The Silver Thread of Branding

blogpic_billIt’s widely accepted that storytelling is the oldest form of communication, vastly predating even crude writing in human history. Oral stories were how early families and tribes communicated among themselves about what mattered most; where to find food, water, shelter and firewood.

Stories were also the means by which those groups reached out to other tribes, to bluff away potential enemies—or to bind them into a larger, shared self-identity. This forging of shared narratives paved the way for greater alliances, resulting in more cooperation and better success in the hard job of survival.


The Romans used the story of Romulus and Remus, two brothers conceived by the god Mars and miraculously raised by a she-wolf, to establish a divine pedigree and destiny for Rome, named for Romulus. Rome developed the most finally burnished “brand” of the ancient world—synonymous with power, prestige and the Pax Romanus, or Roman Peace. The Roman eagle lived on for centuries more in the national brands of admiring nations—even among those they had conquered.

When formal writing did come along, the stories of gods, kings, wars and their heroes formed national narratives that inspired the poetry, laws and literature that defined the classic cultures of Greece and Rome. Indeed, history would suggest that those nations with the most compelling narratives usually became the most powerful and prosperous—right down to our present day.

What American hasn’t heard of the Pilgrim’s first thanksgiving, or Paul Revere’s midnight ride, or George Washington crossing a frozen Delaware before dawn to secure a vital victory? All of those stories are effective because they crystallize the values that bind us together as the United States in a common vision of personal freedom and self-sacrifice to preserve it. They infuse and sustain our sense of nationhood better than any government dictates and still, as a collective narrative, attract freedom seekers to our shores.

Sadly, negative values can also find their way into the public discourse, ranging from simple gossip to organized propaganda. The world can never forget how a distorted narrative can birth horrible outcomes, as when Adolf Hitler mesmerized millions of Germans with the myth of racial superiority.


Washington crossing the Delaware belongs to American epic lore, and epitomizes the national spirit that transformed the English colonies into the United States of America. This story has appeal worldwide—and along with others—has created Brand America. Millions are still attracted to its narrative about freedom and a better life.

So we see that the power of story is both enormous and double-edged—and has lasting consequences. Wise nations observe and honor this dynamic rigorously—as do wise companies. This suggests that the stories, or narrative, about your company must also be actively managed to reflect the values you want to be associated with in your marketplace.  Said a different way, passivity towards “PR” invites wild conjecture and the public—like nature—abhors a vacuum. You will have a reputation, whether you manage it or not.

So it becomes axiomatic that winning at “reputation management” calls for a proactive and structured approach to succeed. The majority of that effort should be focused on telling the positive stories of your company or senior community, and it may occasionally involve tamping down negative stories, whether true or unwittingly exaggerated—or even maliciously manufactured. Yes, rumor mongering exists even in senior living.

On a local, senior community level, stories like the one about senior resident Betty Nellius-teaching art at the age of 90-serve as a beacon to an active and engaged lifestyle.

Importantly, it’s not a single story that establishes your “brand narrative” in the marketplace but rather the sum of an ongoing series of stories—both oral (sales and word of mouth) and written or broadcast (media relations). The beauty of media relations is that it has the power shape word-of-mouth from the top down.

In our experience, that process takes the form of a strategic PR program, rooted in the authentic, core values that define and drive your company mission, every day. Creating effective publicity isn’t the fabrication of fanciful marketing fluff, but rather the earnest practice of storytelling, expressed through actual lives and events. These “real life” aspects of news stories, shared with implied endorsement by a third-party news source, resonate like no other channel.

Catchy ad copy and graphic design are important and have their place, but your own story will be the silver thread that runs through your brand—the one you must weave into the market mind. Make it a great story, told often and well.

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