What is Brand Storytelling and Why Does It Matter?

In today’s world, it is easier than ever to start a business. Explore Instagram on any given day and you will inevitably see an ad for some new online retailer. It begs the question: How, in such a saturated online marketplace, can a fledgling brand separate itself from the pack and survive?

There is no one answer to such a complex question, but for many consumer brands, the key is brand storytelling.

In short, brand storytelling is a marketing strategy that references a product’s functional benefits and establishes a context for when, where, and by whom that product is to be used. Oftentimes the goal is for a consumer to see her/himself in that scenario; for example, a casual menswear brand might produce a shoot involving a group of men on a weekend trip to the outdoors.

In other cases, the audience or customer profile is more aspirational in nature; an example of this might be a company that makes luxury handbags producing a shoot with beautiful talent up and down the Amalfi Coast. The average consumer will not be traipsing about the Mediterranean coast all that often, but with the right handbag, they feel like someone who would. Here emerges the two primary ingredients behind the secret sauce that is brand storytelling: Functional benefits and emotional connection.

Functional Benefits

Integral to any sensible advertising is a display of the product’s functional benefits. If you are a photographer shooting a campaign for a pair of boardshorts, it’s fairly obvious in what context that shoot will take place. You wouldn’t showcase a pair of sunglasses lying in bed, and you certainly wouldn’t photograph a pair of boardshorts at the opera. There is a natural association between a product’s benefits — in this case, probably lightweight and fast-drying material — and the expected scenario in which you would find that product. Once you identify a few key benefits, then you can begin to segment your market by other metrics like price: Yes these shoes are comfortable, but are they lounge-in-a-hammock comfortable or sip-martinis-on-a-yacht comfortable? Think of it like a mind map; identify your core benefits then branch out from there.

The primary benefit of Kuju Coffee is convenience, but here’s the thing: K-Cups are convenient and easy to use too, just not while hiking. So when I decided to produce a spec shoot for Kuju, I had to go beyond the logical appeal of convenience and portability and tap into something deeper.

Emotional Connection

Think back to my examples in the opening paragraphs. In either scenario, the advertiser’s goal is to strike an emotional chord with their audience. One plays on a sense of belonging and friendship, while the other taps into a bit of envy and longing for a future perfect self. The narrative being told tells us who is expected to buy certain products and for what context.

With Kuju, the emotional association I wanted to make was a sense of adventure and wanderlust. Shooting in a location like the mountains of West Virginia is generic enough to have a universal appeal while still evoking this feeling of envy and a yearning to go somewhere beautiful. If your coffee can go wherever you go, then why not go anywhere? Suddenly your mind is flooded with possibilities far beyond the coffee itself.

By driving home this connection between product benefits and emotion, you effectively marry the two in a consumer’s mind:

“Man, I need to get out and see the world and with this coffee I don’t even have to give it a second thought.”


“You know, I’m going hiking with some friends next weekend, this coffee would be perfect!”

Whatever direction the consumer’s mind takes them, at the end of the day they want to buy your coffee.

Good Versus Great

Brand storytelling is the key to leveling up your company’s marketing strategy and zeroing in on your target market. In fact, you could argue that for many companies these days, it is the only thing separating one brand from the next. Good content is well lit, properly exposed, and captures the mind; truly great content goes a step further and captures the head and the heart, showing you not only what’s being sold, but why you need it in your life.

About the author: Brad Vassallo is a commercial and outdoor lifestyle photographer based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A creator since his earliest days, he once had the dream of being a National Geographic photographer. In spite of those aspirations, he spent the better part of his life chasing other people’s dreams of what he was supposed to do and who he was supposed to be. At a certain point though, the voice inside got to be too loud, too persistent, and told him that the path he was on was not his own. He began to listen to that voice, affirming his own creative aspirations and returning to his creative roots. You can see more of his work on his website and Instagram.

This story was also published here.