Research & Insights

“Once Upon A Time”– How The Story Makes the Brand

Want your organization’s brand to strike a more responsive, even emotional, chord with your audiences? Then take a page from what successful consumer product companies do–and what research shows can work–and use stories to make your brand come alive.

“Stories fascinate people and are often more easily remembered than facts,” says marketing researcher Anna Lundqvist. “Much has been written about the power of stories in branding, but very little empirical evidence exists of their effects on consumer responses.” Now, thanks to work of Lungqvist and her colleagues, we have evidence.

Through a series of experiments and interviews, researchers at the Hanken School of Economics in Finland were able to show that brands that use stories to communicate their brand message create positive experiences for consumers.

For their study, which is described in the February 2013 issue of Brand Management, Lundqvist, along with colleagues, Veronica Liljander, Johanna Gummerus, and Allard van Riel, divided consumers into two groups. One group was exposed to a story about a brand and one was not. Followup interviews with members showed considerable difference in how the two groups related to the brand.

According to Lundqizt, “the story used in this study reveals how the firm was established and evolved from a one-man store to a large company. The story is presented in a chronological order, and answers the questions related to who, what, why, where, when and how. The story further introduces the people who through their personalities have contributed to what the firm is today, presenting characters that people can relate to. Although the story does not fulfill the criteria of a compelling story as it does not involve a conflict or a twist, or a protagonist, except for the founder, it nevertheless represents a real firm story.”

“Storytelling,” adds Lundqizt, “generates positive feelings in customers and is perceived as more convincing than facts, thereby increasing brand trust, raising awareness and making the brand unique. The story makes the brand more interesting to talk about and consumers are more likely to become ambassadors of the brand”

Lundqvist also found that brand storytelling is an effective way to communicate brand services and features without coming across as too commercial.

Lundqvist cites Ben & Jerry’s ice cream as example of a company that uses storytelling well to bolster its brand. The homepage of its website describes how the company’s journey “began in 1978” from “a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vermont, to far-off places with names we sometimes mispronounce.”

“Storytelling is an effective way of communicating brand values to consumers,” says Ludqvist, “even if the story falls short of emotional intensity. A story can embrace the core values of a brand in ways that traditional marketing communication cannot….When the company has a good story to tell, however, our study shows that it is worth telling it.”

If that approach works for selling ice cream, just imagine how it can work for social causes.

Journal of Brand Management, February/March 2013

Anna Lundqvist, 358, Helsinki
Johanna Gummerus and Veronica Liljander, Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki
Allard van Riel, University Nijmegen, the Netherlands

Posted: September 5, 2014
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