Decade's No. #1 Goal: Build Your Brand Story

by Jocelyne Daw.


Great brands tell great stories. They have a clear sense of their true north.  It shapes their beliefs and behaviours. Foremost, they know what they stand for.  Then they use the art of storytelling to create a meaningful and relevant brand identity. Great brand stories grow with repetition and time. Why is this important? Stories help us understand. They help us remember.  A great story conveys meaning. And in an increasingly overwhelming and fast-moving world, meaning trumps information.As we greet a new decade if your nonprofit does one thing differently consider building a strong brand narrative.   The impact can be powerful.

A powerful brand story


I have been fortunate enough to work with a master storyteller and to see first hand the difference a compelling brand story can make. For over seven years (1999 – 2006) I worked as Glenbow Museum’s vice-president, external relations.  One of Canada’s premier cultural institutions, Glenbow is based in Calgary, Alberta. Driven by a need to be entrepreneurial, Glenbow is a nonprofit that relies heavily on community support to survive and thrive.  As every good fundraiser and marketer knows, the CEO is vital to securing that support.Shortly after I joined, a new President and CEO was appointed. A cultural anthropologist named Mike Robinson.  Happily for me, he understood the value of a good story and knew how to tell one. As a first order of business he took the time to understand the true essence of the organization’s brand. He built a compelling story that presented the core idea. His story started with our founder, Eric Harvie – a lawyer, entrepreneur and maverick.  One of Harvie’s strategic investments was a “moose pasture”.  As luck had it, the land was the site of the 1947 Leduc oil discovery, one of the largest in Canadian history.  Overnight, he and his family became multi-billionaires.  In true maverick form, he committed to giving away it all away. And give it away he did.  During his lifetime he contributed over $500 million to good work across Canada.  He is one of our country’s greatest, but little known philanthropists.Establishing Glenbow Museum to preserve and tell Alberta’s story and showcase world heritage, was one of his major commitments. Mr. Harvie had strong Scottish roots.  This informed a uniquely, interdisciplinary approach to the collection with artifacts, art, archival material and a library of Western Canadian books. His desire to be the “working man’s” university drove an emphasis on community and accessibility. In true entrepreneurial spirit, Harvie provided enough money to “do good things but not enough to do nothing.” During Mike’s time as President, Glenbow’s brand story grew richer with the telling. It set the context for every meeting we had together.  Whether it was with a major donor, a government official or a colleague from another museum.  He told it at every event and every opening.  In fact, at every opportunity he could.Even though I heard the story almost weekly, I never tired of it.  It made me proud.  It elicited emotion.  It provided clarity. It presented our purpose and direction in a way that was memorable and left a lasting positive impression.  Above all, it almost always inspired action.

Takeaways: What makes a great brand story?

The most enduring stories are built upon several essential elements.

  • A great brand story defines what you stand for and presents the noble idea that represents the brand.

  • A compelling brand story uses language that is active. It conjures up images that present and help drive the identity an organization wants in the marketplace.

  • It captures and holds your attention. It’s memorable and easy to relay.

  • A compelling brand story is authentic and genuine. It’s simple, believable and concrete.

  • It tells a David and Goliath story. Nonprofit brands break through when they present the brand idea that inspires and a challenge that must be vanquished. A ying and yang that that stirs the emotion.

  • Great brand stories have the ability to persuade people to do something with the idea. They offer hope and aspiration and compel people to act.

A good brand story will transform the way people think and act.  So what’s your brand story?