Searching for Stories

We think often about what it means to build brands through the power of story.


For me, it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that all of our work needs to tell a story. Telling a story is easy when you think about a video or great copywriting.  Those are literally storytelling mediums.


Sometimes growing your brand is less about telling a story and more about finding a story.


Maybe you’re designing a website and thinking, “how am I using story with this site?” Quickly, your head scrambles to find disparate meaning between telling a “story” and getting this darn mobile menu laid out. You might start to feel uncomfortable and wonder, “are we lying to our clients? Becuase I’m not telling any story. I’m laying out web navigation items.”


Maybe the site isn’t the story.


Maybe it’s your customer’s story that you discovered which is guiding your design decisions. Maybe it’s the time you spent watching the customer interact with your product and you let their experience, their story, start to guide your decisions. You discover the story of your customer as they navigate your store and then use that story to develop new ways of bringing that same experience, the same story, online.  


Recently, I had this experience with one of our clients, 24-7 Travel Stores – a Kansas-based interstate convenience store chain.


How are we incorporating story into the design of coffee cups? One could argue that when it comes to designing coffee cups, there’s no story. Just push the pixels. But, the entire reason we’re redesigning coffee cups is because of the story told to us by Mirta Martin.


Mirta hustled out of her 2011 Toyota Camry. She pulled open the door of the small and cluttered convenience store, collecting herself after dealing with fine hair, seasonably-layered fall fashions and… western Kansas winds. A ‘hot-mess’ maker for any professional.


Once composed, she quickly found the 16oz styrofoam cup and filled it her favorite French Vanilla coffee. This was clearly not her first time doing this. Just as fast as she found her cup, coffee and lid, she found a straw, ripped it from its sleeve (counter-top, double-tap method) and stabbed it through the cheap plastic lid.  


It was the drinking straw and a cup of coffee that caught my attention. After all, that is a rather peculiar combination for a woman who seemed very put together and clearly knew exactly what she wanted and how to get it.


I interrupted her.


“If you don’t mind my asking, I see that you didn’t purchase fuel but only came for coffee and you’re clearly in a hurry. Why the coffee here? And… why the straw?”


Without pause she replied, “the location here is great as it’s right on my way out of town and I travel for work often. I love this coffee, but frankly, these cups and lids are awful! So, I use a straw to keep from making a mess when I’m commuting. It’s too convenient to not stop here so I make it work.”


Her story is why we are redesigning not only the coffee cups, but the whole coffee experience. We can offer a better experience for the customer. We can present the product in a more attractive way. We can remove obstacles through design and, through the power of story, we can discover new ways to improve our client’s business in the eyes of their customers.


As you spend time on your projects, ask yourself, “how is story influencing what I am doing?”


Maybe you find that you can’t discover an answer to that question. If that’s the case, maybe it’s time for a team huddle or a call with your stakeholders in order to make sure that you’re not too deep in the weeds.


Perhaps you find that you are giving voice to a client who could otherwise not tell their story. Or, maybe you discover or witness a story that can serve as the inspiration for your ideas and execution.


At 502, we’re not in the business of telling campfire stories. We’re in the business of inciting action of some kind. Start to consider all the other ways you can use story to grow your brand.


And in all you do, strive to find stories that are not being told. That’s where true opportunity lives.

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