How Storytelling Can Differentiate Your Brand

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“If I saw the train coming today, I’d let it hit me again.”

This comment came from a 25-year-old young man I interviewed for a branding assignment. The client is a $2 billion leader in the medical device industry. Over the past few years, they acquired eight companies and needed to do a comprehensive re-brand: new name, new logo, look, website and messaging platform. After a series of focus groups, it became clear that telling the stories of their patients and clinicians was the most compelling way to engage the marketplace.

It turns out, their founder was a Civil War vet who lost his leg and designed the first prosthetic limb with a knee. The young man who said the remark above was just 15 when he was hit by a train and lost both legs below the knee as well as his right arm. Today, he’s a rockstar. He counsels veterans and serves as an ambassador for the company that helped him build a new life.

For marketers seeking to engage with their customers or attract new prospects, there is nothing as compelling as storytelling. In simple, black-and-white photography, we put the young man’s image on the home page with his own words. Click through rates skyrocketed. Along with his story was the story of a 60-year-old man who suffered similar disabilities following a motorcycle accident. He spoke of being in the oil business (the accident happened six months before the Gulf spill.) He told me, “I knew if I could get on a boat and help with the cleanup, I’d get my life back.”

You may be thinking, “Okay, this company does dramatic things. It’s ripe for storytelling.”

Yes, but every company has its lore. Just spend some time with internal teams. I’ve heard things like “I have over 4,000 resellers and they all have manufacturer’s reps; I don’t know who’s buying my product.” That was the basis of an entire new sales and marketing push. And this one: “”We’re flat lining; without a disruptive new product, we’re stalled out.”

That one kick-started an ideation session that resulted in a whole new category of sanitary surgical instrument kits -- distributed through vending machines! Stories are not just the stuff of sexy headlines; great stories are the heart and soul of the brand. They not only serve as a communication tool, but fuel for innovation. Where do they reside? With your people and your customers. Just ask them!

Brooke Lighton is a principal at Connascent, Inc., a branding and sales consulting firm based in Chicago. Brooke is a native New Yorker who started her career as a science writer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. She segued into advertising, working first as a copywriter at Ogilvy & Mather and later as a Group CD at Foote Cone & Belding. In 1988, Brooke launched her own agency, Lighton Colman. Today, she is a principal and heads creative services for Connascent, a branding and sales consulting firm. You can see their work at

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