On Brands, Stories, and Arguments

There is a lot of talk these days about storytelling as an essential part of branding, of the brand experience. Frankly, I am often confused by how this word "story" is being used.

A brand is always and necessarily an argument of some sort — buy this because....it's good for you, it makes you feel cool, it's inexpensive, it's nice — and, more often, because it's some combination of these things. In rhetorical terms, an argument always has three intertwined components: ethos, pathos, and logos.

- Logos is the logical argument: Buy this as it works better and costs less.
- Pathos is the emotional argument: Buy this because it's cool.
- Ethos is the argument of the speaker: Buy this because I am cool.

An argument links disparate things together; it makes sense of the varied components of a brand's offering — its logical, pathetic, and ethical components. There are many ways to construct an argument, many ways of linking things together, many ways of making sense. That is what a brander does for a living: he, or she, puts it all together in a coherent and compelling manner.

A story is one kind of argument, one way to link things together. Story turns on narrative, on cause and effect, and often on conflict such as good vanquishing evil (clean vanquishing dirt, liquid vanquishing thirst, etc). This may be simplistic, especially if we're discussing literature and its many approaches to story (think of Jorge Luis Borges' strange, beautiful "stories").

But the point is this: story is one mode of argument. Sometimes, story is appropriate. Sometimes, it's not. What is always appropriate is a compelling argument.