a case for storytelling

We use storytelling in branding to communicate the emotion behind the company.


I am about three episodes short of wrapping up the first season of the FX true crime series, The People v. O.J. Simpson. I already know how it ends, which makes where I’m at very painful to watch, but the one silver lining is it makes a pretty compelling case for story telling-a topic we can’t seem to stop talking about lately.

You know the story, the prosecution compiled an unsurmountable amount of DNA evidence against Simpson, including blood traces to and from the murder scene, a glove that was found nearby that allegedly belonged to Simpson, and more, if you can believe it, but the evidence didn’t win a unanimous vote from the jury. OJ Simpson was set free in a case that seemed like a slam dunk.

Episode five of the series begins with opening statements from the prosecution and the defense. Marcia Clark, the head prosecutor led with a presentation of the “mountain of physical evidence” guaranteed to convict OJ. How could the jury deny the facts? Straightforward and easily understood. Then Johnnie Cochran’s takes a turn to present what we assume will be undeniable evidence of his innocence. But instead what he presents is a story about Injustice and the imbalanced racist system of law in our country. The indictment seemed to move from O.J. Simpson to the LAPD. And the jury bought it.

We use storytelling in branding to communicate the emotion behind the company. A brand’s culture, it’s role in the community, and why it exists all help the intended audience form a bond or feeling towards the brand. Almost equally important in the current state of political discourse, activism will also tell a story and create a feeling. Geoff Cook, a partner at Base Design says “As a reflection of the changing political tides, many brands will evolve from ‘mission-driven’ to activist’.” A company’s brand story that encapsulates all of the above won’t resonate with everyone, but it will resonate with consumers that share a similar world view. And it’s up to that brand to then tell that story in a compelling way, that gets the intended audience to believe in them, or believe them.

“We’re here to tell a story”, Johnnie Cochran says to his defense team. “Our job is to tell our story better than the other side tells theirs.” It’s not an easy task, telling a story that compels a group of people to change their perception, but when it’s done well, it works. For both brands and the accused.

Picture of Alysha Smith
Alysha Smith is the chief executive officer and creative director at modern8, a strategy focused design agency in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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