The Financial ROI of Brand Storytelling


August 6, 2013

At the Society for Marketing Professional Services annual conference a few weeks ago in Orlando, people who attended my session asked me how to get executive buy-in on storytelling. My response? Talk to them in their language: money.

Successful organizations of all sizes (Fortune 100 to small and medium size) are drawing on storytelling to bring their brands to life and inspire members, customers, volunteers and employees. It helps move these audiences from “I understand what the organization does,” which is the brand, to “I believe in what the company is trying to achieve,” “I’m part of something bigger” (engagement) and “What’s important to me is important to this organization.”

Storytelling also gives leaders a personal platform from which to bring their vision to life in a way that makes it easy for people to remember the story (the brand and what it delivers) and share that story with others, which fosters engagement and raises awareness.

In their book Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras talk about the increased financial results that companies experience when they let their purpose (story) drive what they do, and they have the values in place to support it:

  • Outperform the general market 15:1
  • Outperformed comparison companies 6:1

To back that up,  John Koer and James Jaskett go further in their book Corporate Culture and Performance, and talk about how companies that have cultures based on their story (purpose) and values out-perform companies that don’t:

  • Revenues grew 4 times faster
  • Jobs created was 7 times greater
  • Stock prices grew 12 times faster

The power of the brand story equates into stock market performance, as what we market and how we communicate (internally and externally) becomes increasingly complex within an environment that’s substantially more “noisy.”

Roy Spence’s book It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For outlines examples of how companies that try to motivate their employees based on stock market performance tend to create a corporate culture where the collective self-esteem rises and falls with the stock price. In contrast, he cleary outlines, companies that understand their purpose (story) and invest in bringing it to life tend to have lower employee turnover, higher productivity, and experience less pricing-pressure. These companies tend to be more innovative and outperform the stock performance of their competitors 8:1.

There’s a difference between companies that try to execute a brand message verses one that executes a story. One of the pillars of storytelling is understanding the inspiration for how you’re trying to make the world or people’s lives better. But it’s also key for executive leadership to care and “own” this story, particularly outside of marketing, in order to use it as a basis to drive actions within a company.

Results from privately owned companies make it hard to evaluate the results of storytelling on most companies. However, research from co:collective looked at the impact of implementing storytelling on the financial performance of 42 publically traded companies. In their report, they talk about the performance difference between traditional branding and advertise efforts (what they call storytelling) and today’s definition of storytelling (what they call story “doing”). They shared their results in a recent Harvard Business Review, which proved compelling:

  • In 2011, when comparing the number of social media mentions for traditional branding/advertising messages vs storytelling, the latter approach garnered 1900% more mentions
  • Of those, storytelling prompted 10% more positive mentions
  • These companies spent almost two-thirds less money on paid media per dollar of revenue
  • From 2008-2013, these companies experienced almost double the number of social media mentions compared with traditional branding/advertising approaches
  • Their annualized revenue growth rate from 2007-2011 was 70% higher
  • And their annualized share price growth was 227% higher


About Carla

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author

Carla Johnson helps leaders who are often paralyzed by traditional thinking. They suffer from slow growth, an eroding competitive advantage, low employee engagement, and depleted investor confidence. Their teams lack purpose and progress and constantly battle a resistance to change and new ideas.

As the world’s leading innovation architect, Carla’s spent 20 years helping leaders shatter limits and discover undiscovered possibilities. Through years of research, she’s developed a simple, scalable 5-step process that teaches people how to consistently produce inspired ideas that lead to uncommon outcomes.