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The Power of Storytelling in Communicating Brand Culture

September 14, 2011

I love this commercial. In just 30 seconds, Subaru tells us a story that has the potential to touch us. It’s not a tear-jerker, but it connects to the human spirit with a universal theme of love lost and love found while letting us know what the Subaru brand culture is all about. And of course, it’s a Subaru that has been there for it all. I want one.

We know why this works. In this high touch, high concept story, as Daniel Pink says in his best-selling book, A Whole New Mind, we don’t need words to fill in the blanks, our right brain makes sense of it, and connects it to our heart. Their exchange of glances across the gym floor, the memories of another lifetime, the look at the old Subaru while walking to the house. Our right brain and our hearts have no trouble following it because we know the feeling or can imagine it.

In his blog, Neuromarketing, Roger Dooley talks about this in his post, Your Brain on Stories. He quotes a researcher on monitoring the brains of people reading a certain story. The researcher concluded:

Readers are far from passive consumers of words and stories. Indeed, it appears that we dynamically activate real-world scripts that help us to comprehend a narrative–and those active scripts in turn enrich the story beyond its mere words and sentences. In this way, reading is much like remembering or imagining a vivid event.

That’s powerful stuff that gets ignored in all of our left brain publications as we describe our features and benefits.

At Concordia University Irvine, one of our most important objectives in the last year has been to begin to tell the Concordia story. We have proven we can find words to describe who we are, and at times can debate which words to use. But stories cut through all of that and show our brand culture and how our students have been transformed by their experience at Concordia.

A few months ago, we decided we wanted to communicate how our hybrid delivery system in our degree programs for working adults can fit a busy family’s schedule. Now that’s heavy-duty left brain fare. But we wanted to show how it’s lived out. And we think our director, Ian Swanson of Couture Motion, gave us a story that relates to prospective adult students who dream of getting their college degree but wonder how to fit it into their life.

Much like the Subaru commercial, there are moments that seem familiar to us. Fixing breakfast early in the morning. Brushing your daughter’s hair. Off to work in the morning. Home from work. Kissing your kids goodnight. These are moments that recall feelings in our own lives, or we may imagine what they feel like. That connection matters as we work to recruit students. It always has.

Stories are powerful stuff. In this time when engagement matters–to students, search engines, etc.–stories have the power to use both sides of our brains to captivate us, engaging us to consider that we might want to be part of the story and the culture too.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 14, 2011 12:54 PM

    Whoa! … Rick, this is powerful stuff! Well done … I gotta’ tell you, though, that as I watched Concordia’s video, I could not help but think how short-sighted a similar institution of higher learning has been by choosing to dismantle their program for adult learners … so sad!

    ~ tr

    • Rick Hardy permalink
      September 14, 2011 3:23 PM

      Thanks, Tim. Yes, there’s an important mission component to educating adult learners. I think the video communicates that well.



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