Designing Your Brand Story


The old adage, “actions speak louder than words” is never more true than in the world of advertising. Except rather than actions, we use visualization. As a designer, it is my constant challenge to tell the client’s story visually first and then use words when necessary.

Why is this important? It’s important because narrative is what people hold onto. The words should only reinforce the story, not carry it.

When I was in college, I took a film class called “The Art of Visual Storytelling.” Can you guess what the first assignment was? We had to tell a story visually and without dialogue. Imagine the dismay of all the aspiring auteurs who were just bursting with the chance to impress everyone with their mad writing skills. All of our outrage quickly turned into epiphany when we quickly learned that’s not what we were there for. We had chosen filmmaking as a medium, and we needed to be able to use it effectively, even in its rawest form. It forced our cameras to show what needed to be said; it forced us to push our actors to really portray what our audience needed to feel; it forced us to focus on the purest form of the story without getting confused by the unnecessary details. Everything we put in front of the lens needed to have real meaning. After that first assignment we were allowed to use dialogue, but at that point, it was just a luxury.

Now let’s take design and apply it to yet another old cliché, “seeing is believing.” People have a very difficult time buying into something they cannot see, that includes your brand. You may have “WE’RE THE BEST. EVERYONE ELSE SUCKS.” posted on all your sales materials, but if you haven’t shown anything to actually make customers like and trust you, then it’s not going to be believable. I know that’s a bit of an extreme example, so think of it this way: what’s your current favorite automotive spot? I’m almost positive that you just recalled a heart warming or hilarious narrative rather than a list of manufacturing details and company accolades, right?

In 2007, The American Association of Advertising Agencies conducted a study to measure emotional responses to television advertising and guess what they discovered. Consumers connect better with ads that evoke an emotional response rather than product focused advertising.

At this point it might sound like I am a copy nay-sayer or a design prude. That’s not the case. Copy is important to advertising; Lord knows, I couldn’t do my job without our excellent copywriters. What I’m talking about is a client who gets so distracted by the words on the page doing all the work, that they sabotage the greater picture. I am actually a big fan of purely typographic design. It works great when the words are resonating and supporting the emotional story being told; NOT when it gives a very dry and literal play-by-play of everything the company has ever succeeded at.

So you might now be thinking, “that’s all well and good, but how do I apply this to my brand?” The answer is one simple story at a time. Just like you, your brand is a complicated entity with many facets to its personality. In just the same way you’d never unload your entire life history on someone you are just getting to know, your brand shouldn’t either.  Also, don’t be afraid to show a vulnerable side. We all like to be seen in a good light, but no one is perfect and neither is your company. Showing a little humanity can go a long way towards building trust with your customers.

Just like in traditional story telling, designing a brand story is an art form and will take time and patience. Here are a couple elements to keep in mind while designing yours:

Tone: every story has a specific tone or mood that draws a specific type of consumer. You don’t rent a thrasher movie if you’re in the mood for something funny and light-hearted. Give your brand a tone (friendly, professional, caring…) and don’t stray from it.

Composition: this is kind of where I come in. As a designer, composition is my go-to tool for helping a story make sense. Without a well thought out structure, a story can quickly fall apart and become confusing.

Keeping these tips in mind, your brand story will become a story of success and you will be living happily ever after in no time.