Brand Storytelling – a Step by Step Guide


Many content marketing enthusiasts and self-appointed experts speak about brand storytelling. It seems like everybody in the communications business turned out to be a Shakespeare. From now on it’s all plain sailing. That’s the idea of many marketers – at least on paper.

The Fact is that only a few really know, what they are talking about when it comes to storytelling. But some of the big global brands around the world really got the point and embraced the power of storytelling as a top-of-funnel awareness tactic. Sounds good? So let’s start using brand storytelling to emotionally connect to your audience. But there is only one thing left. The question: What is a story and which characteristics indicate it?

Step by step analysis for your next brand storytelling masterpiece

This article is going to analyze a video realized by the very well known outdoor brand “The North Face” called “El Sendero Luminoso”. In my opinion, this video is a real masterpiece in terms of brand storytelling and content marketing. It earned around 2.9 million views within a really tiny niche market.

I’m going to cut that story into pieces in order to understand why it worked out so well for the brand. My analysis is based on the Muse storytelling technique – a really recognized approach amongst established storytellers, I was taught at FH JOANNEUM’s masters program “Content Strategy”. It will give you insights on how a story works and what its most crucial factors are. If you keep them in mind, your own storytelling masterpiece is waiting just around the corner.

Before understanding the success of the featured story, it’s the most obvious thing to watch it first. So here we go:

Storytelling key factors

According to Muse, there are 4 crucial factors for a good story: the people, the places, the plan and the plot – in short: PPPP. The examination of these story key drivers is done separately and step by step. So let’s start with the people – in this case, with the main character Alex Honnold.

Storytelling analysis – PEOPLE

According to Muse it’s important for every storytelling / brand storytelling project to ask at first, which character the heart of the story is. This person embodies the main character and needs to be chosen wisely. It works as the story’s emotional driving factor and guiding thread. That perfectly works out by defining the three main qualities of this character: his desire, his complexity and his uniqueness. In the case of Alex Honnold, these qualities can be described as outlined below:

  • Desire: Alex Honnold inevitably strives after experiencing ultimate and immediate freedom as well as exposure.
  • Complexity: Alex perfectly masters the interplay between tension and relaxation, security and uncertainty, focus and mental freedom.
  • Uniqueness: Nobody keeps his body, his mind and his fear under control as Alex Honnold does.

Storytelling analysis – PLACES

Staging the main characters of a story at the right places, is a balancing act and crucial for each story. According to the motto “show don’t tell”, it’s important that the selection of a story’s places is done with the character’s qualities in mind. The aim is to choose places, which emphasize on the attributes and also the oddities of the main character. When it comes to brand storytelling that matter is often a difficult thing because an essential factor is authenticity. It’s important to continuously select places, where the character feels a deep connection to his surroundings. Only at these places, he is able to find his true identity and behaves authentic.

So what are the key places of the video with Alex Honnold?

The pan shot showing the graveyard, which emphasizes on the dangerous game Alex is playing. 1:17

A graveyard during sunset
Muse storytelling, places, example scene 1

Alex laying in the sleeping bag, already awake and highly focused. His legs are bent; the metal grid behind him stands for his structured thoughts. 02:49

Alex Honnold laying in his sleeping bag
Muse storytelling, places, example scene 2

Alex on the rock, without a rope and hundreds of meters up in the air. 00:32

Alex Honnold climbing "El Sendero Luminoso" – big wall, without a rope
Muse storytelling, places, example scene 3

Alex on the wall after climbing the crux. He is full of joy and gratitude, the love for what he does is written in his face. 05:28

Alex Honnold on the wall after the crux move. He's full of joy and gratitude
Muse storytelling, places, example scene 4

Storytelling analysis – PURPOSE

To put it simply, the purpose of a story is the added value for someone who watched it, read it or listened to it. It’s kind of the learning of a story. In the case of our brand storytelling example the purpose is described as follows:
“To achieve great things, risk is essential to a certain degree. Passion is the fuel, which keeps the motor of success running. In sporting border crossings, a clear focus, a free head and a high level of self-control are essential.”

Storytelling analysis – PLOT

The plot stands for the structure of a story. For Muse there are five key factors a plot should contain:

  • A hook: The hook catches the audience by awakening interest or proposing a question
  • The hook of our video: A climber hundreds of meters up in the air without a rope
  • A Jab: The jab is the bottom line of a story bearing a certain learning
  • The jab of our video: Sporting border crossings are possible through focus, an iron will and self control
  • An ask: The main ask describes the goal of the main character
  • The main ask in our video: Alex wants to climb the hardest free solo tour in the world without dying
  • An acceptance: The acceptance is the explanation, why the main character want’s to achieve a certain goal and why he’s able to do so
  • The acceptance in our video: With a lot of training and conviction everything is possible for Alex
  • An answer: The answer is the way how the main character pursues his goal
  • The answer in our video: Just do it!
  • Hurdles: Obstacles ensure the excitement of a story and keep the audience watching, reading and listening to it.
  • Hurdles in our video: high difficulty of the climb, loose rock, fear and respect of Alex.

This post provided you with a very quick way to analyze great brand storytelling. It perfectly works out for storytellers in every business, whether it’s print journalism, video direction or radio.

In some of my next posts I want to go a bit into detail and discuss each of the featured steps deeper. I’m also going to explain why storytelling is an important investment for brands. There is a scientific proof, that customers are more willing to spend money after having listened to a story. I will explain that matter in detail in one of my next posts. Don’t miss that – I would love, if you subscribe to my newsletter below.

Side note: For a good story also proper texting technique is essential. This post from a friend of mine sums up the most important points for you.

Share Post Share on Facebook0Tweet about this on Twitter0Share on LinkedIn0

Subscribe for Newsletter

Recent Posts

Recent Comments


Max Sommer Written by:

Max Sommer is a specialist and advisor in the fields of content marketing, content strategy and brand management. He is head of the department "Brand & Content Marketing" at the international high tech company Anton Paar.

One Comment

  1. Imari
    July 17, 2016

    Im an English IV teacher in this life, but a director of ops and development for a transportation training company in the former. Brand building through illustrations with simple, yet powerful plots was and is a master key to penetrating a fickle conaumer. So thanks for acknowledging the art.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *