Enacting Your Brand Story

September 22, 2016 | Subodh Deshpande

There is too much going on these days for people to remember your brand commercial. Ad-free entertainment on platforms like Netflix is just part of that. However, enactments and experiences are more memorable than messages. You may not remember a Dove commercial but you are likely to remember a social experiment on how women feel less beautiful when judging themselves. And we are likely to share this with each other, with a comment “#coolidea”.

enacting your brand story DOVE

Brand storytelling is not enough for brands; rather they must act out and perform their story if they want more conversation to happen around themselves and their brand purpose.

How can one go about it? Here are a few thoughts that may help with enacting your brand story.

At the heart of enacting your brand story is the idea that the brand has a reason to exist. It has a brand purpose to play out. This is the brand’s higher calling beyond sales and profit.

  • TOMS believes that if the haves support the have-nots, we will create a better world. Their one-for-one program for shoes and eyewear is TOMS enacting their brand story.
  • Airbnb wants to create a world without barriers. Their ‘Stories from the Airbnb community’ are videos uploaded by their customers, in which they narrate their experience of having found a home away from home. These videos are inspiring examples of Airbnb’s brand purpose in action.

brand storytelling AIRBNB

Going hand-in-hand with defining your brand purpose is the resolution of taking on an enemy. Every renowned story has a villain who must be vanquished. This is also what builds famous legends. Nelson Mandela took on the system of apartheid. Steve Jobs took on IBM and its world of intimidating technology. Taking on an enemy creates tension and makes the brand story engaging. In the examples below, one can see the enemy as well as the brand belief:

  • Nike fights ‘Ordinariness’ because it believes ‘Greatness is in everyone’.
  • Dove fights ‘Standardized notions of beauty’ because it believes ‘Everyone is beautiful’.
  • Red Bull fights ‘Human limits’ because it believes ‘We can all have wings if we want to’.

A brand’s story generates conversation when it tackles its enemy; usually a culturally felt tension.

Martin Luther King rose to prominence when he led the Montgomery bus boycott. The bus seating practice was a visible ritual of segregation. Attacking the enemy where it was most visible helped fuel the movement for equal rights in America.

Thus, we need to look at our world through the lens of our brand purpose and ask, ‘Where is our enemy strongly present?’, ‘What remarkable change can we can bring to our world?’.

  • Red Bull acknowledged that space was indeed the final frontier. It is the nemesis of human ability. We have mastered space with aviation technology but how about the audacity of jumping to earth from space? Red Bull enacted its brand story of taking on human limits by creating ‘Man vs. Space’ and the rest, as they say, is history.

brand storytelling RED BULL

  • Coke identified its enemy as ‘walls that divide us’ and enacted its brand purpose in societal settings where its enemy was the strongest: ‘On the first day of college’, ‘Hatred between nations’, ‘Prejudice between the privileged and the working class’. Coke’s action of taking on the enemy of divisiveness created engagement; people shared these delightful stories that soothed their hidden anxieties, solidifying Coke’s stature as an icon of happiness.

brand purpose COKE

enacting your brand story COKE

coke drone campaign

You can enact your brand story and perform your brand purpose using all aspects of the brand mix: from packaging, to product, to employee culture, to office design, and raw material sourcing etc.

  • Coke’s packaging labels that read ‘Share a Coke with Hubby’, ‘Share a Coke with BFF’ etc. is a great enactment of the brand’s commitment to togetherness.
  • Zappos, the famous online shoe retailer, encourages employees who are unhappy to quit the company and pays them a $1000 bonus on top of their dues. This is an enactment of its brand purpose to ‘delight the customer’ and fight the enemy of ‘bad customer service’.

To conclude, here is a summary of steps on enacting your brand story:

  1. Identify your brand purpose and the enemy you want to fight.
  2. Find the cultural tension points where your enemy is strongest.
  3. Enact your brand story by tackling this enemy.
    • This is bound to create engagement and talkability around your brand.
  4. Finally, enact your brand story, perform your brand purpose using all relevant aspects of the brand mix: company culture, packaging, sourcing etc.

The idea in the end is a simple one. Go beyond telling/messaging and perform your brand story on the stage of culture and society so that the people you serve will see, touch and feel your brand in such a remarkable way that they can no longer ignore it.


Posted By Subodh Deshpande

Subodh was fascinated by creative ideas, theatre and cinema. This obsession with creativity led him to a career in advertising in Mumbai, India. He moved into a role that focused on culture based brand planning. He was driven by a desire to create ideas that shape ‘meaning’ for brands on a strong cultural foundation. During his advertising career, he worked in Mumbai and Singapore on iconic brands from The Coca-Cola Company, Johnson & Johnson and Unilever. He is currently based in Singapore, and now exploring how human empathy can make companies and brands relevant and powerful. His work focuses on strategic brand development & innovation projects with global and Asian companies. His recent projects with leading global brands have focussed on building capability in human insights, brand positioning and creative excellence capabilities.

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