• Transform magazine
  • February 21, 2020


Once upon a brand story


The concept of storytelling is used by brands to signify that their brand communications are defined by an overall strategy with clear objectives.

With the rise of the use of ‘story’ – to the point of buzzword status – that meaning has become diluted. But there are brands and organisations that do hold true to the meaning of story and are able to draw their communications together consistently and with purpose.

For Aesop, a brand storytelling agency based in London, storytelling is more than just a buzzword. To understand what story means to British businesses, it has, for the third time, polled 2,800 consumers to determine who the best storytelling brands are. 

The ‘Brand Storytelling Study’ finds Apple, unsurprisingly, in the number one slot, but the following brands are not nearly as expected. Some beloved British and international brands have dropped out of the top ten this year, including Cadbury, Walkers, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola and for the first time, no British supermarket company appears in the top 20. Supermarkets have suffered mightily in the past two years due to a lack of brand differentiation, poor brand loyalty, the horsemeat crisis and other reputational issues, not to mention increased competition from discount retailers.

“Tesco has been in freefall on our survey,” Ed Woodcock, director of narrative at Aesop, says. “Of the big four, it is the one that has most lost its sense of purpose and this is reflected in opinion about it. If the company is to resurrect ‘Every little helps,’ it can’t just be a strapline, but a heartfelt reappraisal of what they really mean by it these days.”

The top ten this year features three charities and one public organisation, two gaming brands and four tech and telecoms giants. Woodcock says this is because charities have a solid story brand story that forms the foundation of their existence. As the survey asked consumers to consider the brands’ personalities, differentiation and abilities to build an emotional connection, charities are wont to score highly.

However, the study also asks ‘Which brands are memorable?’ and ‘Which brands tell a credible story?’ These questions may account for some of the findings. Gaming companies have loyal followings and quirky personalities that allow them to use their brand story to great impact in communications campaigns. Yet, for most brands, presence does not amount to being memorable or having a clear story. Utilities brands – the lowest-scoring sector – found that despite prominent campaigns, made little impact on consumers. Gio Compario, Go Compare’s divisive brand character only allowed the financial services site to rank 86th, of 154.

Alternatively, the National Trust, which has focused on its role as a storytelling organisation in its recent communications, won over one of its target audiences (45-54 year-olds) who ranked it the best storytelling brand.

The study also shows that it’s difficult for brands to create a brand story without careful consideration of what it should be and why it should matter. Food and drink companies failed in that regard with only Guinness – a longtime storytelling expert – ranking in the top 20. Utilities companies seeking to build brand loyalty in a competitive market have performed poorly, proving a brand story cannot be manufactured. Even Dyson, a brand with a strong focus on innovation and British heritage, debuted at 18, an impressive number, but not highly enough to overtake the slew of charities littering the top 20.

Woodcock says, “‘Use it or lose it’ is a simple explanation of how memory works. Memorable brands can build up equity that’s hard to lose through constant exposure over time. But cut-through distinctiveness is also another way to ensure mental retrievability. Brands can let themselves down in both ways – too much change and too little imagination.”


The top 10
  1. Apple
  2. Macmillan Cancer Support
  3. National Trust
  4. BBC
  5. Xbox
  6. Cancer Research UK
  7. Samsung
  8. Playstation
  9. Google
  10. Facebook