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How Brands Are Getting Personal Through Storytelling

by Dave Carter on September 4th, 2012
Strategic Branding

These days, smart advertisers are tying their brands into their customers’ personal stories.  Or, more accurately, they’re helping their customer connect more deeply to his or her own personal story through the brand’s story.


Brands like Patagonia, Southwest Airlines and Apple have earned the trust of their target audience in a natural, organic way.  Their customers don’t perceive “the story” they’re being told as marketing, but rather as a welcome outreach – like getting a thoughtful card from a good friend.   So, if your advertising message doesn’t seem to be motivating your target, chances are your brand story isn’t jiving with your customer’s personal story.

Research shows brands that have achieved an uncommon level of success do these things:


  1. Know who their advocates are and what motivates them. That is, they have deep insight into their most passionate customers.
  2. Stand for something important to these customers.
  3. Embrace values that are important to their customers. That is, they and their customers share a common set of values.
  4. Hire, manage and empower employees based on these values.
  5. Consistently live these values each and every day.
  6. Serve as self-expressive vehicles for their customers.  That is, the brands become “badges” of customer attitudes, interests and values.
  7. Strive to create an outstanding customer experience.
  8. Innovate.
  9. Care about aesthetics.
  10. Co-create their offerings with customers.


Marketers should spend less energy on trying to impose their brand story onto the customer’s personal story and more time getting to know the customer  – his or her personal story narratives – and then finding the best way to authentically fit their brand into that story.

When has a brand connected with a customer’s personal story?


- When brand and audience share a common purpose. The fundamental reason the brand exists (beyond exchanging money) is the same for the audience.

- When the audience cares deeply about the brand’s most compelling differentiator.

- When the brand shares personality attributes with the target audience.


Enduring brands have personalities that fit perfectly into the customer’s personal narrative.  And the brands that have achieved this kind of connection tend to spend significantly less on advertising. In fact, a study of brands that share uncommonly strong bonds with their customers reveals that most have done so with little reliance on mass advertising.  Brands like Zappos, Starbucks (at the beginning), Facebook, Disney, Wegman’s, Virgin America, Harley Davidson, Patagonia, IKEA, Louis Vuitton, Dom Perignon, Method, Fox News, Amazon and of course Apple have all mastered this principle. These brands are based on shared beliefs with their customers.


Brands that have an extremely loyal customer base owe much of their success to customer word-of-mouth. Least we forget, word-of-mouth is nothing more than a form of storytelling. All of us share our personal stories daily with each other. We incorporate the stories of brands into our own stories, but only when those stories are worth telling.



Dave Carter

About Dave Carter

My name is Dave Carter. I am the President/Creative Director at Sheehy+Associates. After over 25 years in the advertising industry, there isn’t much I haven’t seen or done with regard to advertising within most any business segment on a local, regional or national level. I relish the unique opportunities that accompany every client with which we partner. In my free time, you can usually find me outdoors, backpacking and/or mountaineering. I also coach high school track and cross country at St. Xavier High School.

One Comment
  1. Some good points you have here. These information are very useful.

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