Telling a Powerful Brand Story

By: Russ Cersosimo

I’ve done thousands of pitches over the last 25 years. Whether I was selling a product or service, advocating for legislative change, or raising capital – I can confidently say that the single most powerful weapon in my arsenal was my ability to properly get my brand story across.

Take a look at great storytellers of our time. Walt Disney. Steve Jobs. Steven Spielberg. 

These storytellers were able to paint a wonderful picture and each had a keen ability to take the viewer or prospect on a ride.

A well-told story gets the viewers emotions evolved. Involved at such at a level in which they don’t want the story to end. A level in which it affects them psychologically and biologically at a chemical level. A level that gets the pleasure center of the brain going. 

Whether getting someone to invest in you or buy your product or idea, the goal is to get them to want to become part of the story.

Let’s think about some of the movies you have watched in your life. Some had you on the edge of your seat, wanting more when the credits rolled – hoping that a future sequel was coming. These kinds of movies are the ones that we talk about and would gladly pay to see again. We can relate to these experiences and revisit in our minds again and again as if we were in the movie. We can do this easily because there was a strong emotional attachment. 

Emotions help with memories. Good emotions = good memories = more success.

On the other hand, you have most likely watched movies or TV shows that were terrible. Because there was no emotion tied to it, you got disinterested quickly and probably didn’t think about it ever again. If you want to test this, try to think back on your earliest memory as a child. Chances are it was an emotional moment. 

The farthest I can remember back was my first haircut. I was crying like a baby (cause I was a baby). It was so emotional that I couldn’t stop crying and after so long told the Italian barber I hated him. With no patience left, and without skipping a beat, he calmly looked down at me and said in a heavy Italian accent responded, “Yeah, I hate-a-you-too kid”. 

The point is, it was my first memory because there was emotion tied to it. Try it at home if you don’t believe me. 

As a marketer, you have the ability to architect the brand story to create a certain emotion in the viewer. 

Ideally, you create a story that the viewer wants to take part in – a story they don’t want to end. A story that they remember. A story they tell to their friends. In a sense, you create a brand experience that tells the viewer just who you are and what you’re about. 

For example, Natierra, a food brand with the motto “Superfoods for the soul” is owned by BrandStorm Inc, a specialty food manufacturer that believes in conscious business practices and fostering sustainability. 

“Superfoods with Soul” is achieved in that for every bag or shaker of select superfoods and Premium Crunchy Fruit Snacks, a meal is provided to a child in need in Haiti. Natierra has cleverly branded it “Buy One Bag, Feed One Child”  

Goji Berry Storyline ExampleImage copyright

This “Feed a Soul Project” really helps to tell a great brand story. The back side of the packaging traces the process back to Goji fields in China and further creates an emotional attachment by explaining to the reader that purchasing this bag will help provide a meal for a child in need. 

In fact, they even word it in past tense so the reader gets a sensation of helping before even making a purchase. It makes it an almost intimate, 1 on 1 situation between the person holding the bag and a hungry child in Haiti. 

It’s good to think about your pitch (or marketing, or product design) like the back of this bag of goji berries. If you can pair the right backstory with an awesome future, you will beat your competitors. 

Stories work even when you our your marketing materials aren’t around. 

For example:

Did you hear about that shoe company that buys a pair of shoes for the poor every time a pair of new shoes is sold? I’ll bet you did. 

In 2006, 30 year-old Blake Mycoskie was vacationing in Argentina and met a woman who was working as a volunteer delivering shoes to children. Blake offered to help and got to see first hand the many shoeless children in Argentina. The lack of shoes was a major contributor to diseases in children. 

This problem gave him the idea for his eventual company.

Blake set out with the goal of providing a new pair of free shoes to youth of Argentina and other developing nations. For every pair he sold in North America, he would donate a pair to children in need in developing countries.

He commissioned shoe makers in Argentina to manufacture 250 pairs of shoes. After an article ran in the Los Angeles Times, the company secured online orders for nine times the available stock and over 10,000 pairs were sold in the first year. In their first year, the company distributed 10,000 free shoes to Argentinian children. 

Talk about a great brand story to get the company off the ground! 

To keep the story going, In 2007, Blake’s company launched the first annual “One Day Without Shoes” event, which encouraged participants to go shoeless for one day in order to raise awareness about the impact shoes can have on a child’s life. AOL, Flickr, and the Discovery Channel sponsored the event.

500 retailers were carrying the brand by 2011. Toms launched its eyewear line in the same year. By 2012 over two million pairs of new shoes had been given to children around the world. 

The Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative at the University of New Mexico has described the company as an example of social entrepreneurship. 

Now that’s one heck of a brand story – and all good stories end with the hero prevailing. On August 20, 2014 Bain Capital acquired 50% of Toms. Reuters reported that the transaction valued the company at $625 million. It was reported that Blake Mycoskie’s personal wealth following the deal was $300 million. 

Mycoskie retained 50% ownership of Toms, as well as his role as “Chief Shoe Giver”.

But wait…There’s more! The story doesn’t end there.

Blake Mycoskie said he would use half of the proceeds from the sale to start a new fund to support socially minded entrepreneurship. Bain agreed to match his investment and continue the company’s “one-for-one” policy. 

Knowing Blake’s brand story, I can honestly say that I would buy whatever he is selling because I can connect with him and his personal mission. That connection is the kind of connection you want to get with your customer. The most effective way to do so is through proper storytelling. 

Psychology is a science. The brain wants to see a hero prevail. Give the brain what it wants, a hero. 

You have 2 chances to create that hero. You can make them feel like a hero for making a purchase, or get them to buy into you as a hero

It’s all about how you tell the story. 

Telling a Powerful Brand Story

In Design Psychology We Trust: Psychology Behind Beautiful Design

In Design Psychology We Trust 

The Psychology Behind Beautiful Design

By: Russ Cersosimo

Psychology is a science, and just like math or physics, psychology works the same every time.

While math and physics can be easily translated via written text or drawing, psychology is invisible. It’s like believing in magic. 

In a way, it is magic. It’s just extremely difficult to see the effect on the human brain.  You can trust that when the trick is done correctly by a magician, it will produce the intended result with the subject. 

That’s where knowing how the brain works comes in handy. Once you know what it wants to see, you can give it what it wants with confidence. Just like a magician that has practiced the same trick over and over again – he gets the same result 100% of the time. You can see measurable results over time based on a few small changes. 

Keep this in mind when designing anything, and relate it to colors, images, icons and anything else that may invoke a feeling. When the brain comes to a decision point, you want to sway them in the right direction. The proper use of these simple but effective practices will ensure you are best utilizing all of the invisible psychology you possibly can. 

Let’s use a very simple example. 

A smile is a smile in any culture. What that means is that we are biologically built to react with a physical smile that turns up the outside corners of our mouth to let the world know that we are happy. No matter what language you speak, a smile gets the “happy” message across.

Nonverbal communication is 70% of the message.

That being said, your brain looks at the “whole picture” to make a judgement. When you know these things, reverse engineering the best website design is simple. You just have to stay within the right guidelines. 

Images of people smiling exude a certain positive feeling in the viewer. Colors invoke certain feelings. Everything all works together to create a feeling. You want that emotion to be tied to your brand. You want to control that feeling. 

The brain needs balance and contract. The brain wants to achieve homeostasis. Give it what it wants and you’ll be amazed at how predictable it is. 

Margins and Whitespace

Trust in whitespace. Enough said.  

Rule of Thirds

Take a look at the images below. Focal points (on the cross areas) make for great images. 

It’s everywhere you look (at least everywhere that you are looking at something professionally produced. Take a look at the best music videos on YouTube. Every 3 seconds or less, the imagery changes, yet the rules are never broken – everything that makes the final cut is perfectly “thirded-out” (as we like to say). 

The brain likes rule-of-thirds. Trust in it. When designing anything, make sure to incorporate this as a design “must”. Taking a picture, elements of a logo, product design, packaging design. 

Golden Ratio

This one is kind of mind blowing, but mathematically sound. When we design logos, we make sure to utilize this rule, sometimes referring to it as God’s Rule.

Think about this: 

People thought the world was flat, until 1492, when they realized it wasn’t. 

Psychology has only really been studied for around 150 years. 

Psychology as a self-conscious field of experimental study began in 1879. Wilhelm Wundt, often regarded as the father of psychology, opened the world’s first laboratory dedicated to the study of psychology. The Institute for Experimental Psychology in Germany opened in 1879 at the University of Leipzig. 

The beginning of modern psychology began in 1879. That means the study of psychology is less than 150 years old. 

We don’t know what we don’t know yet. But, we do know some things about psychology in design. 

Trust in these simple psychological design tips (over your gut if it’s breaking the rules). If you are ever in question, watch any professionally shot movie, music video, interview, magazine ad, or newscast. They are using it, so should you.

In Design Psychology We Trust: Psychology Behind Beautiful Design