The glory of storytelling

Giving people entertainment

Ana Andjelic
4 min readMar 15, 2024

Brand storytelling is going through a renaissance. Pushed aside by performance and influencer marketing, and marred by the declining TV and print formats, brand storytelling was considered something CMOs say at panels when at a loss for alternative.

Stories are all the brands got. A brand itself is a story, invented to give products and services a context and meaning; brands separate products from commodities. When differences in quality or design are minor, a brand sways consumers from one product to another, regardless of price. We pay more to wear something from a certain brand; we use a brand as both identification and differentiation mechanism. Without stories, there would be no brands.

Humans are storytelling animals, who tell each other stories to make sense of the world. Pop culture is a story; it provides narrative continuity and cohesion to a lot of sub-stories and micro-narratives. Brands are part of culture. They contribute to its narrative with their own stories. Aside from being corporate and economic entities, brands are also tools that we use to make sense of the world. If we buy Nike, we identify as athletes. If we date on Bumble, we put forward a certain set of values and preferences. If we stay at the Four Seasons, we signal our status and taste. When we wear or use a brand’s product or services, we tell a story about ourselves.

To tell a good story today, brands need to balance performance marketing and brand marketing. Both work streams need to sit in one department — marketing — and be considered tactics of the same communication strategy. Instead of fighting for budgets, they work best when in sync, through each others’ strengths. Easier than thinking about the funnel is considering the customer journey: it becomes clear which tactics work best, and when (e.g. at which step of the journey, and to what result).

Performance marketing usually performs when the budgets are healthy. As long as there’s money poured in its tactics, the results are there, and they are immediate. But, as with any drug, to achieve the same results, one needs to buy more and more — and the prices of performance marketing tactics have been only increasing.

In addition to budget allocation, there’s also a realization that there are no shortcuts when building a brand relationship with customers. Performance marketing is focused on conversion; call to action is transactional, and the distance between the product and the shopping cart is the shortest.

But high-quality customers (those with the highest average order value, and those who purchase repeatedly from the same brand) do not come from performance marketing. They come from brand marketing. In the current cost-saving climate, brands realized that it is much more valuable and cost-effective to add value to existing customers, rather than to compete for the low-quality new ones through price and discounts.

In contrast to performance marketing, brand marketing give consumers a non-economic reason to buy something. It is not transactional (this is why it is harder to directly measure its impact). Brand marketing is cultural, social, psychological and emotional. Brand marketing’s purpose is not only to get us to buy something, but to buy into something.

The future of brand marketing is world-building. Beyond traditional media formats, like print and TV, which are not relevant to the younger customer, there is an entire toolbox of merch, retail experiences, installations, social media, communities and creators, and content and entertainment that builds worlds. Like Marvel Cinematic Universe, brands need to develop their own creative universes.

The core premise of a brand universe is to have a simple and clear promise. Each world is built around one, single idea, which is repeated constantly and consistently. This one idea can generate others, but a world always needs to have an anchor — an archetype or a primary emotion. For Apple, it’s creativity. For Disney, it’s magic. For Amazon, it’s convenience. For ESPRIT, it’s fun.

A brand universe protects brands from having to “cut through the noise” and forcefully command consumer attention. A brand world creates a lot of simultaneous signals. Once synchronized — like crickets or lightbulbs — they create a frequency that resonates within culture. Modern brand stories are vibrations that become strong enough for the culture to hear.

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Ana Andjelic

Brand Executive. Author of “The Business of Aspiration.” Doctor of Sociology. Writer of “Sociology of Business.” Forbes most influential CMO.