Start with your brand story or waste operational money on ineffective branding, marketing, advertising, website, social media, sales collateral and other critical communications.

Here are the four steps to creating your brand story.


Asking the right questions and not settling for the first answer is critical to mining raw material for your story. Raw material not polished content. Be gentle, but probe. Know the point of the question and ask it differently later. The first ask may be, “What does XXXX do?” Answer may be, “Host an after school debate league.” Later ask, “You use debate to do what?” Response may be, “Change lives by giving kids a chance to experience success.” Follow up! Ask, “And when that happens?” BANG! Here’s where you get the gold nugget. You may get an idea for an elevated value proposition. Accept the fact that an answer may be more useful in a different context than the questions indicates.

I probably have 50 questions of which I’ll pull 12 and come up with others specific to the client. You want to mix left and right brain questions.

Here are some basic go-to questions:

What do you do?

How does it work?

Who needs it?

What do you want?

Why does that matter?

How do you know?

What does the future look like if you get what you want?

What’s in it for the rest of us?

What can you claim no one else can?

Technology, people, the time—everything changes. What is your enduring promise?

If your company story were made into a big budget Hollywood movie, what’s the title?

Who’s the hero?

What does the hero want?

What stands in his/her way?

What genre is the movie?

I prefer to do these interviews by phone. It takes about thirty minutes. I may ask people to clarify an answer. I’m listening for story more than concentrating on the facts or the past.. That doesn’t mean accuracy doesn’t matter. It means I listen like a playwright. And I think like a director who is looking out for both the audience and the performer. In my head they are stand-ins for your customers and your sales people, staff, and stakeholders.

When I have all the interviews done I transcribe them into a large document and give them to the President, CEO, Executive Director. There is great value in this document long after the engagement is over. Material that didn’t make the brand story cut may be useful elsewhere, or for a different purpose.


What do you do with the interview and focus group responses? Sift through it and look for bold declarative statements. Let’s say each questions has fifteen to twenty answers. Pick the three. One may be simple and elegant, metaphorical even. One may be personal, even emotional. One may be coming at it from a unique perspective. None of them sound like your website or your annual report. Your brand speaks its own language without any regard for business or industry jargon. Do not dilute the truth to fit your comfort zone or your agenda.

Create a brand team of four five people tops. Decide who gets the last word. Bring in outsiders with dominant right brain orientation, like artists and designers. They don’t have to understand your business. It’s better if they don’t. This brand story team highlights the answers, sentences, phrases, concepts and themes that have power. You’re searching for your DNA, your high concept, your higher purpose, your core values, where you draw the line in the sand, your passion, your fears, your belief system, and anything that evokes a strong emotional and physical response.

Share your highlights. Where’s the overlap? Each person should make a case for their choices when there’s disparity. Some highlighted responses are variations of a theme. Find one that represents a higher concept that implies the others. And prioritize. Aim high, leave no wiggle room.

Keep iterating until the document is one or two pages. As you go along keep notes as to what ideas seem like story and what seem like strategy. Decide what seem like vision and what seem like values. Categorize. This is useful for the next steps.


Pitch the story forward. Paint a picture of what the future looks like when you succeed. What needed to change? Who needed to change?

Create different templates before you write the story. This organizes your mind around your brand attributes, themes and helps to suggest what the climax of the story might be.  Here are some ideas to think about for the template. Feel free to create your own.

Your DNA — Water is always H2O. While its form and direction may change the molecules are constant.

Brand Driver — The driver is both focused and grand in scope. It lays out a clearly defined path with no end in sight. Stakeholders can take this and run with it. It provides clear parameters while allowing future growth and evolution of the brand.

Ground Truth — What will you defend with a knife clenched in your teeth? Don’t say ‘quality.” Go much deeper.

What you do – Be willing to be esoteric rather than literal. Something other than the product you make or the activity you offer may matter more to your customer. Harley Davidson manufactures and sells motorcycles. Yes, that’s what they do. What makes the brand legendary is that the other thing they do is make riders feel bad ass when you drive one.

How does it work?

Brand Vision – Future State — Describe where you are going…what does your change look like?

Brand Mission – The belief system that gets you there — What do you value? Don’t be a cliché.

High Concept – Keep it simple — Bum from the neighborhood goes the distance with the champ = ROCK … Killer shark = JAWS

What trend are you riding?

You lose the power if?

You can maintain and nurture your power if?

Your brand promise

If your brand is the solution what was the problem?

Your manifesto — Look at Hewlett Packard’s The Garage

Now your ready to write the narrative version. Here are ways to approach it. These are great exercises:

You also want to create a different set of talking points for:


Business is theater. Heighten the experience of every brand/customer touch point. In theater we rehearse. That’s where we take risks and fail so we can find what works. We want to discover, together, what motivations and actions drive the story forward. We support our performers with costumes, props, set, lights, and sound. Nothing is arbitrary. When all are in sync, then we perform in front of an audience. If story is based on universal truths and the then the performance rings true, then the experience is personal for both the actor and the audience. Business is no different. When all the elements are in sync, then it’s time to perform.

It starts with story. Make it worth it.

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