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Storytelling Vs. Story Selling: The Honest Approach

By Samuel White

Today’s consumer atmosphere of brand loyalty demands an authentic and unique presence to stand out in a saturated market. Yet companies continue to set themselves up for failure with false promises delivered in the form of gimmicky marketing strategy .

Creating coherent and responsive messaging that articulates a brand’s value is significantly easier when the message is… well, true. They say that you’ll never have to remember a lie if you always tell the truth, and the same goes for branding businesses of any stature. The number one task for any marketer is delivering a strategy that supports the identity of the company they represent. When they fail, the brand’s reputation becomes corrupt, and can often leave a sour taste in the mouth of a devoted consumer base.

This is the main difference between Storytelling and “Story Selling.” There are infinite narrative strategies that can be conceived to bolster or sell a brand. The simple approach of being genuine is not only the easiest to portray, but the most scalable, adaptable, and stable. But in order for this approach to work, brands must deliver on the expectation they set.

The Chipotle Problem

The Chipotle e-coli scare happened back in the fall of 2015, but every time I begin to fill my cheeks with faux-Mexican goodness, I can’t help but think this may be the last burrito I ever eat.

While the e-coli scare was bad for Chipotle shareholders, what made it inherently worse was that it opposed the brand narrative told to consumers.

E-coli and illness became a lasting piece of the Chipotle brand narrative. The “fresh and healthy” image Chipotle worked so hard to establish was obliterated. Some would argue that the brand may never recover the pre-scare image it held. Truth be told, they failed to deliver the expectation they set, and now are left forever paying the piper.

On the other side of the spectrum, Taco Bell’s message is along the lines of “We make tasty-ish Mexican style eats for cheap.” These modest expectations are always met, no trust is broken, and god-forbid they ever have an e-coli scare, it wouldn’t be nearly as detrimental to their brand— simply because it wouldn’t oppose their message. (or be even remotely surprising for that matter)

Honest Personality

People tend to think about brands as the personified character of a business (especially on social platforms and in content creation). People interact with brands the same way they would with other people—they tweet at them, converse with them, ask them questions, etc.

So why is this relevant? Put simply, brands that don’t deliver break trust, and like in human interaction, that trust is forever broken. The company can never be seen in the same innocent light as before the consumer knew of the issue. It makes the consumer feel like they’ve been lied to, cheated, or duped into a sale — no one in the world wants that.

Honesty in marketing has such a big impact because of its scarcity. Chipotle’s situation provides proof that disingenuous messaging, or story selling, will not only erode the relationship of your customers, but align consumer resentment and dishonesty with your brand’s story. Having a core of truthfulness is important, but only works if a brand consistently delivers on the expectations it sets. Marketing and sales are changing, and as the relationships between people and brands become more intimate, marketing practices must adapt to the new expectations of the consumer.


Sam is an associate at Woden. Whatever your storytelling needs may be, let Woden help. Read our free StorytellingBlueprint, or send us an email at to discuss how we can help tell your story.