Is Brand Storytelling Dead?

Storytelling is dead

By Stephanie Van Ness


As the company’s chief storyteller, I’m an ardent believer in the power of an authentic story for deepening the connection between brands and their customers. Not the superficial “stories” that simply dress up data and statistics with a little human-interest pizzazz. But the kind of true storytelling — think hero’s journey — that makes people feel something. (And since at the end of the day storytelling is a marketing tool, makes people do something.)

I even wrote a blog about it not long ago.

So, I was rattled when I came across an article from late December on customer engagement trends for 2017.

Less Story-Telling, More Story-Doing, screamed the headline!

For a moment I panicked. My professional career has been built upon B2B storytelling and if that’s a thing of the past, I’m in big trouble. And my company’s business strategy may need some adjustment. ViewPoint is all about storytelling as a way to connect with our customers and inspire their audiences.

Commence cold sweat.

In the article published in Forbes, the author cites research by Fjord, a design and innovation consultancy unit of Accenture Interactive, that says, “The days of conventional brand storytelling are over, thanks to the democratization of content creation and the rise of image over text.”


Furiously mapping out a new career path in my head — Jumbotron operator? NASCAR Driver? Reality star? — I hesitantly read a little more of the article. “Brand owners and marketing teams are moving away from trying to be the primary owner of their brand story, to allow customers a greater stake.”

Phew! A wave of relief washed over me.

Storytelling isn’t dead. How could it be? Humans are hardwired to respond to stories versus statistics, and we’ve been communicating through stories for more than 27,000 years — since the days of cave-wall drawings.

What’s past is the notion that the brand controls the narrative.

Instead, audiences — consumers of that narrative — are now in charge. They get to shape brand stories to suit their needs. They get to consume the information in the way that makes sense to them — not only where and when, but how. And, thanks to social media and the popularity of crowd-sourced content they get to add their own perspective. How they interpret a brand. What they feel about it. What it means to them.

Beyond the Narrative

Bernadette Jiwa’s definition of brand storytelling in 2013’s The Fortune Cookie Principle: The 20 Keys to a Great Brand Story and Why Your Business Needs One is still accurate:

A brand story is more than a narrative. The story goes beyond the copy on your website, the text in a brochure, or the presentation used to pitch to investors. Your story isn’t just what you tell people. It’s what they believe about you based on the signals your brand sends. The story is a complete picture made up of facts, feelings, and interpretations, which means that part of your story isn’t even told by you.

Proponents of “story-doing” agree. They’re essentially saying evolution in storytelling is propelling us toward a more user-driven approach, where the brand is no longer the narrative’s only prime mover. From where I sit, that’s great news — especially since ViewPoint’s stories have always been user driven.

Looks like I’ll get to keep my day job. So, what does this all mean to you?

It means that storytelling — or story-doing, if you insist — is still a highly relevant and effective way to draw your brand and your customers closer, and help grow your business.

When done well, brand storytelling is interactive. It’s user-driven. It’s visceral. And it makes people feel, not just think. And that's the key. Maya Angelou said it best — I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

And in business, that's the crux. After all, people don't buy what you do, but rather how you make them feel.

I’d love to hear about how your company uses storytelling to connect with audiences and drive growth. Reach me at

Stephanie Van Ness

Assoc. Director of Marketing and Chief Storyteller at ICS, Boston UX and ViewPoint Interactive Solutions

An experienced copywriter with a Boston University J-school degree, Stephanie Van Ness writes about user experience (UX) design and innovations in technology, from self-driving vehicles to gesture-controlled medical devices. Her work has appeared in a number of industry publications, including Medical Design & Outsourcing, Mass Device, Connected World,Medical Device + Diagnostics, UX Collective and Prototypr.