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Thu, 19, 2014


Defining NARRATIVE and STORY for Marketing

June 19, 2014 - Posted by Andrew Gordon

One usually hears in an Introduction to Literature course phrases like “NARRATIVE” or even “STORY.” Of course, the stuffy professor will spend considerable amount of time explaining the seemingly pointless difference between the two words.

He might write on the chalkboard something like:


A STORY is finite; they have a beginning, middle, and an end. They are normally centered on a central character with which the reader or listener identifies.

A NARRATIVE is infinite, they are opened ended and have no resolution. They are always in the process of unfolding and often include an invitation to participate within its unfolding.

The above definitions are fine, but nothing worth remembering except in an Introduction to Literature course.

It wasn’t until I started thinking about storytelling within branding and marketing, that I realized these basic literary conventions are still relevant beyond that first Literature course many moons ago.

Just like in class, there is an explicit link between STORY and NARRATIVE, particularly in marketing .

However, when it comes to marketing for a brand, or even a personal brand, the definitions of narrative and story take on subtle differences.

NARRATIVE and STORY in Context of Marketing

A company’s long game, its far-reaching vision and its long-term plans are its NARRATIVE. This not only includes the company’s origins, its present, and future goals, but also its core ideology and beliefs. This dialogue shapes how your company or personal brand interacts with its consumers and how it is perceived in the media.


On the other hand, the STORY is short-term; it inspires consumers to direct action. These are the smaller wins for a company, overcoming challenges, or tidbits that tell about the company’s daily life. This is the day-today social media blip or blog post that gives consumers and fans a glimpse behind the scenes.

Great brands successfully utilize STORY to help develop and reinforce their core NARRATIVE .

By telling and informing consumers of their NARRATIVE, brands connect with ones that share the same goals and beliefs. The human elements of STORY, the everyday struggles and celebrations of a company, creates a further emotional connection with these fans and consumers. These STORIES attract them, drawing them in to take part and participate with the NARRATIVE of the brand.

A brand that does this particularly well is, of course, Apple. What makes Apple’s marketing so successful is what they don’t do. Their marketing and advertising doesn’t make an overt pitch to get you to buy the next generation of Apple products, rather they market their core belief: the power of human innovation.

Which is why Apple’s iPad Air – Your Verse ad is so effective. The commercial itself is simple, several different clips of humans doing exceptional things, like mountain climbing, making art, or even playing hockey, with a Robin Williams voiceover from the film Dead Poet’s Society.

The ad is a literal series of STORIES of human innovation and creativity, which again reinforces Apple’s NARRATIVE. What makes the ad and the messaging truly remarkable is Robin Williams’ voiceover. It ends on a literal call to action, “What Will Your Verse Be?” Instead of showing consumers what is a person can do with an iPad Air, the ad asks viewers, “What can you do with one? What will be your contribution to human innovation and Apple’s NARRATIVE? What will be your STORY? What will your verse be?” It puts the responsibility back on the viewer to engage with Apple’s NARRATIVE.

screenshot-www apple com

It’s an effective spot and appeals directly to Apple’s consumers. It reinforces the brand and its NARRATIVE to core consumers while acting as an introduction to new ones.

That is exactly the point of having a consistent brand NARRATIVE and STORY, to create and attract new customers, while reminding current ones of why they loved the brand in the first place.

What do you think? What to you is the relationship between NARRATIVE and STORY to your company? Leave us a comment!

Also feel free to check out our Branding Infographic below!

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Andrew Gordon

Copywriter and Marketing Communications Specialist at Business On Market St.
I must create a system or be enslav’d by another man’s; I will not reason and compare: my business is to create. - William Blake
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