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Jennifer Zanfardino

Why I Believe In Branding

I’ve always loved stories. Not as in “Oh, that’s nice, thanks for sharing,” but in a way that is deeply personal and sometimes—frighteningly—a bit possessive. This is because my favorite stories have taken me on journeys that left indelible impressions on my soul. Yeah, I just got deep there for a second.

But seriously, I love getting intimate with the characters and living vicariously through their adventures – whether it’s following a spider’s attempt to save a pig, or a family’s efforts to honor their deceased mother’s burial wishes.

Stories such as Charlotte’s Web and As I Lay Dying made me believe. Decades after reading the last page of Charlotte’s Web I’m convinced that somewhere a spider and a pig can have a profound, destiny-changing friendship. And when my mother was battling cancer, I occasionally found myself thinking “My mother is a fish,” because between the surgeries and treatments life could be so surreal and absurd.

It wasn’t just the words on the page that made me believe, but because the stories they formed created experiences that extended beyond the page. Like in second grade when we watched the movie Charlotte’s Web, and even though I knew how it ended I still started bawling in front of my class. Or when my father would ask if there was anything we could do to help comfort my mother and I was tired and fresh out of suggestions and simply responded, “My mother is a fish” which translated to “I’ve got nothing.”

It’s because of my relationship with stories that I believe in brands. After all, brands are just stories – with characters, plots, and themes. Sure, the brand story is told using various mediums – logos, websites, taglines – but they should all evoke the same emotional response from the listener.

And the best brands have the best stories.

Not just a great tagline.

Or a really cool logo.

Or a slick website.

But a great story. And that story is the foundation for powerful experiences. Experiences that make you believe even when you’re not staring at the tagline, wearing the logo, or exploring the website.

For example, I really believe I can “Just do it” when I put on my Nike gear at the gym. It’s not because it’s a great tagline. It’s because I’ve seen other athletes wearing Nike gear kick ass. And because Nike athletic apparel transforms my mindset from desk jockey to athlete. And because my FuelBand – with its mysterious fuel points – inspires me to walk to the bus (when it’s not freezing here in New York) instead of taking the subway. Because this is a page on the Nike website. And this is what you get when you search “Nike Quotes” on Pinterest. And people are inspired to tell stories such as this about the brand.

So I believe in brands because I believe in stories. I believe in their ability to connect with parts of our being beyond the surface, even if it’s unconscious. And I believe in their ability to leave a lasting impression on our identity and how we exist in the world.