Everyone’s talking about storytelling these days. But who’s shaping the ones we tell about ourselves?


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Everyone’s talking about storytelling these days. But who’s shaping the ones we tell about ourselves?

The Rolex Explorer II (Rolex / Instagram}


I’ve been thinking about the utility and the power of telling stories lately. The theme keeps popping up all around me.

This week I had lunch with two of this newsletter’s subscribers. They're senior execs at one of the world’s largest banks, and we spoke at length about the critical role storytelling plays in communicating investment ideas and analysis. They explained how a coherent narrative gives meaning and context to data, making the information way more compelling, memorable —and shareable.

Disparate facts, when sewn together into a story, reveal deeper concepts than they do on their own.

In a recent blog post, the business school professor Scott Galloway waxed poetic about stories, and specifically how the stories we tell (and believe) about ourselves can shape our own perceptions of success and failure. Coherent narratives (even false ones) evoke emotion and profoundly influence the decisions we make in life.

These two references got me thinking about the role of storytelling in business strategy.


High level strategy isn’t for everyone. Some firms operate purely tactically, and they do it brilliantly.

But the organizations that truly thrive tend to support their tactics with a strong strategic backbone —and storytelling seems to be a key part of that.


Kind of. Ad people talk about “storytelling” all the time. But when it comes to brand building, the very concept of stories is more nuanced than you might think.

Look at Apple or Rolex. These firms sell more than phones and watches. The quality (and price points) of their products stoke serious emotions —around achievement, around exclusivity, around self expression, self worth, creativity and more.

Yep, these brands sell a story, all right, but it’s not a story about Apple or Rolex products.

These brands sell us a story about ourselves.


Wearing a Rolex or using an iPhone conveys more than just a certain social status. For many people, it communicates an entire identity.

The luxury world knows this fact all too well. Their strategic narratives —which are deeply entwined with the quality of their products, by the way— tap into strong human motivations around things like acceptance, performance, desirability, and more.

And so, we buy.

Psychology actually has a name for this. It's called "signaling theory" and it is an absolutely essential component of the luxury brand playbook.

When marketers talk about stories, it’s easy to think they mean the stories the brand tells consumers about itself. The heritage of the brand. The founder’s family history. The quality of the leather.

That's the lowest order of storytelling.

The higher mode is not brands talking about themselves, but brands seeding the stories we want to tell others about ourselves, via their products.

This is level-10 stuff, but the bottom line is the brands that successfully provide the means for self-expression and narrative identity tend to thrive.

The world’s most valuable brands know that the ability to elicit emotion through strategic storytelling is a competitive advantage.

Now you do too.


Whatever your business, other providers may have better products, or lower prices. Or both. But no one else has the way your product or service makes your customers feel and, thus, the story your brand helps them tell about themselves.

This concept is complex, but crucial.

As my conversations and reading this week show, story is strategy. People crave compelling narratives that make sense of the world and their place in it.

But story is good business too. Brands whose products or services help their customers tell a story about themselves have an edge because while features and prices are easily copied, no one else has the way you/your brand can make others feel.

There's a strategy for you.

Written by Jon Kallus. Any feedback? Simply reply.

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