Sex Sells, Stories Compel: Connect with Your Audience Through Brand Storytelling

How to connect with your audience through brand storytelling - KOTAW Content MarketingAngelina Jolie once told an interviewer that love scenes were the easiest of any to film because she could find something sexy about any costar. The far bigger challenge was making an emotional connection to another actor, forming a genuine bond that didn’t rely on exposed body parts and that carried through to the movie’s end credits.

Her words apply equally well to brand storytelling.

It’s relatively easy to hook your audience with any standard technique – sex appeal, humor or deeply discounted prices.

It’s harder to make them fall in love with your brand for life and remain loyal between product launches, holiday sales and expensive advertising campaigns. Any CPA will hear his phone ring in April, and every chocolatier can sell heart-shaped boxes of candy in February. And, if you can’t sell an umbrella to a New Yorker on a rainy day, you might as well flip it upside down and use it to panhandle.

Loved or Alone? Pick Up Your Audience with a Compelling Brand Story

Want to sell your products or services every day of the year, in both flush and lean times and at prices higher than your competitor? Invest in brand storytelling.

An investment in brand storytelling means more than hiring a storyteller or assigning someone from your marketing team to punch up the About Us page of your website. The investment includes taking the time to understand the power of storytelling and – for most people – forgetting everything you’ve learned about how to connect with your audience.

If you’ve spent more than an hour in a singles bar, you’ve witnessed one or both of these scenes:

Scene 1

A handsome man sporting a $200 haircut and flashing an American Express “Black Card” is talking to an attractive woman. You don’t catch all of his pickup spiel but, from the snippets, you know he’s an investment banker who just closed a $10 million deal and is about to buy his third home, this one in the Grand Cayman islands.

While he’s reeling off his list of accomplishments, an average-looking guy in generic jeans and a faded t-shirt walks up to the woman, whispers in her ear and walks away.

Two minutes later, the woman mumbles an excuse to “Black Card” guy, walks over to the bar and pays off “Generic Jeans” guy’s tab, and the two of them leave together, their hips bumping as they walk and the man’s hand firmly pressed against the woman’s lower back.

Scene 2

A stunning blonde woman sits alone at a table, sipping a glass of red wine, occasionally checking out her Christian Louboutin stilettos and smoothing the hem of her red carpet-worthy dress.

Every man stops to stare at her but moves on to other tables. One leaves with a chubby, giggly redhead, another leaves with a plain woman 10 years his senior and another leaves alone.

What did the handsome man and beautiful woman do wrong, and how does this relate to brand storytelling?

Both focused on their assets – money and beauty – and devoted their energies to impressing people rather than connecting with them.

How can you tell a brand story that resonates with your audience?

1. Minimize Your Accomplishments

If you went to Harvard, yes, mention it. It’s a shorthand way of telling people you’re smart and connects you to other Ivy League school alums.

But don’t go on and on about it. It will create a wedge between you and your potential client or customer. Some will be too intimidated to work with you. Others will think you’re a snob. Your credentials are liabilities if they put up a barrier between you and your clients.

People who read in my bio that I earned a master’s degree from the University of Michigan and won writing accolades are usually impressed, but it’s seldom what they remember about me. And that’s as it should be. It’s nice if people read my work expecting it to be good, but it’s only the quality of each new sentence I write that matters.

Minimizing your accomplishments is not the same as apologizing for them. I’ve heard people talk about being short-listed for a Nobel Prize as if it were a failure.

Don’t belittle your credentials. State your accomplishments with pride. But don’t gloat about them.

2. Maximize Your Personality

Maximize your personality when writing your brand story - KOTAW Content MarketingIt’s rare to hold an absolute monopoly on a product or service. Chances are, someone is selling or doing exactly what you are and maybe doing it better or cheaper.

But no one can compete with you. Because you are one of a kind.

So why are so many of us afraid to share details that make us special?

No matter how often I write a personal branding story for a client, the response is almost always the same:

“I love this, but is it really appropriate to include so much personal detail?”

What do clients consider inappropriate? Details such as…

· Competing in equestrian contests (people will think I was a snobby rich kid.)

· Watching I Love Lucy (people will think I’m flaky.)

· Enjoying road trips (people will think I don’t work hard enough.)

· Coming in second place on Jeopardy (people will think I’m a loser.)

· Owning three cats (people will think I’m a cat person.)

· Eating popcorn for breakfast (people will think I’m fat.)

And many are so horrified by their “what will people think?” thoughts they strip out every interesting detail in their bios.

Recently I shared some bios I’d written for clients – and their “appropriate” versions – and asked readers the following day what they remembered from each.

Some sample comments about the bios I wrote:

“I remember she liked I Love Lucy and it made me want to get to know her because I’ve watched every episode at least five times.”

“That person was on Jeopardy! I want to meet him.”

“Ha ha – he eats popcorn for breakfast! Finally, a person who doesn’t eat quinoa or steel cut oats!”

And what did they remember about the client-edited versions?

“I dunno. He makes handbags or scarves or sweaters maybe.”

“She is a banker or an investor or a stock broker…or something.”

“Um, nothing really.”

A brand story must include elements of a story. Otherwise it’s just a collection of facts. People don’t easily remember facts (if they did, Jeopardy wouldn’t be worth watching). They do remember stories – and they connect with the people who tell them.

Brand storytelling tip: Include your audience in your brand story | KOTAW Content Marketing3. Include Your Audience in Your Brand Story

Always remember the real star of your brand story: the people who buy your products or services.

Your brand story, no matter how fascinating, is only as important as your audience thinks it is. And what makes people sit up and listen to a story? Inclusion.

I used to tell what I thought was the world’s most boring bedtime story to Bri. It was about a walk on the beach, collecting seashells, buying ice cream cones and such. She NEVER tired of it and begged me to include more and more details. Fairly often, I drifted off to the purposefully monotonous tone of my voice before she did.

Why did she love the story? She was its star. To this day, she still remembers – and loves – the story and says she could envision herself in every scene, sand sifting through her fingers, waves lapping her feet.

Talk more about your clients than yourself, and they will think your brand story is genius. Coca Cola successfully did this with their “Share a Coke” campaign. Not only could you buy a Diet Coke, Coke and Coke Zero with your name on it, you could post a photo of yourself (and a can or bottle of a Coke product) on the company’s social media platforms. The story itself is lackluster (“Hey it’s me, holding a bottle that says ME on it”) but soda drinkers loved participating in Coke’s brand story so much they increased the company’s sales by 2 percent.

Paul Biedermann, Creative Director at re:DESIGN, propelled KOTAW’s brand story when he once dubbed something we did KOTAWesome. We were – and are – flattered, but we’ve never once used his coined word to talk about ourselves (that would be boring.) But we love to share KOTAWesome news about our blog readers and social media pals and cheer them on with a well-deserved HERE, HERE!

Because our brand story only matters as much as YOU think it does.

Does the KOTAW brand story matter to you? Do you think of us when you see a Pit Bull, a Dr. Seuss quote or polka dots? Do you see yourself in our story? I hope so! Please let us know if our story resonates with you of if you’d pass us by for more engaging company if you spotted us in a bar (or, more likely, a bakery!)?

How do you connect with your audience through brand storytelling? Need help telling YOUR brand story? Well, that’s what we’re here for, so just ask!


  1. Monia says:

    Loving it, fabulously told. I wish I was this good. Thank you for sharing #Kotawsome and the #KotawGirlGang

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Monika. I’ve been enjoying the stories you share on Facebook. And loved the post that showed a work in progress. More of these would be great!

      x o


  2. Ya know, it’s funny. Here I am reading merrily along, nodding my head, and then it was like breaking through the fourth wall to see my name at the end and the story of KOTAWesome. (Which, BTW — you use beautifully to lift other people up!)

    You’re right, good storytelling brings people into the fold — when done consistently, it creates an undeniable connection. That is power — and another largely untapped resource when one is trying to establish their brand. Here, here for being KOTAWesome!

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      You gave us am amazing gift, Paul, and the best way to honor it is to use it to make others feel honored.

      Any here, here to KOTAWesomne-ness will always include you!

  3. MCatherine says:

    YOU are a huge inspiration, Katherine.

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      Awwwww, thank you, MCatherine. Although I don’t always comment on them, I love all of your posts on Facebook. Your personality shines through in every one of them.

      I wish you a happy “new chapter” approach to your move, and that all of your fond memories travel with you.


  4. K. Lamb says:

    Another excellent article that inspires the reader to strive for greater connectivity with their own audience. Well done, Katherine!

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      Thank you so much, Kristen, for your kind and thoughtful words.

      I love the way you connect with your audience.

      I wish I’d had the chance to connect with my favorite authors when I was a young reader.

      Your readers are extremely fortunate! Every time I see a Dani P. post, I imagine the joy I would feel if the series’ author reached out to me. And the feeling always makes me smile.

  5. Kit says:

    Dearest Kat #HUG

    I log on to Facebook to check whether my just-married cousin had responded to my message – and what do I see?! My Mama’s story, front, center and top ;) – I love imma Facebook and miss you terribly #HUGS

    Anyway, your section about including personal details reminded me of the first time I read your article – I supposed it was about the importance of creating an unforgettable personal brand. The one phrase from your article that flashes in front of my eyes is: George Clooney – hahahahhahaha

    Instantly, I fell in love with your writing because no marketer would dare to include such a personal tidbit in their work…but you did and hence were a standout! Muaaah

    I ENJOYED your words, as always, Mama.

    My only plea to bloggers, with a special note to ME ( ;) ): make sure any personal tidbits blend with the theme of your article, else the writing jars. And don’t try to be someone you are not :-) (although I might refer to myself as George Clooney’s SOULMATE every once in a while – I mean, delusions are allowed, eh?! ;) )

    LOVE YOUUUU, Mama <3

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      Oh, how I’ve missed you, Kit!

      Your writing stands out because you take risks. Great writers soar and fall. The tumbles hurt, but nothing hurts more than being forgettable.

      Your advice about aligning personal tidbits with the theme of a blog is sage. Random navel-gazing should be hidden in a diary.

      But any mention of George Clooney gets a pass in my book — and why shouldn’t you be his soulmate?



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