Book Reviews: Storybranding by Jim Signorelli–Using Storytelling Techniques to Promote and Develop Brands
By: Deidre Woollard | Posted on November 17, 2011
Ad man Jim Signorelli believes in the power of a tale well told. Today’s technology makes it easier for stories to be told in a variety of ways but sometimes the message can get lost amid the media. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogging are just some of the ways to get a story out to the world but the story itself needs to be powerful and simple enough to gain its space on an increasingly cluttered stage. Signorelli brings story back to its essence, defining it as a narrative in which a character dealing with an obstacle achieves an important goal. For brands, story represents a compelling way to deliver a brand’s truth. The best brand stories, Signorelli shows, are truths the consumer already understands and identifies with. The goal is to create enduring brand associations that lead to a life-long loyalty which is expressed through the repeated purchase of products over time.
Finding the back story
Storybranding it seems is part inspiration and part excavation, a process of figuring out what the back story is before constructing a new narrative. It’s akin to the writing exercises that some novelists perform, creating detailed character studies and past narratives that never make it to the printed page. As a novelist seeks the core of the story, the central idea which is easily expressed, the storybrander seeks to find the single value that is most true in a company or organization. Signorelli takes the reader through the process of identifying the brand’s archetype and then aligning the brand’s core message with its outward expression. Signorelli also applies this approach to the prospect, the idea is to create a target consumer and then make sure that the alignment between company and customer exists on a deep level. Part of the way he does this is through the use of archetypes, powerful, universal patterns that speak to people on a deep level.
Getting beyond the product
Part of the process is about figuring out ways to increase identification between the brand and the prospect. The goal is what is termed as Level IV identification, a state in which the prospect is so identified with the brand that the product features almost become incidental on the road to purchase. This seems to be the desired state for most luxury brands, purchasing is almost automated at this point, the desire for the brand itself is so deeply rooted in the customer’s mind and heart. Luxury brands have been keenly aware of this for years and have used their traditions and stories of craftsmanship, service and attention to detail to help the contribute to the overall belief that the customer needs to be associated with the particular brand. In fact many of the top brands such as Hermes, Louis Vuitton and Cartier have carefully curated backstories and and a keen sense of what their customers want both from the products and from the feeling of being associated with the brand.
The book is easy to navigate with short chapters and end-of-chapter reviews, and could easily serve as a guidebook for a team seeking to hone the focus of a new brand or reinvigorate an existing one. What’s nice about Signorelli’s approach is that he gets to the heart of the matter, eschewing laundry lists of benefits and features and instead helping distill a brand to its true core and crafting that core so that it resonates powerfully with consumers.
Book Review by Ramu Nakliba
Have you ever noticed that when you start to read a narrative, you want to keep on reading till you know the ending and outcome of the conflict or the interaction between people or between a person and an animal or between a person and nature?
But if you are reading a non-narrative piece of text, such as on ideas or events, you are not as interested to read further, or keep the book down and continue reading later?
This is the force that story-telling has over us. And this is the very force that advertisers utilize in capturing our attention and holding on to it to get their messages across to us.
Jim Signorelli discovered that in order to be different from other ad agency people, he had to find something that made clients perceive him and his advertising creativity in a new, unique way.
He discovered that difference one day going about his activities in the typical life of an ad man, in the power of story-telling. He says: ‘stories have been and still are, one of the most persuasive tools in the arsenal of human communications. Stories clothe truths by not getting in the way of truth. They get around our natural resistance to being sold to, by not pushing beliefs.’
In other words, story-telling helps us make a point by giving a real-life example. The audience responds more favorably to the message of the story when story-teller is relaying a third-party experience, rather than listening to a shopping list of features and benefits of the product or service being talked about.
‘StoryBranding is a process designed to help brands know themselves the ways stories help us know characters,’ Jim writes.
Jim cites an example of an advertising proposal he was going to deliver to a banking client that turned out to be ingenious. It was written from the point of view of banking customer who was angered and frustrated with how much time and effort it took him to get simple banking transactions done.
It went like this. A bank’s customer sending a message to his bank: ‘Make banking simpler. Stay open late once in a while, or, at the very least, don’t close at the same time I leave work. Don’t charge me for using your ATM. After all you never used to charge me for using a teller. Send me statements I can read without having an MBA in finance. Don’t take up my time keeping me on hold and forcing me to listen to one of your commercials.
Don’t you wish you could tell that to your phone company and they would listen and make the changes to make your experience pleasant? Instead you keep hearing: ‘this call may be recorded for quality-assurance purposes.’ But the quality keeps remaining lousy.
The book details what storybranding is, the structure and components of an effective story, how to bring it to life and the unique value proposition or USP the story relates to buyers of the product or idea being advertised.
It is a well thought-out book and creatively different from others works on advertising. Our kudos to Jim Signorelli for a piece of work that will surely benefit ad people and advertisers make their messages come to life and more effective.
If you’re pressed for time in this 140 character attention based economy, and looking for the short story review, I offer you this.
Storytelling is surely one of the top buzzwords in the business and personal lexicon today. There are many good books on story and storytelling and just as many on branding. (I haven’t read them all but I’m working on it.) StoryBranding is the only one I’ve read that breaks down the elements of story and relates them in way that will give you a thorough understanding of how to use them in your business or personal branding efforts. By the time you finish the book you’ll have a real understanding of how to use story to make the jump from product and featuritis to a genuine connection with your customers that will go beyond any tricks that your competitors can use to try and lure them away.
If you’ve been bitten by the storytelling bug but not quite sure what to do or how to proceed, this is the book for you. The chapter on Using Archetypical Analysis is worth the price of admission no matter what your level of story understanding and it will lead you to know both your business and your customers in ways that will benefit you both.
Now for the long form version of the review.
When I was hanging up my C-Suite spikes and reuniting with an interest in the world of narrative and story that had been piqued in the late 60s and early 70s while I was in college, I searched and consumed everything I could find that related to those interests. Just over a year into that search I came across Jim Signorelli. At the time he was close to putting the finishing touches on a book called StorySelling. He had published the first five chapters to the web and when I read them I knew this was a guy who could bridge the left and right brain realms of story and business. He’d been around the block so to speak with agency, advertising, marketing and sales experience. And he had some very big name clients to boot.
In February of 2010 the American Marketing Association, in conjunction with his agency, ESW Partners, announced a webcast that would feature Jim talking about StorySelling. I was excited. Unfortunately, that webcast was fraught with technical difficulties that led Jim to throw in the towel after 17 minutes. So much for excitement.
The webcast was rescheduled two weeks later though and it was everything I had hoped it would be and then some. I sent Jim an email thanking him and complimenting him on his presentation and ideas. We compared notes on books we’d read on story and narrative and agreed that the poor house was only a short step away if we continued to fuel our habit. I lamented that while I knew his book would be good, and I would be buying it, I would be one step closer to the poor house than he would. He bailed me out by offering a free copy when it was published. And then the guy just disappeared. Fell of the face of the earth. I sent a few emails that went unanswered. Threw a few tweets his way. Nada. And then, in October, out of nowhere, I saw a tweet referencing Jim and his forthcoming book, StoryBranding.
I sent an email and this time got an immediate reply, along with an offer for an advance reader copy. Sign me up and put me in coach.
I read it over the next few days. It’s a book that you could easily read in a day if you were so inclined. It’s also a book that you’ll want to read more than once if you’re really serious about long-term sales for your company or yourself.
What follows is based on the advance reader copy. I haven’t seen the finished version yet so some things I reference by page or chapter may be off a bit but I can’t imagine it will be by much.
The book is 22 and one half chapters long. What in the hell is a half chapter you’re asking? And the guy has the chutzpah to take our money for that? That half chapter is what starts the book off and it’s a great read. It’s what might be an introduction in other books but come on now, stories don’t have introductions do they? Prologues perhaps.
It’s in the .5 chapter that I came to realize what probably happened to Jim when he fell of the face of the earth. He went down the story rabbit hole and came out on the other side all the better for it. He takes us through his journey into story using his own company and the lessons they learned. And his motive for writing StoryBranding? “…to find a more powerful and creative way to define and sell a brand’s unique value.”
Towards the end of that .5 chapter he offers us this: “Brands have intentions too. But often, that intention is too raw, too blatant, and too often dismissed because the profit motive is transparent. If we look beyond the need for immediate sales, we start to see something that is far more appealing than the brands facts or opinions about why it’s the best, strongest, most durable, cheapest, etc. We start to see a belief, philosophy or cause that defines what the brand is, not just what the brand is for. And much like we form an emotional bond with story characters, we start to relate to a brand in the same way. The brand’s importance goes beyond any functional advantage. When we buy a brand, in a sense we join that tribe. In turn, we invite it into our lives to reinforce who we are while telling those around us what we believe is important.” To me, that sounds like some of what stories have been doing for mankind throughout our history.
So just what is story? What’s StoryBranding? And how in the heck does it work?
After surrendering to the 80 plus definitions of story that he found on the internet, Jim settled on a slightly modified version of Kendall Haven’s, whose book Story Proof is well worth your reading time too. “Story is a narrative about a character dealing with some obstacle to achieve some important goal.” And StoryBranding “is a process designed to help brands know themselves the way stories help us know characters. It’s a process that also helps us know a brand’s prospects in ways that will help form lasting relationships that are immune from any competitive claim or coupon.”
And how does it work? Using story elements and mechanics, plot, theme, characterization and the like, Jim takes you through building the Brand Story Model. That “consists of two character cells separated by an obstacle. Similar to the way we define a story, our StoryBranding model also consists of a character’s movement through some obstacle towards some goal. In our model, the main character is the brand whose goal is to connect with or become attached to the prospect. For this to happen, we must accomplish two things. First, we must completely move obstacles out of the way. And second, we must make certain that each cell’s chemistry matches the chemistry of the other. The cells are composed of outer layers or behaviors we can see, and inner layers, or values and beliefs that aren’t discernable but often explain the outer layer behaviors. Matching occurs when there is a logical consistency between the outer layers and the inners layers of both cells.”
How do you do that? The rest of the book, from chapters 4 through 22 take you through that journey. And what a journey it is. You discover ways to know your brand and your prospect/customer and how to use story archetypes to define and match both. You’ll answer “I Am” questions in ways you likely never have and you’ll put story briefs together in new and exciting ways.
A note in closing. I really like the way Jim focuses on the brand as the main character. So many do just the opposite and I find Jim’s method very refreshing. I think that you will to.
A lot of people hear the word MARKETING and heave a huge sigh of pain. It doesn’t have to be like that – and Jim Signorelli’s StoryBranding: Creating Stand-Out Brands Through the Power of Story takes it all together and boils it down to something that anyone can understand whether you are a marketing guy or simply someone who has something that they think people will want.
Jim takes the idea of marketing and copywriting and turns it into a brilliant and creative exercise. Using several tried and true methods, Jim Signorelli takes the reader through a series of steps to help create the story behind your brand and then put it out to the people. Through his I AM statements and Story Briefs, the author creates something that to help you create a brand that people remember.
This book is nothing short of a powerful tool for anyone trying to sell anything without the funds to buy a marketing campaign from one of the big advertising agencies.
This book is absolutely a powerful tool and a resource for anyone looking to understand the branding process. If you are 1) someone who does not have the money to bring in the big firms to come and help your brand 2) someone who is clueless about how to effectively market and create the right message for your brand as well as reach the right customers, 3) a brand looking to build a strong relationship with your prospects, then this book is for you. Mr. Signorelli brings years of expertise and presents a clear cut strategy for brand building through his proprietary StoryBranding. I have learned so much from the first 85 pages and can’t wait to start implementing these concepts to help build lmy brand. If you are new brand and you are simply clueless on how to build the right way, if you are an established brand and want to take your brand and business to the next level, do not hesitate to add this book to your cart. It will help you communicate and tell the best story for your brand that your customers need to hear.
Marketing has become an overly complicated, statistic-crazed, research-convoluted, stock price-driven mess. This book
reduces great marketing to it’s primal basics: telling a good story–the right story–with a value, or theme, that people
believe in. It’s exactly what storytellers have been doing for centuries. Shakespeare would just be a just a bunch of good
stories if it weren’t for the powerful, underlying themes of greed, love, betrayal, freedom and more that make them relevant and
powerful 500 years later. This book makes it clear that it’s the same for great brands. It’s the underlying theme of the brand,
the brand story, that makes all the difference. Signorelli makes it easy to understand and gives you a logical, step-by-step way of
arriving at the right story for a brand. I recommend it for anyone serious about making their brand mean something.
Everybody has a story. It’s how we communicate. It’s part of our collective DNA. Throughout history, humans have used stories to pass along knowledge, feelings, facts, fears and beliefs. Research has proven that the human brain automatically thinks, understands, and remembers through stories. The powerful elements found in stories have been used to inspire, teach, share values and persuade. Exactly what advertising is supposed to do. “StoryBranding”, the new book from Jim Signorelli, deconstructs the power of stories to create a potent new approach for marketers—an approach that will help you find your true brand story and develop strong, enduring, brand affinity with customers.