On Brands, Storytelling and Why It Matters

Mary Ellen Kuhn

“Every picture tells a story,” crooner Rod Stewart famously noted more years ago than I care to recall. I think the same is true of brands — or at least it should be. If a consumer can somehow connect — ever so subtly perhaps — with a brand’s “back story,” a stronger connection will be forged between consumer and brand.
This fall I had the good fortune to hear best-selling author Dan Pink (“A Whole New Mind,” The Penguin Group, 2005) share a variety of intriguing theories about business, careers and the economy. In the context of that discussion, Pink advanced some thoughts about ways that savvy brand marketers are incorporating back stories onto product packaging. My notes — and memory — of his discussion are a tad sketchy, but I remember him talking about how, on one occasion as he shopped for a bottle of wine, his selection was influenced by the story he read on its label. More and more, he suggested, we’re hungry for meaning in our lives, so packaging that tells the story of how a portion of profits from the product’s sales will be donated to charity, for example, can be a particularly compelling message. Other sorts of stories work as well. Facts are “free and ubiquitous” in today’s information-intensive world, so it’s more important to put information into context and/or add an emotional component, he observed.
Retailers can and should be storytellers as well, I believe. One of my personal favorite examples of retail storytelling can be found on the pages of catalogs from clothing and accessories purveyor Coldwater Creek. This is a company with some truly gifted copywriters who create product descriptions that are exquisite little gems of whimsy and persuasion. A floral dress, for example, might be described as “oh-so-perfect for dinner on the patio with dear friends on a warm, magnolia-scented summer evening.” I’m making up the details, here, but you get the point, I hope. If it’s possible to create a back story for a simple summer dress, certainly is should be feasible to do so for a retailer’s confections department. Think about it. Did your chain’s Valentine’s candy section prompt shoppers to pause to enjoy a fond memory of mom or Aunt Jane or a new friend and how she just might really love — and certainly deserve — a sweet surprise plucked from the shelves of the candy section?
We’re pretty focused on brands — both manufacturers’ and private label — on the pages of Confectioner this month. If you’re a fan of the topic as it relates to packaging, check out our sister magazine, Brand Packaging, on the Web at www.brandpackaging.com.