If you want to build lasting relationships with your customers, you need to help them connect with your business on an emotional level. And what’s more emotionally powerful than a great story? Thinking about your brand in terms of telling a story will help you approach the problem of branding more creatively–and make a deeper impression on consumers.

When building your brand, start with the feelings you want to evoke and work outwards from there. In story, we’d call this a theme: the idea that unites the different plot arcs and explains what your story is about. Story consultant Ron Osborn explained it this way: your theme is “the most irreducible idea under your story. Theme is the story compass that will always determine your true north. It drives your story.”

As a story analyst, I look for strong themes in fiction. Take MAD MEN’s “The Color Blue,” an episode in Season 3 when Don Draper is having an affair with the teacher, Miss Farrell. She tells Don the story of a boy at school asking her, “How do I know you see blue like I see blue?” This conversation highlights the theme of the episode-how people can be divided by their different perspectives. This theme unified the different story arcs in the episode, including Betty’s discovery of documents from Don’s former life.

In drama, a unifying theme makes an episode more powerful. For a brand, a theme shows the consumer the “irreducible idea” under your business concept, helping to forge that emotional connection and leading to stronger sales. If you start with a story, when you do design the other elements of your marketing plan, they’ll all be tied back to this unifying theme, making your brand clear and memorable.

To build a powerful brand identity, think about these three story elements:

1.     Theme: the underlying concept of your business

2.     Tag Line: the memorable slogan that sums your business up

3.     Outcome: how your customer will feel after working with you


The term “elevator pitch” was actually coined in Hollywood. When pitching a script, you’ve got to be clear about what the irreducible idea is, and it’s got to be a strong emotional theme. Remember the film, “Snakes on a Plane”? The title is its own elevator pitch–but the novelty of that idea had already worn off by the time the movie opened, because it lacks emotional depth. A strong theme digs below the surface and connects to real feelings.

Try applying a theme to your business. What’s your big idea? Who is your customer? How do you want them to feel when they connect with you? What’s the emotional thread that will tie together all your interactions with consumers? The best marketing campaigns are built on this kind of foundation. It was the theme of championing individuality in a bland corporate world that made Apple’s famous “1984” ad so memorable–and won the company the loyalty of a generation of creative-minded customers.

Tag Line

A slogan should quickly describe the essence of the experience you want the consumer to have with your business. What’s the end result of working with you going to feel like? Take the Army slogan, “Be All You Can Be.” It sums up the appeal of joining up: it’s a career, it’s an opportunity to test yourself mentally and physically, and it’s a calling to the higher purpose of serving your country. Those words use an emotional theme to create a call to action.

AT&T’s old long-distance slogan, “Reach Out and Touch Someone,” was also built on a clear theme: AT&T will connect you with a loved one who lives far away. It couldn’t be simpler–or more powerful. AdAge named it one of the top 100 campaigns of the 20th century. On the other hand, who remembers that in the early 2000s, their slogan was “Fits you best”? That line just isn’t as powerful, because it doesn’t connect to an emotional story.


The story of your business should have a satisfying outcome. The goal is to make the customer feel fulfilled by the promise of your call to action. Drafting a slogan that defines your theme will lead you to a strong outcome and give your customer a clear sense of the end result of working with you.

Procter & Gamble’s campaign around the 2012 Olympics used all three of these elements to tell a powerful story. The theme of the campaign, gratitude for the hard work moms do, touches a basic emotion. The slogan, “Proud Sponsor of Moms,” sums up this idea memorably–and connects the company with the consumer through that feeling. And the campaign points to an outcome: buying these products will help you in the hard work of raising successful kids.

When you send a clear message to your customer about what you’re offering, you’ll connect with them on a deeper level–and boost your bottom line.

There are many ways storytelling tools can help you make your brand identity more memorable. In my next column, I will cover how to find your voice in your brand.