The Missing Ingredient


Recently we gave a talk at BAAS PRAAT XL about storytelling, what it is and why it’s such a powerful tool for companies that are trying to stand out from the crowd today. Building the presentation made us take a fresh look at the world of branding, storytelling, and the current trends of the industry, and we wanted to share some of the highlights with you.

It seems like there’s quite a few misconceptions around storytelling. First off, storytelling isn’t branding. It’s something entirely separate from the origin of the company, their target audience, or the motivation behind a product. Storytelling isn’t about what you say, but how you say it. It’s your means of communication rather than the actual content.


Secondly, there’s an idea floating around that storytelling is only applicable to certain industries or brand identities, but we disagree. Storytelling is for everyone. It’s relevant for every company or campaign that aims to stand out from the crowd and produce something meaningful. Whether you’re a rock band, a whiskey distiller, an accounting firm or a hospital, it’s always possible and beneficial to inject some storytelling into your branding and design.

There are various interpretations out there of what storytelling is, but none of them felt quite right to us, so we came up with our own:

Storytelling is a method used to inject emotion and meaning into a product or service through the use of inspiring concepts, metaphors, narrative & characters.

In the end, it can be as simple as taking classical narrative elements and using them to elicit a more meaningful connection with your audience. The next question, of course, is why should you use storytelling? At Once we know storytelling works, but we’ve never taken the time to consider exactly why that is. We realised three important consequences of storytelling:

  • It arouses our curiosity.
  • It engages us on an emotional level
  • It leaves a lasting impression

On a fundamental level storytelling makes us dream, feel, and remember. What more do you need for a powerful brand experience? But storytelling isn’t a formula or a set of rules, and every attempt to define it, including our own, misses the mark in some way or other. What we found to be most important to understanding storytelling is the mindset that goes with it. We realized that storytelling is somewhat contrary to several aspects of contemporary branding practices…

Maybe it’s not a question of attention spans being too short, perhaps content is simply too shallow.

Many companies today try to fit their brand into a 5 second ad, or make it stand out on a billboard surrounded by a thousand other campaigns. They aim to reach everyone, if only for a second. The success of storytelling proves that this approach isn’t always the best. Storytelling is about creating a meaningful, lasting experience with people, even if that means losing a small part of the audience along the way. We would rather have 80% of the audience be amazed by our work than 100% be okay with it. The mindset of storytelling is quality over quantity. It’s about details, taking risks, and trusting your audience to follow along for the ride. If the content is good enough, they won’t be able to resist!


After covering the theory, we moved past on to some real world examples. We looked into Tomorrowland and how storytelling has helped it grow into one of the most famous music festivals on earth. The journey begins just where it should, with your ticket, as Tomorrowland turns something as mundane as a ticket into an immersive storytelling experience that builds curiosity and excitement for the main event.


MailChimp is another great example of storytelling, this time done through the use of a key character, their mascot and logo, the mail chimp himself. The character is integrated throughout the site through illustration, animation and creative copy, and is hidden in strange places (like their 404 page) and important moments (like just before you launch a marketing campaign of your own).

A last real world example we looked at was Coolblue, chosen for their subtlety and attention to detail, which is all geared toward building their brand identity and slogan, ‘Anything for a smile.’ Their casual and authentic review videos build trust while smaller aspects of the site like their responsive shopping basket icon and hidden animations (try searching for a vibrator and see what happens) give users something to remember and make them want to explore a bit more.

Lastly, we couldn’t resist showing off a bit of our own storytelling, particularly through jobs like Centenspel (which is still in progress, but we’ll tell you all about it soon), Villa Pila and The Switch. But we don’t need to tell you about all that, you can see it for yourself.


Alexander Casteels