Brand Storytelling… “A brand is a story that is always being told.” –Scott Bedbury

Brand Story

Earlier this week, I attended the U.S. Navy’s 2015 Public Affairs Symposium in Leesburg, VA at the National Conference Center. I am a Navy Public Affairs Officer currently serving on USS America (LHA 6) homeported in San Diego, CA. This symposium provided an opportunity for Navy Public Affairs Professionals (military and civilian) from all over the globe to come together and discuss ways to better market and communicate the U.S. Navy mission. Unfortunately, many of us in the Navy get consumed by the “Navy bubble” and forget that there is another market in the “real world” to communicate to. Luckily, we had a handful of very inspirational and powerful speakers present refreshing concepts on how to potentially rejuvenate the Navy brand through effective storytelling.

One of our speakers was Ira Glass from NPR’s “This American Life.” He spoke to us about the power of audio storytelling and how stories need to be about people, not events. By telling stories that make listeners feel something, and that help them relate to a specific person, we can better connect and resonate a universal idea. Another noteworthy presenter was Professor Bruce Strong of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University. Bruce stressed that effective storytelling begins with a compelling plot that eventually leads to the transformation of a person (a.k.a. the protagonist). All transformation comprises of an emotional core, which, in turn, produces an unalterable emotional connection with the audience.

The last speaker I want to highlight is Kori Schulman, who is the Director of Online Engagement for the Office of Digital Strategy at the White House. During her presentation, she expounded on the meaning behind the White House’s communication focus, Connect People with Purpose. By developing a strong and diverse digital communication plan, Kori and her team have been able to encourage the American public to participate in the President’s request to take action on issues. The Digital Strategy Office has also designed social media platforms that help the public relate to significant moments in our nation’s history and that inspire dialogue.

All in all, what I am growing to understand more and more is that communication is about PEOPLE and ENGAGING STORIES; STORIES ABOUT PEOPLE; PEOPLE TELLING STORIES. From National Public Radio to the White House, communication experts are focusing on individual stories, enriched with personality, to express ideas and incite movement (Gunelius, 2013). Stories need to be associated with the branding of a product because effective storytelling helps consumers relate to a brand on a very visceral level. For example, Nike does a tremendous job telling stories of how their brand is complimenting and transforming the lives of their consumers (Burleson, 2015). Apple is another brand that has inserted itself into our everyday lives because it seems as though our personal stories cannot be told without Apple products (Burleson, 2015). The relationship built through storytelling is unbreakable and what makes brands successful.


Burleson, J. (2015, January 9). 3 Perfect Examples of Brand Storytelling. Randall & Reilly. Retrieved August 8, 2015, from

Gunelius, S. (2013, May 2). 5 Secrets to Use Storytelling for Brand Marketing Success. Forbes. Retrieved August 8, 2015, from

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7 Responses to Brand Storytelling… “A brand is a story that is always being told.” –Scott Bedbury

  1. Lori says:

    Dawn – Thank you for sharing your experience. While learning about storytelling in our course and reading your post, I agree that a great story (authentic and compelling) makes a brand stronger. Stories have a way of connecting customers to a brand in a bigger way.

    I am reminded of Bill Clinton, a brand himself with his political and personal successes, who weaves stories of real American people into his rhetoric. Like him or not, he has a way of telling stories while making a point. You are so right, super brands like Nike, Dove and Apple have paved the way for brand storytelling. Other companies need to take note and create their own brand story for the sake of their brand’s success.

  2. Lauren says:


    I agree, storytelling is about connecting to the audience in an emotional way and having them feel a bond with the product. In 510 we talked about narrative, or storytelling, and how it can be a powerful persuasive tool if the audience can engage with it. Telling a history about a brand before trying to sell it could make us feel like we “know” what they are and maybe experience sympathy or compassion for it. Just like humans, once we get to know the person and what they’ve been through we may change our minds about how we first saw them. After all, branding is about setting yourself apart from the other products and “sticking” in people’s minds. Why not let people get to know what your brand is about and why they should care?

  3. Alicia says:

    Hi Dawn:
    What a great opportunity …thank you for sharing what you have learned at the conference with us. You bring up some very important points about branding. I agree that we all make connections on a personal level and they influence our behavior. I have my favorite brands because they have proven themselves to me based on reliability, quality, attractiveness, familiarity or some other attribute I find important. If you think about it this is how we make connections with people as well. The only issue I have with brands and their stories is whether the story is enough. For example, I love the Subaru commercial where a man shares his life experiences with his dog starting from a puppy. I connect so much with that story because I feel the same way about my dogs and feel emotional. However, when we recently had to buy another “dog-mobile” for our big guys because our older SUV served its purpose-a Subaru did not even come to mind. It makes me wonder if there is something more when it comes to stories and product brands?

  4. Jessica says:

    Hi Dawn,

    Thank you for sharing your experience of learning from professionals in Public Affairs and explaining how this information can be related to marketing. I also believe that the skills of storytelling and creating emotional connection are vital in branding and in marketing communications in general. Those are exactly the principles we learned throughout this course. The idea(s) should be story-based to “stick” to the minds and hearts of the audience (Heath & Heath, 2008). The story should be made personal and engage emotional response (Cougher, 2012). I agree that storytelling is important to create the right associations with the brand, and as you noticed, it has been practically applied by widely known and the most successful brands on the globe.

    Cougher, P. (2012). The Art of the Pitch. Macmillan.
    Heath C., Heath D. (2008). Made to Stick. Random House.

    -Jessica Q. Yang

  5. Jason Williams says:

    I completely agree with what you are saying Dawn. For individuals to share their story, no matter what it is, can bring a reality to the script. Also, many times, individual stories can bring about emotional connections that you otherwise do not have. As we have learned throughout this program, these emotional connections with an audience can be critical. You are right, who would think that Nike, as a shoe and apparel company could pull at peoples emotional responses, or Apple… but they do. I am somewhat of a Nike loyalist, could not tell you why, but I just gravitate towards their products. They have gotten to me several years ago and I have predominantly purchased their products over the years.

  6. Errol says:


    I really enjoyed reading your post and it is so relevant within the communication style of the current generation. With everyone going digital and scrolling for key information so fast, it is hard to capture the attention of the regular digital-aged consumer. Effective storytelling is necessary to engage with an audience and bring them into the story, tell them how they are apart of it or create the scene that they are apart of it, and resonate some type of emotional appeal.

    Many politicians and other public speakers study brand storytelling or storytelling in general because that is how they gain recognition and public support over their mission. I think we have all been in some type of speech or seminar where we zone out and have no desire to sit through a lecture (bad storytelling). Brands need to capture an audience within the first five minutes of a pitch or lecture in order to create awareness and perhaps a loyal customer.

  7. Hector says:


    I 100% agree that storytelling is vital in the world of advertising — that’s how people make meaning and relationships with the products they purchase. For me, great storytelling can make the difference between purchasing a product and going with a competitors product instead.

    Ira Glass from NPR is such a great speaker and NPR is such a great example of what great storytelling looks like in the form of podcast — look at This American Life or Serial. Before Serial aired, I never listened to podcast; and since it’s launch it shifted the way people think about how engaging podcast can be — when executed right.

    Great post!