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3 Steps to Distilling Your Story for Brand Messaging Success

3 Steps to Distilling Your Story for Brand Messaging Success

The process of distilling alcohol is fascinating to me. I had a chance to tour a couple of whiskey distillers on a trip to Tennessee and the process and art of it amazed me.

On the distillery tours, we learned about the process of distilling, and why each brand has it’s own flavor profile and strength.

The part that stuck with me was that the right ingredients plus the right process equaled high-proof results.

A master distiller knows exactly what ingredients to put in the mix, how much heat to add, what to filter it through, what type of barrel to age it in, and how long to let it sit.

When those things come together, the result is a high-quality product that is highly valued by whiskey drinkers.

This process has application to the stories and brand messages inside your business.

When you combine the right story elements, with the right process, the complex ideas in your business become easy to understand and highly valued by your audience.

Why does this matter?

Because in a crowded and noisy marketplace, it’s not enough to do great work. You have to constantly be repeating your brand message as well…

On your website.
Social media.
Keynote addresses.
And more…

Any time you step up to a real, or virtual microphone, you have to be ready to speak with clarity about your business. To share the story of what you do and why in a way that connects with your audience emotionally and relationally.

But for many businesses, telling a clear story is a challenge. You are so close to your product and services, that complexity creeps in. So instead of inspiring people to act, your marketing story overinforms and falls flat. Confused and uncertain, your ideal customer walks away. Hoping to find someone who can solve their problem without the confusion.

Whether you’re a business owner, entrepreneur, or the team member responsible for marketing, the key to success is distilling your message down to it’s essentials. Not dumbing down what you do, but focusing your brand message so it’s easily grasped by your audience.

So how do you do it?

Here is a three-part framework for crafting a compelling narrative around your brand message.

Step One: Story – Identify Your Brand Message

Every successful brand has a list of potential stories to share. Between your products, services, business story, and team, there are lots of things you could talk about. For most businesses, the difficulty isn’t finding something to share, it’s finding the right story for the audience you are standing in front of. Like staring into your closet trying to pick the appropriate outfit for your next event, you have to be able to look at your stories and pick the right one. Taking into account the audience, context, depth of relationships, and formality of the communication.

So whether you’re a new business that is just starting out or an established brand looking to refresh your marketing, identifying the right story to share is the first step.

You can start by asking yourself a few questions:

  • Who am I hoping to reach?
  • What problem do they have that needs solving?
  • What solution do I provide to address the problem?
  • What win does my solution give to people?
  • What is the next step I want them to take?

Once you have a clear picture of the story you need to share, you can begin to build your messaging around it.

Step Two: Simplicity – Distill Your Brand Message

Your story is too important to be confusing. So your brand message needs to be simple and easy to understand, even if your products or services are complex. Getting to the core message of what your brand message needs to convey takes work. It requires you to put the story details on the table and take an honest look at what information the customer needs at that moment. Then build a brand message that shares only the elements that meet the customer needs and goals.

This is important because potential customers won’t dig through layers of confusing brand messages and poor marketing content. They are too busy and have too many other pressing issues to do the work for you. So unless you are willing to simplify your message into easily understandable pieces, you will continue to have a disconnect with your audience.

Here are a few questions you can ask to simply your brand message:

  • Where is my audience in the customer journey?
  • What details do they need to have right now to understand my product or service?
  • How can I explain those details in a way that they can quickly grasp them without confusion?
  • Would someone with no inside knowledge of my product and service be able to understand this explanation?
  • Is there a story, visual element, or supporting document I could share that would help them quickly understand the big ideas I’m trying to share?

Step Three: Strategy – Map a Plan for Sharing Your Brand Message

Getting your message seen and heard takes more than just throwing a bunch of content out and hoping something sticks. That might work a few times, but it’s not repeatable, and it definitely isn’t scalable. Sharing your brand message requires an intentional plan to align your marketing efforts with the story you are trying to get out.

That means that a set-it-and-forget-it plan for putting out brand messages isn’t enough. Each story will connect a bit differently, and have audience members at different points in your sales journey. So you’ve got to consider the best ways to get each specific message in front of your ideal audience. Then figure out how to put it there enough times that they recognize it and engage.

Here are some questions to help you map a strategic marketing plan for your brand message:

  • Where does my audience spend time regularly?
  • What marketing channels are the best options for delivering this story to those locations?
  • What types of content work best on those marketing channels?
  • What would I need to do to show up consistently on those channels (frequency, volume of content, etc)?
  • What is the next step I need to take to share my story intentionally on those channels?

Clarity is the key to standing out in today’s crowded and noisy marketing landscape. By following this three-part framework you can begin to craft compelling brand messages that resonate with your audience and help position you as a leader in your industry.

Remember, it’s not about being the loudest voice in the room, it’s about being the most effective at sharing your story. So take the time to identify your story, simplify your messaging, and create a strategy for sharing your story with the world. Your business, and customers, will thank you for it.

Need Help Distilling Your Story?

There are two ways I can help…

Send me an email with the phrase DISTILL YOUR STORY and we can connect.

Check out my FREE Resource on 3 Steps to a Clear Marketing Story.

Crafting a Compelling Brand: 3 Stories that threaten to derail your brand message

Crafting a Compelling Brand: 3 Stories that threaten to derail your brand message

Brand Messaging

A clear brand message has the power to shape and propel a business toward success. Connecting you to potential customers and making you memorable.

But the absence of a clear brand message allows someone else to write the narrative about your business. And chances are, the story they tell will be incomplete and confusing, leaving potential customers with more questions than answers.

There are three story types that surround every business and require managing so they don’t derail you. Learning to understand and harness these story types will be the difference between pushing your business forward or holding it back.

1) The stories you tell yourself

Now these stories start with really that voice inside your head that is telling you, wow. Here’s a cool thing. Here’s a product. Here’s a service. Here’s a way that you could impact and change the world.”

On our best days, those stories are super powerful because they cast the vision for our lives. They have you chasing dreams and ideas and launching new products and impacting the world.

But on our worst days, those stories can be absolutely detrimental. They can be the very thing that holds you back. That keeps you from stepping out and trying new products. From putting new things into the market or from trying to make a difference in the lives of people. What I found in my life, is that these stories require you to have someone, or a group of people, who help you be realistic about what you need to be listening to.

A voice of reason that helps you know… “Have I overstepped? Is this just self-doubt, or is it a red flag that I need to address? Am I so in my head that it’s keeping me from trying the things that I need to do next?”

So while the stories you tell yourself have a place. They must be grounds in reality. That way you can be visionary, but also have a way of keeping self-doubt from overtaking your life.

2) The stories you tell others

This is where business owners and marketers spend most of their time and attention. In crafting ways to talk about our products and services, networking, and spreading the message. It includes all the ways that you publicly get the message out about your product and services and how you make the world better.

This is where it’s important for you to share stories that make you memorable. Because while data is important, most people will not remember numbers and statistics. They remember emotional connections and those come through telling stories and engaging people relationally. So it’s important that your marketing share stories about real-life challenges and show how your products and services help solve those problems.

When you do, people will connect with your brand messaging on an emotional level that goes beyond the solutions you provide. In the process, your business gets elevated in the mind of potential customers from solving a problem to one that adds value to the marketplace.

3) The stories others tell about us

As digital marketing has grown, this story type often equates to Yelp reviews, Google reviews, and things like that. While reviews are important to your business, face-to-face conversations can be more important long term.

The best conversations are when past customers become your advocate and promote you. So when a friend says, “I need a plumber. Do you know of anyone?” Or, “Hey, my laptop just crashed. Do you know where I should go to get it fixed?” They know what to say and can point to you as the best solution.

The only way that people will do that for you is if:

  • You are amazing at solving the problem for your existing customers.
  • You give them words to share with others when someone needs your product or service.

It’s really important then, that your brand message be so easily understood, that customers can repeat it to others for you.

The business storytelling cycle

  1. Take the best pieces of the Stories You Tell Yourself
  2. Craft them into memorable Stories You Tell Others
  3. Encourage past customers to share the Stories Others Tell About Us

Many businesses struggle to craft and share their brand message. And the idea of following the storytelling cycle seems like a distant pipedream. But crafting and embracing these three story types is the pathway to marketing success.

If your business needs help to get its brand message right, I would love to talk. A Distill Your Story session can help bring clarity and focus to your brand message in a fraction of the time you would spend working on it alone.

Jumpstart the process starting today, so the brand story you share and the marketing strategy you use makes your business memorable and drive sales.

Schedule a Call to Learn More

Emotional and Relational Connections: The Power of Storytelling in Business

Emotional and Relational Connections: The Power of Storytelling in Business

Harnessing the power of storytelling in your marketing strategy.

When it comes to sharing stories in your business, you want to make an impact and be memorable. But it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the idea of finding and sharing stories. At a loss, business leaders and marketers go into default mode, sharing product information and lots of data. In desperation, you hope potential customers will sort through the information and see you are the best solution for them.

But they don’t. And your marketing efforts fall short.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Using stories in your business doesn’t have to be difficult. Contrary to what you might have heard, storytelling doesn’t mean you have to write a novel every time.

In reality, a story only needs to do one thing for your business. It needs to connect potential customers to you emotionally so they see that…

Their Need + Your Product = Their Solution

To be super clear. It doesn’t have to be an epic tale. A simple two-sentence story or a quick 5-10 second read can suffice. These snippets create an immediate emotional connection, breaking down resistance to marketing messages.

It’s all about building relational connections. Helping people understand that you genuinely want to assist them and make their lives better.

So, the key is to sprinkle stories throughout your marketing rather than feeling the pressure to share a lengthy story every time. Don’t let the word “story” overwhelm you. It’s an opportunity to share brief moments that emotionally and relationally connect with your audience. Remember, it’s not about marketing; it’s about building connections and providing valuable solutions.

When you think about your marketing strategy, keep in mind that stories don’t have to be monstrous creations that consume hours of your time. They are powerful tools to share small moments that foster emotional connections.

Business Story Elements: How to Share a Memorable Story

Business Story Elements: How to Share a Memorable Story

Have you ever left a business networking meeting or meetup completely frustrated by the experience?

You came with high hopes of finding new connections and solving some of the business challenges you face. But after lengthy conversations, you couldn’t repeat back the problem most of them solve. They might have the answer you need, but the way they shared it was so unclear you would never follow up or refer a friend.

The words you choose matter.

When it comes to sharing about your business and how you make the world better, you have a small window of time to be memorable.

  • Face-to-face you have 2-4 minutes to make an impression.
  • On social media, you have under 60 seconds to grab attention.
  • On your website, you have 7-10 seconds to stop them from leaving.

That means you need to be intentional about crafting the right words that will keep someone reading or listening.

It’s not about being manipulative. It’s about sharing in a way that disarms and lets them know you can solve the challenge they face.

The key is to share a story.

Stories help your audience to remember important details. To catalog information in a way they can repeat.

Take a look at Aesop’s Fable about The Hare and the Tortoise.

There are no extraneous details or confusing side stories to distract the audience. It is short. To the point. And, has one key idea.

Here’s a short synopsis

A hare and a tortoise decide to race. The Hare starts fast and expects to win, so he stops to nap. The Tortoise starts slow but continues to make progress, passing the sleeping Hare and winning the race. It wasn’t speed that determined the winner. It was slow and steady that won the race.

This story works because it uses a simple story structure to make it memorable.

Breaking it down, there are 4 story elements to notice:

  1. It clearly introduces who the story is about – The Hare and the Tortoise
  2. It identifies the conflict they face – Hare was fast and lazy. Tortoise was slow and methodical
  3. It states the consequences of their decisions – Hare napped while Tortoise pressed on
  4. It shares the moral of the story or the action step for us – Slow and steady win the race

Keeping these 4 story elements in mind will help you craft better stories in your business. You can use them to make what you share memorable at your next meetup, in your social posts, or on your website.

Here are a few questions to help you craft a story worth sharing in your business.

  1. Who (or What) is this story about? [CHARACTER]
  2. What conflict or challenge do you help solve? [CONFLICT/CHALLENGE]
  3. What are the consequences of solving or not solving that problem? [CONSEQUENCES]
  4. What one big idea or action step do you want your audience to walk away with? [BIG IDEA]

Let’s assemble them into a story you can share.

Now that you have the four questions answered, use the following templates and examples to insert your answers and get started.

A template for use on your website might be:


We help/provide [CHALLENGE YOU SOLVE], so that [CONSEQUENCES].


An example for your website would be:

Apricot Mornings, Residential Living

We provide safe, family like, residential care for your loved one. So that you can rest easy at night, free from guilt or fear about whether your loved one is well cared for.

To learn about our unique approach to board and care options, Schedule a Call today.


A template for use on your social media might be:

Summer is the best time to [CONFLICT YOU SOLVE].


Our [CHARACTER] allows you to [CONSEQEUNCES].

Now through July 30, [BUSINESS NAME] is running a [BIG IDEA]

An example for your social media would be:

Summer is the best time of year to spend time in your pool. Unfortunatley, electricity costs make it the most expensive time of year for heating that pool.

Now you can heat your pool ad save money using solar energy!

Our premium thermal solar panels harness the power of the sun and maintain your desired temperature throughout the season. Allowing you to enjoy longer swim season and even more fund with friends and family. All while saving hundreds on electricity costs.

Now through July 30, [BUSINESS NAME] is running a special where you can Buy 9 Panels, Get 1 Panel FREE on any new system install.

Click Here to Schedule a Call with a Consultant


A template for use in person at a meetup might be:


Have you ever [CHALLENGE YOU SOLVE].

This is a recurring challenge for [WHO YOU SERVE]. [CONSEQEUNCES].


An example for use in person at a meetup would be:

Hi, I’m Ryan Holck.

Have you ever met a business leader at an event, and after several minutes together you aren’t sure what problem they solve? And the longer they talk, the more confused you are. So you excuse yourself and walk away to find someone whose work and business solutions you can understand.

This is a recurring challenge for business leaders. They have so much knowledge and expertise about the work they do, that explaining it in ways potential customers can understand is a challenge.

I work with businesses and brands to distill down to the heart of the message they need to share. Then work with them to craft clear stories they can share simply with their audience. So that people remember them and take actions that lead to revenue.

Do you know anyone who is struggling to tell a story in their business right now?


Let’s be real, you want your business to grow.

With storytelling, you have the chance to turn the conversations about your business from clumsy to confident. Connecting people to the work you do and guiding them to your solutions..

The only questions are, what stories you will tell and how effective you will be.

Are you struggling to share your business story?

Don’t settle for generic descriptions of your services and offers. Create a compelling story that hooks customers from the start.

Schedule a call to find out how Distill Your Story can help you tell clearer stories.

Super Bowl Commercials,  the winners, the losers and top lessons

Super Bowl Commercials, the winners, the losers and top lessons

If the Super Bowl is a masterclass in advertising, then a big part of this year’s class flunked.

I grew up in the age of great Super Bowl commercials and entire campaigns that sometimes went on from season to season. There was a rhythm to them and you almost looked forward to what you would see.

There were multiple years of the Bud Bowl. The cuteness of the Puppy Bowl. Fan-directed Doritos ads. Budweiser Clydesdales running through the snow.

Advertising classics like:

  • Wendys – Where’s the Beef?
  • Apple – 1984
  • Coca-Cola – Hey, kid catch

You had moments where advertising and storytelling crossed over. They understood that a good ad is an opportunity to tell a clear story in a very short format. So they used nostalgia and creativity to speak, not just to their brands, but to life as a whole.

While there have always been favorites, and some historic ads have missed the mark, this year was different.

This year seemed to have an outstanding group of ads that missed badly. So badly that I would say…

The biggest winners in this year’s Super Bowl commercials were the ad agencies, not the brands or the consumers.

With ads running $6-7 Million for a 30-second spot, good storytelling would seem like a given. But it wasn’t. It’s almost as if the agencies lost track of the story they were trying to tell. So, instead of serving the brand and entertaining the consumer they delivered shiny objects with little substance.

In the midst of the mess, I found three things that didn’t work in Super Bowl 2023 ads

1) Ads shouldn’t need an explanation

Super Bowl parties tend to be loud and full of chaos. If your ad requires half of the 30-second run time to explain what the commercial is trying to say, then it missed the mark.

Two ads stood out as requiring too much explanation

Michelob ULTRA – New Members Day

It’s been too long since Caddyshack to link allusions to it and expect the room to follow along. We had closed captioning on our TV so we could understand the announcers and color commentators. The only reason I had a clue of what the ad was trying to do was that the CC read “Caddyshack Theme Song.” If not for this, I would have been lost throughout the entire ad.

I’m 49 years old and the target audience for most ads during the Super Bowl. So if you’re doing allusions to stuff that I have very little context for… your storytelling has missed its target audience. The more mental gymnastics you require the audience to make, the fewer of them will go along with you in the story.

T-Mobile – New Year, New Neighbor

Just because you can do a musical number doesn’t mean you should. And, bringing in John Travolta to do a clip from Grease, “Summer Nights,” with the guys from Scrubs doesn’t make sense. Add to it the fact that it looks like they walked onto the backlot stage most recently used for the Disney WandaVision show and the whole sequence felt left-footed.

2) Nostalgia is great until it’s not

A good story finds a shared emotional moment and uses it to support the story and connect with the audience. But when that emotional moment isn’t understood, or it creates too many questions for your audience, you lose them in an instant.


Rakuten – Not So Clueless

Having never seen Clueless, I spent half the ad trying to figure out why this was the schtick they chose to hang the ad on. It was so distracting that the ad was over and I didn’t know why they had chosen Clueless or what company the ad was for.


Uber One – One Hit for Uber One

This started off promising, but within seconds it felt like a string of bad dad jokes aimed at getting sympathy laughs instead of connecting with the audience. It concluded with no emotional connection to the product or context to explain why the brand should matter to me.

Planters – The Roast of Mr. Peanut

Roasts are typically a little awkward and weird. If you go back and watch clips from roasts of celebrities and politicians it can be cringy, bordering on being completely over the top. But on this one, I have no idea what they were trying to accomplish.

It’s 2023 and there is no emotional connection to Mr. Peanut. So the jokes and bad laugh track land like open mic night and a small comedy club in middle America.

VaynerMedia was part of this campaign and released details after it aired, praising the team and its accomplishments. It was a reminder of the importance that every creative meeting includes someone with permission to say “No,” to a project and stop it in its tracks.

The closing line from Mr. Peanut is, “I wish Planters had just killed me off again.” And that is a fitting way to end a commercial that was ready to be done.

3) Don’t insult us with your gimmick.

Comedy rides a fine line between highlighting the absurdity of things and belittling the audience. Sometimes it can be funny, but when it misses it’s bad.

Pringles – Best of us

This isn’t the first time Pringles has run with this concept. They’ve touched on it in different iterations, but it isn’t getting any better.

We aren’t monkeys or raccoons that get our hand stuck in a log while trying to grab something shiny. So trying to highlight that people of all ethnicities, backgrounds, and income levels have this problem is absurd.

All they’ve done is highlight a packaging issue that keeps people from fully consuming their product. And let’s be honest, who has ever reached the bottom of a Pringles can and had whole, uncrushed chips remain?


Avocados from Mexico – Make it better

The ad did not make it better. And, I’m not sure what the heck was going on here.

In the opening moments, it seemed like an interesting twist on the Garden of Eden and eating the forbidden fruit. That somehow avocados are making it better and nudity isn’t a big issue. But in the effort to be funny, they missed completely and the whole thing felt off.

The whole ad felt like watching Saturday Night Live in the 2000s when the jokes didn’t land and the laughs were more like groans.

Two Super Bowl 2023 lessons you can apply to your storytelling and ads

Of the 45-50 national ads run during the Super Bowl this year, more of them were misses than were successful. There were a few exceptions though.

What can you do to steer your storytelling and ad creation? To make sure you don’t repeat the million-dollar mistakes made by so many high-profile brands at the Super Bowl this year.

1) Tell Clear Stories

A clear story begins with one idea they want to convey and moves from there. There are not a lot of extra elements wrapped around it that cause confusion. When done well you can stand back as the audience and repeat the big idea of the story after a single view. Three ads did a great job of this in 2023.

Dunkin’ – Dunkin’ ‘Drive Thru’ starring Ben

Our house was loud during the game, with multiple conversations going on and food being served. Even in the midst of the chaos, this ad made sense. It delivered a simple idea and left you wanting Dunkin’ Donuts.

Part cameo appearance. Part being punked. This ad felt as much like a social media campaign as it did high-dollar advertising. The people in the drive-thru looked genuinely surprised and unaware Ben Affleck was actually at the counter. Ending with Jennifer Lopez stopping for a donut in the final moment was a great story twist that kept it fun, connected, and drove home the brand name.

Miller Lite, Coors Light & Blue Moon

The simple concept of this ad is reminiscent of some of the eighties and nineties Super Bowl commercials. Where the core idea was a competition for who is best. But what stuck out was the surprise ending that it’s an ad for Blue Moon.

It was fun. Campy. Clear storytelling. You walked away remembering there were three brands competing and the winner came out of nowhere.

Amazon – Saving Sawyer

The storytelling here is top-notch. The dog is stuck at home, bored, and in destruction mode. He needs some obedience training and some attention. At first glance, it seems like an easy solution. Buy a dog carrier from Amazon to crate the dog during the long days.

But instead, there is a new dog in the crate. The real story here is about the needs, companionship, and connection of a dog. And while Amazon is a brand that sells almost everything, and helps solve problems in creative ways, they make life better… for everyone.

And that’s what wins in ad campaigns.

2) Include a Compelling Message

A compelling message moves people emotionally and points them to something bigger. At times it’s a moral of the story. Other times it is a chance to learn about ourselves or reflect on something bigger than us.


Disney – Disney100 Special Look

Disney is back. If you’ve been following Disney fandom you know there has been a leadership shakeup and an effort to recapture some of the Disney spirit that made them great. The first watch of the ad landed a bit weird for me. I wasn’t sure what the initial takeaway was until I caught the narrative in the connected stories.

They are using nostalgia with voices, clips, and photos to share where they have been and are going. Taking time to thank the people who make it all work, from employees to artists to the fans who spend money and show up at movies and the parks.

This ad does what few others do. It jumps from being about the brand to the reason the company exists and our part in it.

He Gets Us – Be Childlike

This campaign uses very traditional storytelling principles. With black and white photos, and low-level underscore of music, and a powerful lyric line.

It almost feels like a nonprofit fundraising video but you aren’t sure where it is headed until the final seconds when you’re reminded to be childlike and to love others.

A simple, powerful way of telling a story and delivering a spiritual principle for all to apply.


Kia – Binky Dad

This is such a relatable story for families with young kids. Who hasn’t gone out and left a toy or binky behind? At the moment, as your kid is falling apart, you do anything you can to find something to calm your child.

This is a starting point to highlight what the car can do, and the features that make it a great family choice. As dad returns with a binky in hand, the inevitable happens… the baby spits it out and mom says, “She only likes the blue one.”

Every family has had a moment like that and the commonality makes it compelling. You’re sucked in and left with the belief that Ki can help save your say as well.

Dexcom – Feels Like Magic

This was a phenomenal way to give a public face to the health issue of diabetes.

It instantly created a conversation in the room around the fact that a Jonas brother has diabetes and is the spokesman for the technology.

They ditched fancy terms and medical language. Focusing on the ease of use and benefit the technology gives the user. The message was compelling and the ad drove home why.

At the end of the game, the Chiefs may have won, but many of the brands whose ad dollars paid for the game did not.


Your story is important. Your message needs to be heard. What makes it great is clear storytelling and a compelling message that people actually want to act on.

People respond to clarity, and clarity wins the day every time.