5 Truths About Brand Storytelling That Will Make Your Job Easier

by Ken Mueller on January 16, 2014 · 6 comments

Bookshelves 3 stories

As a former radio person, I love a good audio story. About a year ago I stumbled on an article at one of my favorite sites, Transom.org, about short audio pieces called Sonic IDs. These are used at the top of the hour as station IDs for Cape Cod Public Radio, but rather than a typical station ID which merely lists the name of the station and the location, these are 30- to 60-second pieces that include a short excerpt of an interview with regular people. No real introduction. No real context. And yet by listening, you can hear these people tell their story, and in so doing, it tells a bit about the station. (You can listen to a number of these Sonic IDs on the Transom site to get a feel for them).

Storytelling doesn’t have to be War and Peace

Look at the world of literature: we have long novels and short stories. Just because The Tell-Tale Heart is much shorter than War and Peace doesn’t mean that it’s any less of a story, or that it’s less effective. The Sonic ID’s from Transom are all under a  minute, and all of them tell some sort of story. Some serious, some funny, some light, and so on.  Whether you blog, use images, or audio/video, you don’t have to go long. In fact, news organizations are now looking for ways to use Instagram, Vine, and Snapchat as part of their news reporting repertoire.

We tend to think that longer is better, but that’s not always the case. Stories can be told in a variety of lengths and time frames, and you should use whatever is best for you and your audience.

Everyone has a story

A lot of businesses and organizations freeze up when it comes to telling stories. But your business has a story. Your products have stories. Every employee and customer is a part of that story. What you need to do is find them, and present them in interesting ways. Over on Transom, the Sonic IDs are stories about everyone from popcorn enthusiasts and oyster eaters to funeral directors and pigeon racers. In many cases, the reporters got their material from just walking up to perfect strangers and engaging them in conversation. The stories made themselves evident and took on a life of their own.

All you have to do is ask

If you get people talking, you’ll eventually find their stories.

When I enter one of my area grocery stores, I’m greeted by a guy in a wheelchair who always has something pleasant and upbeat to say, and he offers me the latest sales circular. He has a story, and I want to get to know it. At my grocery store of choice I was at the seafood counter, asking about different varieties of fish. As I spoke with the guy behind the counter, I discovered that he had multiple degrees, including philosophy, and was a retired airline pilot. And yet he loved this job of selling fish in a grocery store. I want to hear more about his story. And then there’s the barber two blocks down the street. When I asked him about his story, I discovered he’d been in that shop 50 years, and while he was born here, he was the son of Mexican immigrants. Lots of great stories there.

As one of the Sonic ID reporters, Kristina Loring noted:

The search for sonics turns your mic into a compass on a local map every time, allowing you to fearlessly uncover human landmarks. Any hesitation I had about approaching straight-up strangers completely faded. A few lessons I learned from sonics are ones that I learn each time I set out to make radio: don’t apologize, let your curiosity lead you, and be open to the potential wonder that a passing stranger is eager to unleash into your recorder.

Take the time to ask people to talk. You don’t have to ask them for their story. Just ask them to talk, and you’ll find their story.

Storytelling ideas are everywhere

Don’t be so insular. Don’t just focus on the obvious. Look for stories wherever they are, not just where you expect them and think they should be.  Step outside of your comfort zone and look for them. As Sonic ID recorder Veronica Simmonds discovered:

Sonic-hunting changes the way you move in the world. You start to walk with awareness, listen with intention and embrace the serendipitous – with mic in hand.

Meanwhile, Australian radio producer Emma de Campo warns that  “sonic collecting can become addictive.” It’s true. Once I made the commitment to blogging regularly and consistently, I began to find ideas for blog posts everywhere, and it truly is addictive. As I tell some people, it’s a curse. I can’t look at things without thinking about how they might fit into a story (blog post). In fact, it’s not uncommon for other people to suggest that things happening around me might be fodder for a blog post. Ideas are truly everywhere. You just have to

There’s no one right way to tell a story

When we talk about brand storytelling from a marketing perspective, we tend to think in terms of blogging. But that’s just one way to do it. Video, audio, and images can all be integral to the storytelling process. Telling your story can be done in any way you want. All that matters is that you tell it, and that it connects with your intended audience. Know your audience and find the best way to tell your story so that it resonates with them. You can use humor, or all sorts of raw emotion. You can tell the story in the first person, or third person. Narrative? Sure. Poetry? Why not?

Stories don’t have to follow any specific template or formula. Make them interesting and surprise your audience in some way. Grab their attention and keep it. But by all means, tell your story, tell it well, and tell it often.

How are you telling your brand’s story? Are there any lessons you can learn from the Sonic ID’s?


There's a reason I ask people "what's your story?" and this is it. If you just ask, it's amazing what you'll uncover. :) 


I love this: "The search for sonics turns your mic into a compass on a local map every time, allowing you to fearlessly uncover human landmarks." I wish someone had explained it that way when I was a reporter.

KenMueller moderator

@lauraclick I think we often tend to overthink things like this. Tell our story? Shoot, we need to put a committee together for that, then write it, send it through various departments, rewrite it, and so on.  It really isn't rocket science.

KenMueller moderator

@teamccloud Exactly. When I worked as a radio reporter, I often feared going up to strangers to ask them questions. But when I did, it brought some amazing results.


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