Stories we should be telling

This weekend has been one of archetypal stories.

On Friday, we saw the beautiful girl marry the prince, in a fairytale wedding complete with horse and carriage. Broadcasters couldn’t help but talk about Diana’s wedding to Prince Charles, positioning this marriage as the next chapter in that story. A joyful rebirth of Britain’s relationship with the monarchy, after a decade of tragedy and troubled waters.

Then early this morning, the most powerful politician in the world announced the defeat and death of the most wanted man in America. Obama was clearly choosing his words carefully, sensitive to avoid the warmongering bravado of his predecessor. “Justice has been done”, he said. Words that could have been the closing lines of a film. In his speech he referred to “the story of our history” in pursuit of prosperity, equality and the American way, with a not so subtle warning that this cause wasn’t over yet. This was a triumphal episode, but not the final show.

It’s in our nature, to seek out and create stories. We hunt out narrative and frame individual events as part of a wider chain of events, whether or not they really are. Society has always used stories to teach and influence. That’s one reason why so many different religions,  continue to wield so much cultural sway, through the passing down of vivid stories which can be easily digested and retold. It’s why our histories and literature survived through an era with no formal writing. Our ancestors gave meaning to the natural world using mythology and legend, long before science could offer a different lens.

Stories are a fundamental part of how we see the world. So why is it that so many brands don’t tell theirs?

We often present brands as if they are a constant object, have always stood for the same thing. Because it seems disingenuous to be changeable, or to admit to an evolution. So the backstory of the brand, is abolished to a dark unknown history. Alongside old campaign ideas and failed taglines, which disappear from all record once deemed irrelevant. We sometimes act as if we’re ashamed of the reality of the organisation behind the brand, preferring to invent a neater fictitious version. Shying away from finding the interesting truth of the business we are promoting.

Tom Morton talks about “brand biographies” as a much more useful way of looking at brands. Arbitrary lists of brand values, brand onions and brand pyramids, get continually tweaked as marketing staff turns over. In contrast, biographies and past patterns of behaviour, are real.

I believe that every brand has a fascinating journey they have travelled and each company has an organisational culture with something to admire.

These are the most authentic things about any brand. And these are the stories we should be telling.

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