Why branding and HR should team up to tell stories about your brand

Stories are an integral part of our life; it’s one of the oldest mediums of sharing information, forming connections or storing memories. What story is your brand telling?

Have you ever heard the story of David and Goliath, where the young protagonist David managed to beat the giant, Goliath? How about the story of the Trojan Horse where the crafty Greek soldiers were able to defeat the city of Troy by hiding inside a giant wooden horse? And what about the story of the ancient, but advanced, civilization of Atlantis that was destroyed by a flood and disappeared forever under the waves? Or Aesop’s fable of the race between the hare and the tortoise where the arrogant hare fell asleep after taking an early lead, allowing the tortoise to win the race?

Chances are that the answer to each of the above questions is “yes”. You may not remember every single detail of each story, but it’s more than likely that you remember the general gist of each tale.

Humans have been telling stories since the dawn of civilization, and many of these stories have survived for thousands of years. Even before there was writing, storytelling existed in many forms, including poems, dance, rhymes, songs, fables and drawings. Throughout history, humans have used storytelling for informational, educational and entertainment purposes, with fables and parables especially being used to embed important lessons, morals and values that could be passed down from generation to generation.

According to Christine Hennebury, “Storytelling is a fundamental part of being human. Stories let us share information in a way that creates an emotional connection. They help us to understand that information and each other, and it makes the information memorable. Because stories create an emotional connection, we can gain a deeper understanding of other people’s experiences.”

Author, Scott Van Voorhis, in an article published by Harvard Business School notes that “People are more likely to recall information over a longer period when it’s wrapped in an anecdote as opposed to statistics.” And other research suggests that stories can be 200% more persuasive at getting people to take action than facts alone. No wonder that some of the world’s most popular and respected brands are also great storytellers. These brands tell (and retell) compelling brand stories that make their organizations, and their products and services more memorable. These brand stories are especially effective at getting consumers to have a positive opinion of the brand when they reinforce the brand’s desired market positioning and when told consistently. In addition to attracting customers to the brand, great brand storytelling also does wonders for the organization’s employer brand by acting as a magnet that attracts their industry’s “best and brightest” to want to work with the organization and that acts as a source of inspiration for current team members.

Here are a few examples of companies that do a great job of storytelling.

  • tells brand stories that encourage environmental activism – to the point where they encourage shoppers not to buy their products, and instead have any damaged Patagonia products (sometimes for free) by the company.
  • shares success stories from hosts around the world so that other potential hosts can be inspired and learn from their experiences.
  • Volvo, a vehicle brand known mostly for its track record of safety, reinforces its brand positioning by sharing customer stories of how its (such as the introduction of the three-point seat belt) has saved over a million lives and how its upcoming safety features will save even more lives.
  • Dove’s storytelling revolves around the concept of real beauty and body positivity. Dove’s social experiment/campaign does a remarkably good job of storytelling and driving home the point that other people tend to view women as being more attractive than the women, themselves, think that they are.
  • Ritz Carlton tells stories about exceptional customer service of .
  • Zappos also tells “wow” stories” of remarkable service, like the as well as stories about Zappos employees . 

The mistake that many organizations make is that they focus their storytelling on stakeholders outside of the organization – particularly customers whom they want to buy their products and services, while seemingly ignoring internal brand storytelling opportunities. This is a huge mistake! The last thing you want is for your employees and team members to feel like second-class citizens in their own organizations or feel left out of your organization’s storytelling efforts. 

As Airbnb’s former Global Head of Employee Experience Mark Levy notes when talking about the importance of internal communications: “Our rule of thumb is that nobody should hear about anything externally, until we’ve told them internally.” Now, that’s what putting employees first looks like, which is especially important since employees and team members can be some of the best brand ambassadors that a business can ever wish for – once they are engaged and excited about helping their organization achieve its branding and business goals. As Stan Slap author of the book Under The Hood says, “You can’t sell it outside if you can’t sell it inside”.

Your team members need to be fully aware of the awesome stories about your brand that you want to tell consumers before you tell those stories to consumers! And this isn’t just for the purpose of being courteous to your employees. When employees hear these amazing stories of teamwork, remarkable team member experiences and exceptional customer experience, they are more likely to be inspired by these stories, become more engaged and become powerful brand ambassadors and storytellers themselves by retelling these stories about the amazing culture of the company they work for.

And here is where marketing and HR make the perfect storytelling dynamic duo – for both internal (team member) and external (consumer) consumption. One of the responsibilities of modern HR professionals is ensuring two-way internal communication with team members – not just communicating policies, memos and other important information from the leadership team to employees, but also ensuring that the employee voice is heard by the leadership team.

Progressive HR professionals are in the perfect position to gather inspiring stories of team members living the company’s purpose, mission, vision and core values, employee teamwork and cooperation, about customers who have received exceptional service from team members, insightful employee ideas for innovation, useful customer feedback about products and services, and just about any other stories that help the organization to build a stronger brand and a stronger business.

As speaker, author and strategist Michelle M. Smith, named as one of the Ten Best and Brightest Women in the incentive industry, advises:

“…Marketers’ ongoing quest for authentic and compelling brand stories can be supplemented by human resources. Partner with HR to not only tell the brand story through them, but also to discover new stories about why people come to work at the company, what matters to them, and how their own stories mesh with the brand story. This provides marketers insight into how their efforts make a difference in helping to recruit the right people.”

And in an article entitled “Why Your Brand Storytelling Must Start With Human Resources”, author Carla Johnson notes:

“…one of the expanding areas of responsibility is human resources (HR) and internal marketing. But many companies fall short on doing a good job of communicatingwith their own employees, let alone extending their brand storytelling to those they hope to recruit. If our primary goal is to own content niches, online and off, then we have to enable employees to help tell our brand story. It’s true, customers have relationships with people, not brands. Thus, content marketing has a tremendous opportunity to ensure that customer-facing staff members understand what makes their company unique.”

Of course, the larger the organization is, the more complex it becomes to gather these stories from across the many crevices in which they may be hiding. That’s why you must be purposeful about setting up structures that allow, encourage and empower your team members to articulate and document their stories and run them up the ladder, first to HR, then on to the marketing team.

There are many options that the storytelling team can consider for gathering these stories. These include encouraging team members to share these stories in department meetings and group huddles, setting up a dedicated email where team members can send their stories, allowing them to use messaging apps such Slack and WhatsApp to send text messages or voice notes detailing these experiences and, if you have the budget, incorporating the use of technology solutions such as 15Five , Workhuman and CultureAmp to recognize their colleagues for jobs well done and to facilitate conversations between their peers and managers.

The bottom line is that brand storytelling can be a powerful and cost-effective way for you to build a stronger brand and a stronger business – but only when done well. And that means pairing your branding and HR teams to work more closely together to gather authentic and relevant stories and disseminate those stories through appropriate channels, first to your team members as an engagement tool, then to customers and other stakeholders as a sales tool.

We’ve come to the end of this story on brand storytelling, but hopefully, it will inspire you to begin your own brand storytelling journey. Happy storytelling!

If you’re struggling with developing a strong brand storytelling program for your business and need some support in the form of workshops, consulting or executive coaching, free to reach out to me using the Contact form on this website. Looking forward to hearing from you!

By Ron Johnson

Author | Speaker | Storyteller (Co-founder, Blueprint Creative)
Click here to book me for executive coaching or for speaking engagements such as conferences, workshops or strategic retreats.