How to elevate your brand by way of storytelling

By Mellissa Tong



Before I get into the details about how to elevate your brand by way of storytelling, I like to address three fundamental principles. Branding, marketing, and storytelling.


What is a brand? Some people say it is what they sell, others say it is who they are as a company. A brand to me is about the gut feeling your customers have toward your company, product, or service. It is not what you say it is, it is what they say it is. So find out what your customers are saying about your brand, and if it is not what you want to hear, you know you got work to do.


Now that you understand what branding is, what do you think comes first, branding or marketing? Oftentimes I hear people say, oh Im doing my website, Im printing the pamphlet.” But if you dont know what your brand is, then what is your messaging going to be in your marketing?


People always ask me this question, what is storytelling in business? Is it the same as telling a personal story?” My answer is, no it is not. Storytelling in business is about crafting a specific story to evoke an emotion from your customers, with the intent to connect and change the perception of a brand.”


Let me give you an example here. We were brought in by Westin LAX to establish their own brand identity under the Westin/Marriott brand (Westin is owned by Marriott.) Do you think they know their own brand, absolutely; do you think their customers know their brand, 100% positive. I bet most people have stayed at a Westin hotel when they travel. So why do they want an independent identity? The reason is they want Westin LAX to stand out, even among other Westin hotels. They feel that they have a unique location, being either the first or last hotel property on the airport road, depending on which direction youre coming from. They felt that they havent maximized their potentials yet.  


During our session, we identified twenty-four feelings they want their customers to have and experience at the hotel. From there, we were able to craft a tagline for them for 2022, achieve your vision,something they never had. This tagline rings true to them because it works very well both externally and internally. Externally, they want their customers to feel that they can achieve anything and everything at the hotel; internally, they want everyone on the sales team to have a vision for what they want to achieve by year end.


From there, we went on to identify twelve different value propositions about what make Westin LAX special and different, not just from their competitors, but also from other Westin locations. Then based on that, we crafted twelve convincing stories to attach to each of the value propositions. Now when they list their specialties, they are a lot more convincing with a story than just facts.


To top it off, we also shifted how their sales team communicate with their customers. Instead of saying how many nights do you want, we can also do conferences, special events, weddings, screenings, and so on,” they replaced all that with customizable experiences.’ It was a total game changer for them.


I believe if you truly know how to utilize storytelling in your branding and messaging, there is no way you cant elevate your brand and see improvement in numbers. At the end of the day, human beings crave for connections. Why do you think we cant put our phone down for even fifteen minutes? Because it makes us feel like were connected, although it is a false sense of connection.


Why do you think big brands are so successful, what do they have in common? Lets look at some of the slogans some iconic brands have. Nike: Just do it. Apple: Think differently. Airbnb: Belong anywhere. Can you see what the common theme is? They all make you feel something, dont they? What do you want your customers to feel when it comes to your brand?


Sometimes, people ask me why Im so good with storytelling, how come I know what works and what doesnt, how come it comes so natural to me? The answer is it didnt come natural to me at all. In fact, I had to learn it the very hard way, and it has taken me half of my life to get here.


Growing up, because of my cultural background, my parents never knew how to express their feelings and show love. As a kid, although I had friends, I didnt know how to connect. I always felt awkward around people I barely knew. Even today, sometimes I feel like I still dont know how to start a conversation. Storytelling is my way to connect.


I was a music composition major and planned on being a composer after my MFA degree, but God had another plan for me. He put me at a job as a TV News Anchor/Reporter/Producer. I was there for four years, and during that time, I had a daily 5-min human interest segment where I interviewed thousands of people from all walks of life and covered over 1,200 stories. Unbeknownst to me at the time, those four years really laid a solid foundation for me as a storyteller.


Looking back, if I didnt have that intense daily training, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do today. But ultimately, storytelling is about knowing how and when to pull that heart string, using facts, without manipulating. I believe that is the highest form of storytelling and nothing can even come close to the results and benefits it offers.


So, I encourage all of you, to start small. If you grew up with loving parents, you are already way ahead of me. This is a skill set that can be learned. Just remember, the most important thing is, make sure your story is relevant to your customers. Every story has to serve a purpose. If your story can pull the heart string, is relevant and has a purpose, you have mastered storytelling. And dont forget me when your brand becomes a household name!