Girl making a heart shape with hands

The Power of Storytelling

Today, all aspects of our lives are very much influenced by storytelling. Books, films, music, media, religions, art, and so on, are all typical mediums engaged by cultures around the world. However, the power of storytelling has and always will be the essence of some very good branding and emotional design, which this article will later explore.

The evolution of storytelling

Historically, storytelling has been used to pass on knowledge from generations to generations. For years, civilisations have adopted narratives to define values, morals, dreams, desires, and to even teach clans on how to survive. However, storytelling was formed by neither spoken language and writings, but gestures and expressions.

Over the course of history, storytelling has evolved; different cultures adapted new and unique techniques. The Australian aboriginal people painted symbols from stories on cave walls to help the storyteller remember narratives. Ancient Egyptians wrote literature (for wisdom and entertainment) on papyrus, walls, tombs, pyramids, obelisks and more. Shakespeare delighted cultures with fictional writings, and consequently inspired many more writers, shows and theatricals. And in recent times mankind has explored even more channels to share stories such as motion graphics (film and television), digital games, the Internet, social networking and much more.

Aboriginal cave painting
Australian aboriginal story telling on cave walls

Contemporary storytelling

From paintings to Egyptian literature, Shakespeare to film, storytelling has advanced to new forms in the digital realm, which give people the power to record, express and consume stories more freely. In today’s world, contemporary storytelling can be found in social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook; people freely converse and express themselves using text, pictures, emoticons, videos and more. People also have the freedom to tell stories in videos (YouTube), Photography (Flickr), encyclopaedias (Wikipedia), blogs (WordPress) etc. Modern-day narratives as we know them, continue to grow in both the digital and real world, but how it has impacted on branding is what we are going to explore next…

Social media icons
Familiar social media icons including Facebook and Twitter

Brand storytelling

In advertisement, storytelling is employed as a powerful channel to emotionally engage with an audience. This is often known as ‘brand storytelling’. Global brands including Coca Cola, Nike, M&S and Apple, successfully relate, involve and connect with their audiences to share values, increase sales, and outgrow competition. And even more brands are beginning to take advantage of the power of storytelling in digital or physical form.

What constitutes a good brand story anyway? Well, like any other compelling story, there should be a plot, characters, events, a theme and a setting. And more importantly, a narrative should be captivating enough to be more memorable; the bigger the impression, then the more the audience will remember and share their experience. Global brands in particular, establish and develop storytelling by using key elements including tone of voice, emotional design, relatable and memorable humour, unique experiences, drama and suspense, and many more to increase engagement.

So, in a nutshell, storytelling has evolved from educating and entertaining communities to helping brands to engage their audience. Each brand will have their own reason for wanting to relate to their audience, but with the power of storytelling, consumer engagement is even more possible.

Brands who tell a good story

Apple (2014)

Girl filming with an iPhone

Apple share a number of stories to demonstrate how people use their products in unique ways

Ikea (2014)

Ikea commericals

“Beds” (top left), “Time for change” (bottom left), “Playin’ with my friends” (right)

The Lego Movie (2014)

The Lego Movie poster art

The Lego Movie is quite possibly the best 90-minute commercial made in history! Marketing at its best.

Coca Cola (2012)

Coca Cola open happiness advert

Coca Cola’s iconic polar bears; innocent, fun and reflecting human-like attributes.

Marks & Spencer (2013)

Marks and Spencers Christmas commercial montage

Marks & Spencer add the sparkle to Christmas with their fairy tale themed campaigns, each telling a story of adventure

Nike (2012)

Nike Find your Greatness campaign; scene of a boy standing at diving ledge

Part of Nike’s “Find Your Greatness” campaign, the brand continue to inspire with goodwill, courage and sport commitment

Variety of iconic designs

Iconic Designs

Icons, symbols, metaphors and signs are all part of a visual language, which is used in branding and everyday design. This article explores how visual design plays an important role in brand identity and user interfaces whether they are in context with the digital or natural world.

Using a visual language

In either the digital or natural world, we communicate using visual elements such as icons, symbols, metaphors and signs; all constituting what we call a visual language. We tend to take this form of communication for granted, but it is a powerful tool, which designers and global branding experts use to reach their target audiences. Take Coca Cola for instance; everybody recognises the brand’s logo and even the shape of the bottle. However, a visual language has in fact been in practice for thousands of years; the oldest known symbols have been found in cave paintings throughout the Stone Age.

Cave paintings
An example of cave paintings from the stone age

Iconic designs in the modern world

Wherever we go, whatever we do, we are presented with constant icons; we respond to a whole language of universal icons and visual metaphors. The magnifying glass (search), a house (homepage), and rubbish bin (trash) are ingrained into our minds and we take advantage of those visual shortcuts. Even global brands can be instantly identified; the golden arches (McDonalds), the swoosh (Nike), and the apple with a bite mark (Apple) are all iconic brands which can be recognised without words.

Technically a design can represent anything, but will remain arbitrary if there is no agreed meaning. Until the intended meaning is shared by a group of people, the design then becomes iconic. If email was never invented then would the mail symbol be iconic? And if there was no Twitter, what would the blue bird truly stand for? Perhaps one day the burger menu will be recognised as a true universal icon; I beg to differ, but what do you think?

Icons of a trash can, magnifying glass (search) and Apple
From left to right clockwise; a recycle or trash can icon, iconic apple branding, universal search icon

Iconic brands that work

Icons that can be understood without words should succeed as good iconic brands. But for a brand to be truly iconic it needs to reach out to its audience on multiple levels. The product or service needs a good tone of voice, to tell a good story, to empathise with emotion, and more. Here is a selection of iconic logos:


Apple brand logo

The famous Apple branding


Coca Cola brand logos

The soft drinks franchise is instantly recognised all over the world; even the shape of the bottle is iconic


Google brand logo

Google is an multinational corporation specialising in Internet-related services, of course.


Nike brand logos

The iconic Nike ‘Swoosh’ is instantly recognised, whatever it’s context


McDonald's golden arches logo

The fast food giant’s logo including the famous golden arches

American Airlines

American Airlines brand logo

American Airlines recently redesigned their brand identity which includes a new icon