”
    Creating things that help themselves get shared.
  5. There are only two ways to tell a story.”
    A Venn Diagram for brands.
  6. How little do I need to care about you to make you care about me?”
    Renting attention will only get you so far. Here’s how to start to owning it.
  7. Make relationships, not things.”
    You can’t “thing” your way to people caring about you.
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