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Storytelling is a hot topic. Pick any professional conference in our profession and, more times than not, you will find multiple storytelling workshops and presentations. Storytelling is important, and it is everywhere.

There are some great resources available to learn more about the art of storytelling. One of my favorites is Andy Goodman from the Goodman Center. After he visited my institution to conduct a four-hour workshop on storytelling, sharing with us his ten immutable laws, I was hooked. That workshop changed the way we told stories at Gettysburg College for the better.

I also recently came across a quote by Jonathan Gottschall, who wrote The Story Telling Animal. He summarizes telling a story in a way that is very succinct.

“Just about any story – comic, tragic, romantic – is about a protagonist’s efforts to secure usually at some cost what he or she desires.”

But, when you talk about great brand storytelling, it can’t just be about telling a great story. It also has to be about the strategy for advancing your brand. It’s our job to tell great stories that help support our brand strategy; to find a way to tie strategy and story together. What makes a great brand story at Gettysburg College would not necessarily make a great brand story at another institution.

The following examples highlight three ways that you can help tell your brand story. Having authentic and enthusiastic brand ambassadors, using an immersive digital experience, and taking advantage of your location are all actions that can help your institution tie strategy and story together.

1. Authentic and enthusiastic brand ambassadors

For an example of great storytelling by a brand ambassador; look no further than Tom Hank’s introduction of the Dave Clarke 5 at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2:55-5:47).

The DC5 were one of the most successful British Invasion bands of the Sixties, were a huge pop phenomenon, and have sold more than 50 million records worldwide to date. But Tom Hanks doesn’t lead with all of their accomplishments. Instead, he makes us feel like we are right there on the edge of the bed listening to the radio with him. His body language, the cadence of his voice, and his passion are amazing. Because of his authenticity and enthusiasm, he was able to reconnect fans with an incredible memory from their youth. But more importantly, he gave a generation that didn’t experience the British Invasion phenomenon a chance to relive it, and with it, the DC5 brand through his story. How many of us in higher education wish we had brand ambassadors like Tom Hanks for our school?

2. Immersive digital experience

An immersive digital experience can help tell a great story and connect to the institutional brand. The stories on the campaign website for the University of Washington are an excellent example. I was totally immersed in the living laboratory story and others on their website. The depth, the writing, the multiple entry points, the video, and the graphics all work together to make the case. When I read more about the University of Washington brand, they talked about bringing at least one of the following pillars to life: leading-edge student experience, public as a philosophy, proven impact, and innovation mindset. Without a doubt, several of these characteristics come through in their stories and were lifted up due to the immersive experience.

3. Location. Location. Location.

Here is an example from Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. Juniata rolled out a new brand last year and released this video to coincide with it. While it is a well-done example of a great video and a well-executed story, it is more than that. It is well connected to the Juniata College brand. In an era where a location is so important, their new brand, as well as this video, owns their more rural location in a very positive and upbeat way. I was also thoroughly impressed with how well this resonated with their alumni base on their social media accounts when it was first released. A real test of brand development work is how well it resonates with your audiences, and this was a first-class job.

Wrap up

If you don't have conflict or tension, then you don’t have a story. I recently heard Margot Leitman, who is an author on storytelling, speak. She said great stories are told in the extremes. No one wants to hear about an average date. People want to hear about the worst date you ever had. In a noisy marketplace, we have to tell great stories for our institution.

Storytelling, in general, is hard. Brand storytelling is all the more so. It is not an easy thing to do. But it is our job to curate and tell the great brand stories of our institution. By elevating authentic and enthusiastic brand ambassadors, creating an immersive digital experience, and taking advantage of your location, we can all simplify these complexities.

Paul Redfern leads the communications and marketing team at Gettysburg College and is a frequent presenter on marketing and brand topics at national conferences. He is a member of the Board of Directors for the College and University Public Relations and Associated Professionals (CUPRAP).