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The 2024 Cision and PRWeek Global Comms Report

Find out how 400+ PR and comms leaders worldwide are approaching the way they work in today’s media landscape.

The Art of Brand Storytelling in PR

open book with social icons coming out from pages

From ancient oral traditions to the robust online platforms of today, sharing stories is an integral part of human culture and connection. Stories are not merely entertainment – they have the power to change our mood, our mind, and our life. 

That’s why for brands and the PR teams behind them, storytelling is essential to connecting with consumers, establishing brand equity, building brand loyalty – and ultimately elevating the bottom line. Yet many organizations struggle with this critical skill: According to the 2024 Global Comms Report, only 33% of corporate communications leaders rate themselves as “excellent” at articulating a compelling brand narrative. 

Just in time for World Storytelling Day, we’ve gathered expert advice to help you create captivating brand stories that will stand out. 

What is Brand Storytelling and Why Is It Important?

Brand storytelling is the practice of crafting narratives around your company, product, or service to build an emotional connection with your audience, while conveying brand values, purpose, and uniqueness. It goes far beyond touting a new product or specific features to tap into deeper human motivations and aspirations.

The brands thriving today have invested time and resources into articulating their brand story. When done right, storytelling humanizes your brand, builds trust, and forges meaningful connections with your audience. 

And forging those connections through authentic brand storytelling matters more now than ever. Here are just a few reasons why:

  • Limited Attention: We live in an unprecedentedly “noisy” world of information where brands must fight for audience attention. Most Americans are exposed to an overwhelming 4,000-10,000 ads each day. 
  • Growing Skepticism: With the proliferation of misinformation, and growing concerns about privacy and corporate ethics, consumers are increasingly skeptical of brands and their messaging. 
  • Must-Have Relationships: Reseach shows that audiences care far more about the "why" behind brands than "what" they sell. Most consumers (82%) prefer to buy from brands they share values with, a preference most notably prevalent in Gen Z. 
  • Building Social Currency: Compelling stories are the ones that get shared the most, driving earned media and word-of-mouth marketing. Audiences become loyal and enthusiastic brand advocates when the message resonates personally. 

Starting Point - Develop Your Brand Narrative

The terms "brand narrative" and "brand storytelling" are often used interchangeably, but there are subtle differences between the two. 

Brand narrative is the big picture, the overarching story that defines the brand and encapsulates the brand's history, purpose, beliefs, and vision. It sets the foundation for storytelling efforts and serves as a guiding framework for how the brand communicates its identity and connects with its audience.

Brand storytelling is the execution - the specific tactics and techniques used to convey the brand narrative to various audiences. It’s how you bring the brand to life, through engaging and compelling stories that resonate with audiences emotionally and intellectually. Brand storytelling can take many forms, including advertisements, blog posts, social media content, videos, and customer testimonials.

Key steps to developing your brand’s narrative: 

  • Step 1 – Understand what your brand fundamentally stands for and what makes it unique. Identify the values and purpose driving your organization beyond profits.  
  • Step 2 – Examine your products or services offered. What specific problems do they solve for customers and society? How do they enhance lives and add value? 
  • Step 3 – Define your target audiences. Map their demographics, psychographics, needs, values, and pain points through surveys, analytics, and social listening.
  • Step 4 – With the research complete, develop your core brand messaging and themes, highlighting your competitive differentiators and core values. 
  • Step 5 – Socialize this messaging internally to gain feedback and ultimately, consensus. This includes key stakeholders like the executive team, human resources, marketing, sales, legal, and of course your own employees.  
    Note: This early alignment and cross-collaboration is critical to ensure buy-in and consistent messaging across platforms.

Brand Storytelling Examples

Each brand is unique, as are its objectives and the preferences of its audiences. Consider those components carefully to determine which storytelling approach will be most effective for your brand: 

Brand stories highlight the organization’s overall mission, values, and vision. They give the public a glimpse into the history and vision of a brand. This may include the story of its founder, how it overcame an obstacle, or progress toward its core mission. Netflix, built on the foundation of literally getting great stories into our mailboxes, highlights their history over the last 25 years in this video:

Product stories paint a picture of the products or services your brand offers, applied in real life. Approaches may include illustrating how the product or service solves a specific problem, background information on how the product was originally created, a behind-the-scenes view of the production process, or more explanation on how the product adds value and empowers its customers in real, relatable ways. In this example from Warby Parker, we get the details on how their glasses are made:

Customer stories put a human face on your brand’s impact. People want to know whether their peers have had a good experience with a brand – it’s often the driving force behind purchasing decisions. Success stories, user-generated content, and influencer partnerships make abstract claims about your brand much more tangible and credible. Toms, for example, wrapped up 2023 by featuring customer reviews and comments:
 

Social impact stories demonstrate a brand’s values in action. Community service campaigns, sustainability initiatives, and corporate social responsibility efforts show audiences the authentic principles driving an organization, and the positive difference they’re making in society. This simple, but powerful example from Airbnb demonstrates how the brand is making a positive impact to individuals in need:

 


What Makes a Compelling Brand Story?

When it comes to crafting a good story, there’s no shortage of frameworks and inspiration to draw from. Whether you use the 4 P’s, 5 P’s, 3 C’s, or any other storytelling model, the key is making your story as unique as your brand. Our State of the Media Report found 47% of journalists say it makes their lives easier when PR professionals “provide new/interesting story ideas.” And they’re not the only ones looking for something new and interesting. 

While there’s no magic formula that can guarantee a viral storytelling success, there are several tried-and-true elements that can significantly enhance the impact and reach of your narrative: 

Authenticity

Audiences crave genuine, authentic storytelling that speaks to their values and experiences. By staying true to your brand’s identity, you’ll build trust and meaningful credibility with your audience.  

Emotion

Emotions are powerful drivers of engagement and connection. Eliciting powerful emotions - whether humor, outrage, surprise, tension, compassion, or aspiration - can evoke strong audience responses and create lasting impressions. This recent example from Dunkin’ Donuts is both funny and memorable: 


Visual Appeal

Interesting visuals and eye-catching designs amplify the impact and shareability of brand stories. As human beings are inherently visual learners, incorporating visuals helps your story “stick” with audiences. 

Compelling Characters

Whether they're celebrities, customers, company leadership, or employees, compelling characters add depth, relatability, and human interest to your brand narrative. Here’s just one example from Chipotle’s campaign making employees the focus while highlighting their fresh ingredients: 



Consistency

Consistency is essential for building brand recognition and loyalty. Your story should remain consistent across different channels and mediums, ensuring a cohesive brand experience for your audience.

Relevance

Your story should resonate with the audience’s interests, concerns, and aspirations, making them feel personally invested in your message. Identify tie-ins to current events, cultural conversations, and trending topics to inject relevancy. Heinz takes advantage of the considerable attention on artificial intelligence with this clever commercial: 

Activating Your Brand Storytelling Strategy Across Channels

Once you’ve created your brand story, be sure to share internally. Employees are one of the best ambassadors for a brand as they can authentically amplify your messaging and drive word-of-mouth.

Leverage the cross-collaboration and buy-in you’ve built earlier in the process to activate your brand story across channels and platforms. Your audience is on more than one channel, so you should be too. Building your storytelling campaign with the PESO model, there is no shortage of distribution and integration tactics available - media pitches, owned social media, website, email marketing, influencer campaigns, paid advertising, and others. 

Monitor and Measure Your Brand Storytelling 

Finally, it’s time to measure if and how your brand story is making an impact. Whether you are launching a dedicated campaign to tell your brand story or weaving it into another campaign, monitoring and measurement are essential for understanding performance and informing your narrative moving forward. 

To connect your strategy with performance, make sure you’re set up to track sentiment, mentions, conversions, and other business impact metrics before your campaign launches. This is where a robust media monitoring platform like CisionOne can help, enabling you to track the conversations pertaining to your brand across social media, online media, and broadcast channels and understand how your story is resonating. 

Additionally, be sure to have an internal plan for listening and responding to audience feedback and interactions. Brands that focus on these authentic conversations reinforce their credibility and messaging, while further establishing meaningful relationships with the audience.

To discover more about how Cision can enhance your brand storytelling efforts, take a tour of CisionOne today or schedule time to speak with an expert

About Amy O'Connell
About Amy O'Connell

Amy O'Connell is the Global Content and Experience Producer at Cision. She is a skilled marketing and communications professional with over 15 years of experience across various industries.