What You Can Learn from My Grandma About Narratives

My grandma's 70th birthday, where we apparently put one candle on the cake backwards, and I wore an awesome  Rugrats  T-shirt.

My grandma's 70th birthday, where we apparently put one candle on the cake backwards, and I wore an awesome Rugrats T-shirt.

Without even knowing it, my grandma had a strong brand narrative. It wasn’t just that she told amazing stories full of color and details, it was that her life was guided by a clear purpose. I sat at her kitchen table, the sound of some soap opera barely audible in the background, as she stood at the stove stirring and talking over the actors. She told me stories about the past, tying them to the present and ensuring I knew she believed in generosity. That was her narrative. She was captivating­—dazzling, as she danced around her black and white tiled kitchen—drawing me in and encouraging me to take part in the conversation and, most importantly, in her values.

As a girl, my grandma noticed one of her neighbors, Charlotte, didn’t have as many clothes, toys, or books as she did. While my great-grandmother didn’t have a lot of money, she took great pride in dressing herself and her daughter well. One day, Charlotte complimented a jacket my grandma was wearing and instead of just saying, “Thank you,” she literally took it off of her back and gave it to Charlotte. My great-grandmother was furious, but my grandma refused to get it back, insisting Charlotte not only needed it more but deserved it.

Your brand narrative isn’t a story with a beginning and an end, it’s the “why” that all of your stories ladder back to and reinforce, it needs to be open-ended and engaging, inviting your audience to take part. Your actions should reflect your narrative. Why do you exist? What is your passion? Where is your brand going? These are questions your narrative should answer. Your company’s founding and heritage should be included, as well as your present plans, long-term vision, and goals.

As my grandma shared her values with me and her hopes for the future, I didn’t realize this higher purpose was actually her narrative. Similarly, you may not consciously realize that the emotional connection you feel with Apple, Airbnb, and Warby Parker are a direct result of their narratives.

Why do you need a brand narrative?

To differentiate yourself­. Not just to customers, but to employees and prospective employees. Having a brand narrative means you have a clear identity, and therefore, a consistent message. Your employees will be able to follow this compass and shape the way they interact with clients, customers, and one another. And like my grandmother, they will know what your brand stands for.

Create a brand narrative and then make sure you back it up. Your narrative will mean nothing if you don’t continuously follow it up with your brand’s behavior.

Samantha SchlemmComment