The Power of a Single Story

  • by Lauren Wong
    Strategy Director
  • October 13, 2020

Great brands are famous for one thing, even if they do lots of things well.

At Character, we use brand positioning to help clients define the beats of that single story, then reinforce it in everything the brand does. A compelling story should be easy to understand. Simple to remember. Impossible not to share. It should be something that any employee can remember and any customer can tell a friend over coffee. We bring that story to life through the brand’s name, the way it looks, the way it sounds, and the actions it takes.

For our team, positioning exploration actually begins with writing stories (what we call aspirational narratives). We often find the right language for critical elements of positioning—brand purpose, beliefs, brand idea, etc.—inside different narrative drafts. Writing also allows us to test the depth of each narrative, whether it can easily incorporate our functional features, or whether it feels moving when we read it aloud.

Here’s how to start the story-writing journey for your own brand.

Write your story down.

Jot down the story that surrounds your brand in under 300 words. See who it’s about: the founders, the customer, or the world at large. See whether there’s one thread that you keep going back to. Note which spots were easy to write and which were a struggle. Then ask other people critical to the brand to do the same thing. Note whether there are words or ideas that everyone comes back to.

Find the forces shaping your story.

Think about the external forces or shifts that are changing your story. For our Character team, that means looking outward to the competitors, audience, culture, and behavior. Think about whether the challenge you started solving is the same one you’re solving for now. See where your story could spark new or undervalued discussions in culture.

Create stories with meaningful contrast.

At Character, we tell stories with the same essentials, but in different ways. See how far you can pull them apart or make them different. Use the contrasting stories to ask yourself hard questions. What feels true to who and what we are? What level of change would this require, and are we excited or willing to do that? How does this resonate with our audience, or our culture?

Sharpen and cut.

Rewrite your story around a single idea. Try to start and end with the same thought, from the same point of view (e.g. we meaning the brand, or you meaning the consumer). Then try to cut 20% of the words on the page. Mark which words are essential. Play with words that need to be more specific in order to work harder. Highlight when the storyline veers into another idea, and try to keep it focused on the same idea the whole way through.

Speak out loud and share it back.

Words feel different when they’re said out loud. Tell the narrative to someone. Ask that person to tell the story back. No matter what words they use, a powerful story should be really easy to retell. Certain words should also resurface, no matter who’s telling the story. If the story gets lost in translation or doesn’t feel thrilling to tell, rinse and repeat until it feels right.

Give yourself a deadline.

It’s easy to keep tinkering with a story; don’t fall into that trap. Give yourself a clear deadline with a small group who will be guardians of the brand with you. After getting their feedback, do a round or two of edits but hold on to that singular story. Give yourself a date where you close the chapter on editing it, then channel your energy into bringing it to life.




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