3 approaches to effective brand storytelling

To tell the most effective stories, you have to have an awareness of the frames through which your audience will consume them.


Pareidolia is the perception of meaning or significance in an object (normally an image or sound) where none exists, and it’s crucial to effective brand storytelling.

Common examples include seeing faces of people or animals in clouds, Jesus sightings in corn flakes (Jesus is seen in a lot of food items), rocks that look like someone’s dead grandmother, hidden messages on records, and similar occurrences.

Pareidolia is all about storytelling. At its foundation, it’s the natural human tendency to tell stories in order to make what’s unrelatable into something relatable. This tendency is what fuels effective brand storytelling and content marketing.

Our world is made up of stories, the stories we tell ourselves and those we hear from others. Those stories control how we view the world. As communicators trying to create effective messages, we must understand how these stories affect our target consumer. We should also understand how we can create and contribute stories to help our messaging resonate and integrate into their worldview.

Brand storytelling is framing

One of the most important parts of effective communication is understanding the concept of frames. Frames are the lenses through which your target audiences see the world. They are made up of a combination of experiences, environment, culture, beliefs, and living situations.

Frames are affected by:

  • Geography
  • Demographics
  • Social status
  • Culture
  • Experiences
  • Environment
  • Friends and Family
  • Fears and Failures

Therefore, they change throughout a person’s lifetime. That said, it tends to take significant or repetitive events and/or messaging to change a frame significantly.

In general, it doesn’t happen quickly, hence why widespread social change often happens at a snail speed.

No one person sees the world in the same way, but there will always be similarities among many different groups of consumers. Before you can create effective messaging or a solid communications strategy, you must first understand what frame your target audience is looking through.

Frames as marketing intelligence

Pareidolia helps us see even more dramatically how necessary this practice is. Do you think atheists often see Jesus in Cheetos? Most likely not, unless they are looking for a reason to change their beliefs and want to impose a external stimulus to justify doing so.

Here again, relate this back to message development and brand outreach. How often is that exactly the position your ideal audience is in when they receive your brand storytelling and other marketing messages? Are they looking for a reason to change, adapt, break out of their rut? Think about the power of an effective food commercial, for example. Does a commercial for a candy bar cause everyone who views it to want to buy and eat that candy bar? Of course not, but if done correctly, it might push the person who already wants a candy bar to purchase one.

What types of messages are you sending?

In general, in order to be effective your messaging must fall into one of three categories:

  1. Reinforcer. This message reinforces your audience’s world view. It works within the frames they use and therefore is trusted and more easily accepted. This messaging strategy works well for brands that are niche-focused and know the needs and wants of their consumer exceptionally well. They are directed, targeted and resonate clearly.
  2. Supporter. These messages help support change. This works well for brands that are bringing in a concept or innovation that is needed, maybe even asked for. But change is still change, and human nature will almost always push against it, even when it is asked for. These messages help support the behavior change, empower frame revision, and establish new habits. They must be persuasive, educational, and comforting.
  3. Challenger. These are the most difficult messages to push. They challenge your target’s view of the world, their preconceptions and behaviors. They are most appropriate for organizations who can use the challenge as part of their point of differentiation, and who have a target market which challenging, contra-behavior is appealing to. They must be inspiring, persuasive, and edgy. However, they also must use exceptionally targeted language which resonates within the consumer’s frame (even though the message itself may contradict it).

By defining which type of message you are sending with your brand storytelling, you set up the relationship with which your message will approach and communicate with your consumer.

Combine this with your market research and understanding of the frames through which your consumer views the world and you have the foundation for effective brand storytelling.

From there, you must always remember that it’s not your story. It’s theirs.

Laura Petrolino is client services director at Arment Dietrich. A version of this story first appeared o the agency’s Spin Sucks blog.

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