Storytelling Marketing Case Study

The way a brand tells its story is becoming more important in order to convey a sense of purpose and convince consumers that they are worth their time and money.

Research by brand storytelling agency Aesop, in association with OnePoll, asked more than 2,000 people in the UK to rate brands against criteria including brand personality, memorability, credibility and purpose (see methodology, below).

Apple is rated as the UK’s top storytelling brand, followed by Cadbury and McDonald’s. The poll also reveals that supermarkets are falling in the ranks while the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and charities are climbing.

Marks & Spencer, Kellogg’s, Heinz and Fairy dropped out of the top 10 this year, replaced by brands including Ikea, Virgin Media, YouTube and Macmillan Cancer Support.

Ed Woodcock, head of narrative at Aesop, says: “There are normal laws of brand physics at play here, in that if you are not communicating, you are going to start dropping because you are not salient and top of mind.”

“Some brands stay high in the rankings because of legacy imprints, but that needs to be topped up, and perhaps those brands that have dropped down haven’t been communicating in a way that has been enough to counteract the decay.”

For supermarkets, the constant price wars have had an effect on their storytelling ability, with M&S, Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s all dropping significantly in the ranks.

Woodcock singles out Tesco as having “taken its eye off its sense of purpose”. He says: “We don’t know what the big four are about any more, especially Tesco. We don’t have a sense of its purpose and it’s trying to innovate its way out through test stores and experimenting internally.”

In the political world, UKIP is the only UK political party to make it into the top 20, ranking 11 overall with just under a fifth of respondents identifying the controversial party as a storytelling brand. The Conservative party ranks at 89, the Liberal Democrats at 93 and Labour is ahead at 72.

It seems that the male vote has helped to sway the popularity of UKIP as a storytelling brand. Men rank it alongside Samsung and Guinness in their top 10 brands, while women favour Dove, Macmillan and Facebook.

A positive story to come from the research is that charities in particular are the top performing brand category, suggesting an advantage over commercial brands in terms of storytelling. Macmillan ranks 9 and Oxfam comes lowest at 28.

Alison Sanders, head of brand at Macmillan Cancer Support, says: “We’ve always put real stories at the heart of our communications and increasingly we try to be the platform for people to tell their own story. Thousands of people do so every day face to face, on our online community and through social media and these stories trickle down through all of our communications. On Fathers’ Day we asked people to share three words about their dad with the hashtag #thatsmydad on Twitter and the things people shared ranged from hilarious to utterly heart-breaking.”

Charities do well because they convey their ‘vision and purpose’ successfully, and consumers also rate them as ‘credible’. Almost half of the respondents (43 per cent) identify the Red Cross as a brand with vision and purpose.

As well as charities, the research this year also features social media brands. Woodcock believes that although the brands are platforms for consumers to tell stories, they are still regarded as storytellers in their own right because of the content that is channelled through them.

YouTube ranks 8 and Facebook is 13 while Twitter comes in at 30. However, Instagram (71) and LinkedIn (95) fail to make much impact. “Being a platform for other people’s stories is not a challenge for YouTube; it is an opportunity. We thrive on helping brands tell their own stories and have a team dedicated to working with them,” says Graham Bednash, consumer marketing director, EMEA at Google (see marketers’ response).

There are clear winners in this year’s poll, with Apple and Cadbury holding on to the top two spots because of their coherence and disciplined approach to communications.

Woodcock describes Apple as “very ‘on narrative’”. He says: “Apple is always delighting us and innovating. It might have been innovating less in the past few years but it is ingrained [in people’s minds] from its previous behaviour and discipline.”

Cadbury is “another story of doing”, says Woodcock, as the brand also continually innovates and is disciplined in making the marketing campaigns fit around moments of joy. It recently staged a take over of the UK’s largest digital screen at Waterloo station to implement an augmented reality game where players could interact with virtual objects to win bars of chocolate.

“Storytelling is critical to all parts of the marketing mix, from experiential to TV to in-store. If you take Cadbury Dairy Milk as an example, even our pack designs now tell a story, bringing to life our product in a way that brings a little joy,” says Matthew Williams, marketing director, chocolate at Mondelez International.

Woodcock believes that there are some brands in the rankings that do well just because of “sheer contact”, and highlights confectionery and technology in mobile phones as those categories that are telling stories frequently.

That frequency of contact also explains some of the big movers revealed in the rankings, with Aldi going up 17 places to 20 and EE moving up 36 places to 48.

However, in Visa’s case the brand’s storytelling techniques have not come through strongly in 2014 compared to 2013, dropping 49 places to 79 this year. This could be due to its sponsorship of the 2012 Olympic Games giving it a boost last year, suggests Woodcock.

It could be said that it is ingrained in marketers’ minds to tell brand stories in their marketing messages. It is not a new technique, but the study suggests that because of the increase in platforms it is even more important that brands can communicate a clear narrative.

“Having a narrative approach helps to coordinate and be coherent across different platforms,” says Woodcock. “Storytelling is also important because of the oral effect of social media.

“If you think back to before we had broadcast technology and we told stories at the pub or around the campfire, what social media has done is put that on steroids – the campfire is much bigger and now millions of people sit around it.

“It’s that function of social media and the predominance of it in our lives that makes storytelling more relevant than it was in the broadcast era.”

Marketers’ response

Sonia Carter, Digital & social media lead, Europe, Mondelez International

Great storytelling is at the heart of our digital marketing strategy. We recognise great stories stand out in a crowded media landscape and have built a content platform based on ‘Free the Joy’, which provides a creative place to develop stories.

The Cadbury team is keen to embrace marketing innovation. One of the most exciting is a new approach to content creativity and scale. Our strategy is called ‘storytelling at scale’. Cutting through to millions of people means every tweet, post and video has to be well crafted creatively and deliver the right brand message.

We work through what’s important to our audience and what the brand needs to communicate to meet its objectives and develop stories around that sweet spot.

Video: Watch Sonia discuss viral content as this year’s Marketing Week Live

Graham Bednash, Consumer markeing director, EMEA, Google

With all the digital platforms now available, the opportunities for great storytelling have never been greater. They are more immersive and offer more ways for two-way dialogue. A key part of YouTube’s reputation for brand storytelling is the importance of the YouTube creators. With millions of fans who demand entertaining, engaging content, 24/7, they have to be amazing storytellers.

There is no magic bullet in engaging with audiences. It’s about ensuring the brand has deep insights into its audience and what makes them tick and then creating ideas and content that captures their imagination and interest. We’re at an exciting time where the opportunity to experiment has never been greater.


Brand storytelling agency Aesop surveyed 2,015 adults representative of the UK population using an online study managed by OnePoll. The poll included 105 brands identified by media spend. Social media brands and charities were an addition to the study, which was also completed in 2013.

The respondents were asked to rate the brands against storytelling elements, looking at their character, personality, sense of purpose and memorability among other characteristics.

Storytelling is an age-old medium for transferring knowledge. Most stories we heard when we were young were passed down from our parents’ parents and from one generation to the next.  Storytelling is a powerful communication tool that has been used to impart valuable life lessons.

Children’s stories were made popular to help parents teach children good acts and deeds. Novel stories were written to inspire, encourage and entertain readers. There are different kinds of books and reading materials sold globally that have had quite a great impact on how we live today. The Bible itself is made up of stories that teach practical Christian values.

The heroes in these narratives came to life because of the great stories that were told. There are stories we can personally relate to; some of them incite cultural change; others, political upheavals; and some create socio-cultural awareness.

I am a Political Science major. During my time in college, I read a lot of political books. My personal favorite is Lee Kwan Yew’s “The Singapore Story” and “From Third World to First.” I fell in love with these books for one simple reason: They recounted how a small nation completely revamped its economy–in three decades.

Another gripping story that made waves, both in its print version and on screen, was John Grisham’s “A Time to Kill.” In this novel, a father is shot in cold blood by his daughters’ attackers and, in a twist of fate, he asks the defense lawyer to defend him. This is a book that challenges cultural norms and highlights social injustice and economic inequality. It was such a powerful book that it was turned into a film.

Stories move. One objective of storytelling is to persuade readers. We’ve all heard of David and Goliath, Noah’s Ark, Mahabharata, The Odyssey. and more popular fables and Shakespearean plays that discussed emotions and moral values.

Today, storytelling is taking the digital marketing world by storm. Putting traditional advertising to rest, brands are telling their own stories.

The Age of Storytelling

Today, storytelling is a selling device that brands are using to affect how consumers and producers interact with each other. Storytelling was made popular by crowdfunding platforms like Kick Starter.  This particular platform allows talented and deserving individuals to tell their story online and appeal to readers so that they donate to their cause, project or venture. Behind every campaign is a heart-melting story of adversity and the determination to build a better future or to simply increase awareness of specific issues.

One popular project is Dying Words: The AIDS reporting of Jeff Schmalz, which is a documentary on the AIDS epidemic created by a journalist dying of the disease.  The project campaign goal is to raise $20, 000. With 19 more days to go, it has already raised more than $24,000. This can be compared to the not-so-successful book publication funding campaign 25 Years of Tomorrow, which aims to produce a compilation of all the cartoons he created in the last 25 years of his career.

We have two different stories: One shares the experience of a life-altering ailment, its socio-cultural implications and how it has changed journalism. The second campaign celebrates the hard work of a man who dedicated his life to creating cartoons for political satire.

These are examples of how readers appreciate the value of one’s hard work, struggle, pain and happiness.

Storytelling in Marketing

Marketers are exploiting the potential of storytelling in spearheading brand awareness campaigns. Today, storytelling has become a content marketing trend adopted by both B2B and B2C marketers to engage prospective consumers and build a strong relationship with them.

The flexibility of storytelling makes it an indispensable marketing tool for businesses of all sizes since there are various ways to tell a story. Writers can blog about a particular brand story; visual brands can use Instagram, Pinterest or Tumblr to tell stories that appeal to their consumers; companies can create webinars and videos about brands, products and services, which are very effective.

Take this infomercial from Lifebuoy: LifeBouy Helped A Child Reach 5. The company could have simply sold its product, but instead, it showed how it can change someone’s life. It appeals to the weakness of the consumer while highlighting the benefits of the product to create a compelling story of a child who limits his chances of contracting diarrhea–a life threatening disease in India–by being shown how to wash his hands properly. This infomercial allowed Lifebuoy to stand out from its competitors.

Storytelling as a Marketing Strategy

Storytelling is the new mode of advertising brand campaigns. This is one powerful form of visual content marketing that every marketer should learn how to leverage online. The evolution of digital content is so inspiring and innovative. Product commercials today are no longer about product features, but more about the consumer experience.

Storytelling is a content marketing strategy that any brand, company, product or service can greatly benefit from. People remember stories. If you put a story capable of evoking emotions in your viewers, they will never forget the experience.

Storytelling Evokes Human Emotions

Emotional connections are hard to come by when you are pushing for your product or service to be patronized. Logic and numbers get in the way when you are vying for the emotional advocacy of patrons.

People relate to stories. They oftentimes see a reflection of their own struggles in the stories you share. They reminisce and relive the fun memories that are brought back to life by your story.

Stories bridge the gap between the consumer and the producer. But remember to be real. The human element in your story is what makes it worthwhile for your audience. Audiences love superheroes, but they also want to see their frailty and the vulnerability that leads them to unwise choices.

Create stories that are easy to relate to, expose human weakness and encourage strength. Notice how videos and stories of random acts of kindness are flooding social media platforms. One particular page on Facebook, Suspended Coffees, represents a cause that encourages to pay it forward and engage in random acts of kindness by simply buying coffee for other people. What adds value to this page is that it shares stories of individuals from around the world who engage in random acts of kindness toward strangers. It’s gaining a lot of supporters and followers. Today, more and more news companies and websites are sharing stories to increase awareness of certain causes and movements.

What Makes Storytelling a Great Marketing tool

The purpose of storytelling as a marketing tool is to build a strong relationship between a business and a consumer. Storytelling in marketing is adding a twist to your infomercial by telling a story that will best describe why your product or brand is valuable the consumer.

An example of a great brand story is the Lego Movie. In this movie, the producers and creators skillfully placed in one visual medium its advertising, content marketing and storytelling strategy. Growing up, I had my own Lego set, and I would oftentimes create my empire. Lego is a fun, creative toy that teaches children to be imaginative.

In a successful attempt to showcase what Lego can offer young children, it created a movie that depicted how bliss and adventure were found in Lego Land. This is a movie that will be watched over and over again by young children. Their parents are also appeased in the process because their children learn a lot from the movie and are challenged to improve their block creations. The Lego Movie sends a positive message, which parents love and appreciate.

In our next blog, learn everything there is to know about brand storytelling.

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About the Author

Mydee is a content strategist at Visme’s Visual Learning Center. After years of writing for various companies to promote brands and products, her passion for content and love for offering valuable information landed her at Visme to help individuals and businesses make informed decisions and improve their communication and presentation skills.

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