Why Brands Should Put Story First

As brands, we need to speak to our customers more like friends. Instead of adding to the noise and clutter, or asking things of our customers all the time, we need to add value. That way we create two-way relationships with depth and meaning, writes Nick Acquroff.  

In this era of digital content we are always chasing elusive equations to success.

After following one of these equations straight to failure, I realised there is something much more important when it comes to earning and retaining a loyal audience.

That is, telling an honest and interesting story.

I won my first social media account while I was still at university. The client was one of the most respected clothing brands in Melbourne, but they’d taken a hit recently as online retailers disrupted their bricks and mortar business model. At that stage, they were ready to try just about anything.  

So I joined a new marketing team – myself and two members of a local marketing group who were really pleased with their formula for social media success.

They were concerned, in the most part, by the mathematical equations behind driving sales and – because I had no one else to follow – so was I.

Two months in, and we’d done a hell of a lot of damage.


In the weeks that followed we came up with plans to drive traffic to the online store by sending out EDM’s and having competitions.

This involved retargeting people who had clicked through to the website, writing SEO Blog articles that always started with the line, ‘Afternoon, Gents,’ and had a list of something in the title like ‘Five Shirts for the Spring Carnival.’

This was called the funnel system, a process whereby we’d give out clothes for free or promote discounted items on Facebook and Instagram in exchange for emails addresses.

This was the top of the funnel – where we got them in – and then we’d flood them with offers by email, something too good to be true, aimed at getting customers through to the online checkout.

Once we had them in we thought, they were likely to stay, and we could then raise our prices back up to where they belonged.

The only problem was, that in just two months, we’d gone a long way into destroying the reputation the brand had built up over almost 90 years. Suddenly, the brand had become nothing more than an afterthought you might grab on your way past the bargain barrel.

Furthermore, these new social media fans weren’t being welcomed into a flourishing community. They were more like university students waiting in line for a free hot dog on orientation day.

I was going to find whatever it was that made this brand interesting, and I was going to tell that story to the world


Our brand had no story, no depth, no principles, and no catchcry. We hadn’t even thought about those things. We had thought only of the numbers – and in doing so, we’d raised the number of sales on their online store significantly without increasing their overall take. 

Two months in, and we’d done a hell of a lot of damage.

This led to the sacking of staff from marketing – I was left entirely to my own devices to run the account.  

My MO was to change things, and quickly. So that Monday I tore up the funnel diagram on my desk, turned off the remarketing advertisements, cancelled all the upcoming sales, and took a walk around the office.

I had a new angle: I was going to find whatever it was that made this brand interesting, and I was going to tell that story to the world, or whoever would listen, with every ounce of energy and authenticity I had.

So I went out into the factory with my camera and took photos of the guys on the sewing machines, I asked them how long they’d been working at the business, what they’d seen change and about the industry.

I asked the same questions of the designers and what made our clothes different to the others, their dreams, hopes, and goals.

After that I visited the stores and spoke to the staff on the floor, and got photographs of customers trying the clothes on. I asked them what they liked about the fits, what it was that made them feel good in one of our suits, and I wrote down their answers.  

I then put photographs of all these people out through Facebook and Instagram, with quotes. Instead of blog articles for SEO with titles, I wrote stories about the business and the products they had decades before.

We still had competitions and retargeting, sure, but these were much more sporadic, and they were always surrounded by content that focused on discovery and story.

Finally, we had something to say, a brand to build on, and over time, we gained a hugely loyal follower base – people who identified with the history and the craft.

We had comments on almost every post and people were sharing and engaging with our content.

It’s the same principle we work on when we have life long friends and relationships. We have friends because we are interesting people, and in order to stay friends, we have to connect in a meaningful way.

We don’t keep friends because we give them things or call them all the time. The same principle applies for brands.


Nick Acquroff is Creative Director at Paperfox. A digital media company based in Melbourne.