April 1, 2019

How to Tell Emotional Brand Stories (That Might Make You Ugly-Cry)

black and white photo of a boy with dark hair crying
Photo by Kat J

Everybody’s got facts. You might even have some product features you know your audience will love. Forget about all that. To truly stand out, you need to hit the emotion.

Depending on your industry, you might already think that way. The reality, though, is that emotion matters in every context. Believe it or not, consumer behavior experts think that 95% of all purchasing decisions – large or small – are driven by emotion.

Think about what that means. Even if you’re trying to sell a mechanical part, you need to make your audience cry.

Alright, maybe it’s not that extreme. Still, the general point stands. Forget the brains. If you really want to build a successful brand, you have to tap into the heart. No, that doesn’t mean you can’t be successful until your customers cry. That one tear, though? That’s worth striving towards.

Look around, and you begin to see evidence of this emotional storytelling concept everywhere. If you remember any Super Bowl ad every year, chances are it has to do with Budweiser’s Clydesdales. These horses, it turns out, have tugged on their audience’s heartstrings since 1954. Budweiser knows that an emotional connection between consumer and brand is crucial to marketing success.

So how do you do it? How can you make sure that, short of using horses in every video, you build that emotional connection? Consider this your guide to tell your brand story in an emotional way. Careful: some of the examples just might make you ugly-cry.

Make Sure Your Vision is Clear

You can’t target the heart of your audience if you don’t know where to aim. When it comes to storytelling, your vision better be 20/20. That’s enough bad cliches; the truth, however, is clear: you cannot evoke emotion without a clear vision of your product and larger brand.

Take Microsoft as an example. During February’s Super Bowl, it aired one of the most well-received tear-jerker commercials of the year. In it, a number of kids with clear physical handicaps describe their biggest dreams: to play with everyone around them. Microsoft taps into that through a controller designed just for kids with these conditions. The message: when we can all play together, we all win.

You want the best for these kids. So you hang on their every word before you even know what the commercial is about. When it finally connects to a game console, the shared goal (for everyone to play on a level field) is absolutely natural to both the audience and the brand. So what if you have to wipe a few tears away?

Communicate to Your Audience on a Human Level

Young woman hiking in the Zhangjiajie National Forest park, makes a heart shape finger frame

In abstract, brands are nothing like people. They exist on paper (and in minds) only, designed to sell more stuff. Not easy to connect to, is it? To make sure you still evoke emotion, you have to dig deeper than straight-up product benefits and features. You need to be on the level with those complicated humans.

Even people in its home country probably don’t think much when they think about Edeka, one of Germany’s largest grocery chains. But they do understand Christmas, family values, and the tragic of (seeming) loss. So why not grab hold of those emotions, with an absolute tearjerker of an ad?

The story: an old patriarch cannot get his busy family to pay attention to him. So he fakes his own death to get them to come to his house. Morbid? Maybe. Beautiful? Definitely. The brand storytelling is absolutely superb, but it’s the constant pointers to basic emotions that we all feel that really brings the ad home.

Connect Business and Personal Values

Most brands believe in something. That’s why they exist to begin with. It’s their vision statement, their raison d’etre, and whatever else you want to call it. Their audience, of course, has values, too. The intersection of those two is where the best brand stories live.

Let’s tap into the Super Bowl one more time. Verizon wants to connect the world with each other. People in harm’s way – surprise! Just want to be rescued. Where does that intersect? With 911, of course.


On its face, the ad is a tribute to first responders. But, as the brand makes sure to remind the audience, those first responders couldn’t do their job without telephone networks. And who gets to make sure those work? Verizon, of course. Before we know it, we’re sucked into a straight up value proposition, but communicated artfully through emotion in a way that we don’t even realize it.

No Matter What, Always Stay Authentic

You can tell the most beautiful story of all times. If your audience doesn’t believe you, you might as well go home. Don’t be that person. Instead, make sure that everything you say as you build your brand story is actually credible and matches what your audience thinks about your brand. Only authenticity can help you evoke true emotion.

Take Patagonia as an example. The outdoor apparel brand has not been shy about communicating its values of nature protection and appreciation. So why not tell its story through the company’s founder?

View that ad closely; there is no mention of clothing, at all. The beauty is that because it matches the brand promise, its audience won’t even be shocked about that.

In the end, authenticity comes back to one thing: make sure your audience actually believes the words that come out of your mouth. It’s the only way to make sure that you get that smile, tear, or whatever other reaction you’re trying to promote.

Ready For Some Brand Storytelling?

All of the above tips have one thing in common: they build on the idea that a story will always be the most powerful form of advertising. The most powerful type of story, of course, is the one told visually. If you take nothing else away from this post (and we sure hope that you will), make sure it’s that one.

When you get there, the result is astounding. Your videos will touch your audience, and might even go viral. When that happens, ugly crying has never been more beautiful. Are you ready to go there? Contact us to talk about a partnership that injects emotion into your brand storytelling.