Every Community Has A Story – What’s Yours?

Over the last few years, I have become fascinated with the relationship between story telling and branding. It started with watching Bill Moyer’s interview of Joseph Campbell on the power of myth, and has grown from there.

I believe story telling is key to great place promotion. For perspective, there is a growing body of literature focused on corporate storytelling that can be particularly reapplied to place branding. The books and articles will help you better understand storytelling as a process. They share proven story constructs that can be used to frame your community story.

Equally important, is to appreciate the cornerstones of great brands – relevance, competitiveness and authenticity – are also critical elements of a great story as well.

There is a formula or recipe to a great story. Learn and follow the steps and you can become a good storyteller. In their book “Storytelling: Art and Technique”, Baker and Greene define seven key characteristics of a good story.

  • A single theme, clearly defined
  • A well developed plot
  • Style: vivid word pictures, pleasing sounds and rhythm
  • Characterization
  • Faithful to source
  • Dramatic appeal
  • Appropriateness to listeners

To create a good story for your community, you need to understand its heart and soul. In my experience, the best place to begin your journey of understanding is to listen to the stories people in your community tell you about what they love about living and working there. After a few stories you will notice a rhythm and pattern to what you are hearing. That is the heartbeat of your community you are hearing. It is the authentic story and you will want to figure out how to tell in a mind and heart opening way.

Too often, economic development professionals focus only on communicating facts and figures about their community. But, this approach is more like reading an owner’s manual to somebody rather than telling a story. Facts and figures are void of emotion. They speak to the head but offer no connection to the heart. There is not plot, no appeal, no drama, nothing memorable.

Melinda Partin understands this difference. In her article titled “Brand Storytelling: Connecting With Your Audience”, she wrote “At its very core, marketing is storytelling. The best advertising campaigns take us on an emotional journey–appealing to our wants, needs and desires–while at the same time telling us about a product or service. A brand’s story comes from the company’s own information, and if successful, it is accepted and integrated into the consumer’s story. You must understand how your brand emotionally resonates with customers and then position your message in the right place to tell the right story at just the right time.”

An emotional journey is such a wonderful description for what you want to accomplish to create a connection with your community that can serve as a foundation for a productive relationship that ideally leads to capital investment.

Telling great stories is part science and part art. There is a process to creating and then telling a story effectively. It is something you can learn to do. If you are interested in better understanding the mechanics of how to be a good storyteller, watch the following video – Storytelling Theory and Practice video.

Take the first step on your journey to discover the heart song of your community. As one of my colleagues was fond of saying – “There is 30 cm between the brain and heart. Take the journey it is worth it.” Learning to tell your community’s story will help you close the 30 cm gap.

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11 Comments so far

  1. Cathy Belk

    February 2, 2010

    I love this blog! At JumpStart, we have been talking quite a bit in the last 6 months about storytelling, not as an aspect of our brand, but as the technique for describing the economic history of our region in “romantic terms”. I think our team has understood the need to appeal to the hearts of people in our area, but haven’t had the disciplined approach outlined here. This will be a big help.

    We’ve done quite a bit of research in learning about the “stories” of Northeast Ohio (particularly from our economic perspective) and learned that, like many great stories, our region’s stories are primarily about people — the personalities, the adventures, the characters — that shaped the culture and experience of many other people in Northeast Ohio. No wonder that facts and figures – while important – can’t capture the hearts and minds of people. It’s people who do that.

    I also think that the same storytelling technique that we can use for our place can also be used for the JumpStart brand. Haven’t totally cracked that nut; I’m interested if anyone has a sense of brand storytelling for a place or brand that is new?

    Lastly, in some of my previous positions at Coca-Cola and American Greetings, I have heard of people referencing great seminars on storytelling by Michael Margolis of Thirsty-Fish. He’s no Ed, but the workshops are yet another resource to watch out for.

  2. Imelda McGrattan

    February 3, 2010

    It all started with a quote I came across in a book I was reading on holidays

    “If YOU want a better world for your children and grandchildren, BELIEVE. BELIEVE one individual can make that difference AND that individual can be you”
    (Irishman Donald R. Keough, CEO of Coca-Cola ’81-’93)

    Donald’s parents left Ireland during hard times to a start life in a new world, America. Donald grew up in depression-era Iowa, studied and worked hard and seized the opportunities that came his way. The circumstances a man comes from mould his character and the manner in which he views it fills his heart. Donald Keough has one big heart. He is a gregarious and well liked and shone when dealing with people.

    The quote above is how he conducts his business which helps to strengthen the brands he associates with. If you can make people feel good about themselves and the work they are doing, the service or product they provide and the difference it makes to your customers you will always be the creator of your own success.

    Since reading about Donald in the book that day our lives have been linked. Every now and again another little piece of his wisdom will break into my world from some source to re-iterate the importance of always being authentic in life.

  3. stephen roulac

    February 3, 2010

    Places and stories are interdependent. Every story is set in a place. If it is not, then the nonplaceness of the setting is itslef part of the story, conveying place unawareness or unconsciousness on the part of the protagonists.

    In some stories, the place itself is the subject of the story. In others, the story is shaped, informed, influenced by the place. Ultimately, what happens in a place is part of the soul journey of those who encounter and expereince and are effected by that place.

  4. Bianca cawthorne

    February 5, 2010

    My pet topic! Where I think it becomes really interesting is where express a brand’s proposition through Story.

    I’ve been exploring what you can learn from Campbell as well as Rob McKee’s school of movie storytelling to see how you can translate it to helping to create powerful brands. Another fascinating expert is Christopher Booker, whose book “The 7 Different Plot Types” explores the idea that there are 7 archetypal stories, and every story we tell is a derivative of one of them.

    Taking these principles, there are some really nice, more analogous, brand stories – so not their actual history or an internal story. Two good examples using the Overcoming the Monster story (like Jaws or James Bond or I Am Legend) and Voyage and Return (Wizard of Oz or Hostel or The Devil Wears Prada).

    Nike has a strong story of challenging yourself, of striving for your best performance and being committed to the passion for that achievement. For Nike, the only thing to get in your way of achieving this is yourself – the limits of your condition, of your stamina and ultimately of your confidence in yourself. What Nike tries to teach us is that there will be times when it will be difficult, it will hurt, you’ll want to give up, but you have to fight through it to win the ultimate battle. Nike’s story is of ‘overcoming the monster’ (just like Jaws, like most Bond films, like Michael Clayton, who overcomes the corporate system…). The monster to overcome is the monster inside you.

    The Voyage and Return story teaches us that sometimes life takes us to places that might seem amazing and perfect, but ultimately are ruled by false Gods. Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz is mesmerized by the colourful yellow brick road, but realizes that her life is really at home; Andy, the naïve girl in The Devil Wears Prada, ends up rejecting the false world of fashion that had so completely lured her and taken over how she saw the world. This is Dove’s brand story. From its Real Beauty platform, Dove tells us to be wary and distrustful of the beauty industry, and that true beauty is owned and defined by you – you don’t have to pretend to be someone you’re not. The same way that Andy had to look inside herself and judge whether she was being true to herself, so Dove persuades its consumers to be true to themselves.

    I’ve put some of these thoughts on Slideshare:


    Love to hear what you think!


  5. Louis Zacharilla

    February 8, 2010

    Every community does have a story to tell, we could not agree with you more. That is why our think tank (www.intelligentcommunity.org) has gathered stories from across the world about communities that are racing ahead to build a future in the 21st Century. From Tallinn, Estonia, which raised itself to prominence after the last Soviet boot marched out and left its economy in tatters, to Bristol, VA which became David taking on Goliath and challenged a telecom incumbent for the right to provide affordable services to its citizens, we witness remarkable stories that lead to economic growth. In our landmark 2001 study, we identified Marketing as the fifth criteria which is consistent among “intelligent communities.” We are always interested in a community’s story and study those that we think define our movement. It is a source of great inspiration to me and my fellow founders.

  6. Ines Jakobson

    February 15, 2010

    In 2011, Europe’s best stories will be told in Tallinn!
    In 2011, Tallinn begins the largest storytelling event in its history. Writers, musicians, artists and actors will tell, paint, sing and act tales inspired by the sea, speaking of Estonia and its people. The stories will be short and long, modern and ancient, exciting and tragic; most importantly, they will all be genuinely Estonian-like.

  7. Joe Dreitler

    February 22, 2010

    A brand with a good story? From whose perspective, how about the P&G trademark lawyer? As a still practicing trademark lawyer today (P&G 1983-93), one of my personal favorite stories goes like this. There was an initiative to come up with a brand name (trademark) for the first 2 in 1 shampoo conditioner in the mid 1980’s. The name that was tested with focus groups, searched by me and a trademark application filed by me was “Ambria”. Just prior to going into test market I received a cease and desist letter from a lawyer representing a restaurant in Chicago called Ambria. I thought that odd and of little consequence given the difference between hair care products and a restaurant.
    So, we met with the Advertising Manager for the division who mentioned that he wondered if the fact that months ago he and the agency had dinner in Chicago at a restaurant called Ambria, and they all agreed that was a great name for the new 2 in 1 product might be an issue…….

    And that is how Pert Plus® was named!

    Joe Dreitler
    Columbus, Ohio

  8. […] right circumstances can be irresistible.  All you have to do is find that way.  In my opinion, storytelling [hot link to https://strengtheningbrandamerica.com/blog/?p=255%5D is one way to help improve the […]

  9. […] Hopefully, I’ve nudged your curiosity sufficiently to check out Kevin’s book – Lovemark.  You will enjoy the read.  You might also enjoy checking out Kevin’s Lovemarks website.  It is a great source of inspiration and guidance.  Remember, guiding your community to Lovemark status is a journey.  You won’t get there overnight and it will require persistence and patience.  But along the way you will be dramatically strengthening your community image.  You’ll also become an even better storyteller. […]

  10. […] “Sometimes a crisis demands a new brand.” I don’t share this point of view. I believe a brand is a promise. It needs to be relevant, competitive and authentic. Your community’s brand is the promise of what will be experienced if somebody selects your location over another either to live and work or simply to visit. A strong brand protects a community from the downside risk of a crisis. Johnson & Johnson made a significant investment to create the Tylonel brand as a trusted product. The strength of the Tylonel brand helped Johnson & Johnson work through the crisis of malicious tampering. Toyota has taken it on the chin recently with allegations of poor design quality. But, Toyota has invested years in establishing their brand as a reliable, high-quality product. The strength of their brand is helping the company weather the storm, and most recently the data is reaffirming the authenticity of Toyota’s brand promise. These are just two examples of a brand being a shield against adversity. I would say a weak brand is never acceptable and a crisis will simply serve to highlight its deficiency. If your community brand is weak, don’t wait for a crisis to demand a new brand. Work to identify a strong brand now. Make certain to focus your community promise on the benefit(s) of selecting your community. For additional perspective read this. […]

  11. […] Every Community Has a Story – What’s Yours? […]

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