Brand Storytelling: 5 Tips for Channeling J. Peterman When Telling Your Brand’s Story with Content

|Will Fleiss


I’m a big Seinfeld fan. So you can imagine my delight when I found out that Outbrain’s conference rooms are all named after Seinfeld characters. Yep, we’ve got Jerry, George, Elaine, Kramer, Newman, and Morty.

One character who has yet to grace our shiny laminated room signs, is the ultimate brand storyteller, J. Peterman, owner of the vintage style retail clothing catalog, who describes his merchandise with elaborate stories. The best part about this character, is that he’s real! Check out how The J. Peterman Company describes this Panama Hat:

J Peterman Panama Hat

“Some of us are followers. Some of us are leaders. Facts are facts. This hat is for leaders. However, should a follower pick up this hat, they will be looked on as a leader and discover hidden leadership skills. Reservations won’t be a problem.”

Admittedly, I’m not any closer to buying that hat after reading that, but for a split second I definitely pictured myself trying to get a table at a restaurant, while wearing it. And that’s a win for the J. Peterman brand. They’ve become a part of MY story. You can’t buy that type of brand engagement.

Here’s another example with a Merrell men’s hiking shoe. Which one is more pleasant to read: this “Gore-Tex… nylon arch…EVA midsole…footwear lining,” or this “..waterproof casual hiking boot cradles your foot while elevating your style to explore in and around mountains and trails”?  While both are describing the same product, one description has told a story you might like to be a part of.

The Scientific Power of Storytelling

The reason these stories are more pleasing is actually scientifically based. According to this New York Times article on a 2006 study by researchers in Spain, stories stimulate the brain enough to influence how we act in life. In fact, some studies show that reading a story about something stimulates the brain nearly as much as the real thing would. The value of the power of brand storytelling is no different when it comes to content marketing. A marketing approach that tells a story will stimulate and excite the brain more than just cold, hard facts. If storytelling isn’t already being used in your content marketing campaign, the time to start is now.

J. Peterman’s Tips for Great Storytelling in Marketing

j_petermanIf you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a great story, you know that telling a story well isn’t just about relating what happened. Instead, good story telling employs creativity, tone, emotion, suspense, humor, and shock-and-awe to captivate the audience and make them respond.  So, what tips and techniques can you incorporate to make your story really resonate with your audience?

1. Honesty is important

The first thing that you should strive for when storytelling is remaining honest. It might seem pretty basic, but staying honest and truthful is key to gaining your audience’s trust. Of course, that doesn’t mean that a story has to be devoid of creativity, but it does mean that you should stay true to your brand and your business’s mission statement. If you confuse your customer by straying from your brand’s purpose or telling stories with completely contradicting ideologies, you’re likely to turn your customer off.

2. Authenticity is key 

Similar to being honest is being authentic, and is an equally important part of telling a great story. Authenticity means that your story has personality, is characteristic of your product goals, is genuine, is heartfelt, and isn’t too sales-oriented. The most appreciated stories are those that come from the soul, and your audience will love reading about or hearing about a story that really teaches them about you.

3. Don’t forget about structure

All good stories have three crucial points – a beginning, a middle, and an end. As you create your stories, don’t forget that your story, just like those in novels, should follow the same basic structure. The beginning should introduce characters and give a hint as to what will happen in the story, the middle should feature the problem or the conflict, and the end should resolve the conflict and make a point. Without structure, a reader or viewer can easily become confused.

4. Write well

Thousands of people write novels and stories every year, but only a handful of them get published. When things aren’t written well, even the best stories might not be worth reading. If you’re not confident in your writing, and aren’t familiar with or knowledgeable about things like similes, metaphors, hyperboles, figurative language, alliterations, and onomatopoeias, then you should considering seeking the help of a professional writer. Great writing can really make your story come to life, and can be essential in capturing reader interest.

5. Stories don’t have to be written

Yes, I know I just said that you need to improve your writing skills for storytelling. But, if writing isn’t your strong suit, you can also tell a story using other mediums too, like a video or photo sets.  In fact, videos and photos can even be more effective than the written version of a story when done well.

Successful Examples of Brand Storytelling

If you’re wondering what great storytelling with content looks like, here are three examples of brands that have harnessed the power of storytelling in their marketing:

1. Duracell

In March of 2014, Duracell did something unique and experimental – they built a bus shelter in Montreal, Canada, that could only be powered by human touch. Then, they told a story about the project using a video. The storytelling in marketing campaign was successful for a number of reasons. First, it triggered human emotion, mainly love, friendship, and empathy. Second, it did something unique and out-of-the-box, completely original and engaging. Third, the story was told in a way that hooked you in – when you first click on the video, you start watching it not knowing what’s going to happen, but being intrigued nonetheless.

2. Kraft

If you haven’t heard of Kraft’s Sanity Snack campaign, prepare to be wowed by a great storytelling in marketing approach. Kraft, using cameras, interviewed a few different busy moms, all of whom claimed that things were “insane” – things being the challenges of raising kids and caring for a family. Then, moms offered their kids a Kraft snack. The result? A brief moment of sanity for moms and a delicious treat for kids. The campaign was incredibly successful, and connected with a very specific audience (moms everywhere), and united them over a single idea.

3. Allstate

Most people have seen Allstate car commercials, which feature a fictional character named mayhem. Mayhem lives up to his namesake, causing Mayhem for home and vehicle owners wherever he goes.  Not only does each commercial tell a different story, but it does so using a great character, by creating a problem and offering a solution, using humor and relatable events, and humanizing the brand.

Storytelling in Marketing – A Must-do for Businesses

Humans crave a good story. If you want to give your audience what it wants most, it’s time to make a personal connection by telling a story.

A great book that I highly recommend on this topic is Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell (and Live) the Best Stories Will Rule the Future.

What examples do you have of great brand storytelling that would make The Real J. Peterman proud?

Hitting "Publish" is only The Beginning!

Download our free A-Z Guide to Brand Publishing to find out how to make the most of your content strategy.

Will Fleiss

Will Fleiss

Will has been doing online marketing for 10+ years, spending time on the agency-side at BKV, Ogilvy, and Converseon and... Read more

Add A Comment

* Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.

  • Yael Kochman
    Yael Kochman| November 15, 2014 at 2:14PM

    Great post Will. Especially liked tip #5 – “Stories don’t have to be written” – there are so many great tools today to help you tell a story without actually writing it. Marketers should not relay on written stories alone to deliver content and strengthen their brand awareness.

    • Robert Rodman| May 24, 2017 at 6:18PM

      I’m a major Seinfeld fan. So you can envision my joy when I discovered that Outbrain’s meeting rooms are altogether named after Seinfeld characters. Correct, we have Jerry, George, Elaine, Kramer, Newman, and Morty.

      One character who presently can’t seem to elegance our gleaming covered room signs, is a definitive brand storyteller, J. Peterman, proprietor of the vintage style retail apparel index, who depicts his stock with expound stories.


Want to promote your content?