Reframing Branding Through Narrative (And The Small Intestine)

In Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ, Giulia Enders takes her readers on a tour through the human gut, painting an elaborate picture of microorganisms as she goes. She pulls back the skin to reveal a cast of unlikely characters, and in doing so re-envisions the small intestine as a beautiful microcosm of hard workers and vigilant guards.

Enders writes,

Explorers keen to discover new continents today must turn to the microscopic world within us. Our gut is perhaps the most fascinating continent of that world. It provides the habitat for more species and families of creatures than any other landscape…. It would take an entire international news agency to report on all the events constantly unfolding in just one person’s microbiome. While we lounge about feeling bored, any number of exciting things are happening inside us.

Once I started to think about the trillions of commensal microorganisms in my gut–specifically, my small intestine–as characters in a story, my relationship with food, health, and my body changed.

Narrative reframed my perspective.

Under the layers of my skin, there are countless workers; narrative helped me realize I was charged with the safety of their wellbeing.

Melissa and Dallas Hartwig maintain a view of the gut similar to Enders’. In It Starts With Food, they describe the bacteria populating our intestine as “BBFs” (Best Bacterial Friends) and our body as an exclusive club.

They explain, “Our alliance with these friendly bacteria is largely what helps us regulate our delicately balanced immune activity. These bacterial undercover agents hang out in the intestine just outside the door to Club Body, helping your security staff by discouraging the bad guys from loitering and starting trouble.”

Reading scientific explanations clothed in the language of humanity helped me to view food and the concept of nutrition differently. I started talking to myself with a new compassion. I even fell into the habit of verbally encouraging my legs during long runs.

I had a driving sense of empathy for the bacterial cosmos in my body.

Those little guys are constantly hard at work to ensure my body functions properly, to guard against the intrusion of unwanted, toxic guests. Nutrition ceased to simply be a process of good input for good output. It became a synonym for loving a small but essential world unfolding inside me every second of every day.

But why am I telling you this?

Because the humanization of bacteria—and the resulting empathy—is rooted in the same soil that yields successful brands: the soil of narrative.

In Building A StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen, Donald Miller speaks to the essential power of narrative in branding by highlighting seven primary storytelling elements. One of them is to identify a clear villain opposing your customers.

Miller writes,

If we want our customers’ ears to perk up when we talk about our products and services, we should position those products and services as weapons they use to defeat a villain.

I experienced the truth of this statement firsthand. By describing the pathogenic bacteria constantly entering our bodies as villainous, the Hartwigs win over their readers on a subconscious level, at the very least.

Combined with Enders’ compassionate treatment of the critters guarding our gut, this insidious view of pathogens opens our eyes to the battles taking place daily in our bodies. Holistic health is not an indulgent hobby, it is a critical aspect of winning the fight.

Innumerable processes sustain life and yet so often we assume and overlook their existence. Stories have the staggering capacity to reframe even the most fundamental of these phenomena–the ones ingrained in the structural foundations of the world’s house.

Virginia Woolf wrote,

Let us not take it for granted that life exists more fully in what is commonly thought big than in what is commonly thought small.

Indeed, the gripping power of narrative takes what “is commonly thought small” and presents it afresh before our eyes. Reframing is not a question of transformation through change but through repositioning. Just by tilting our heads a bit to the side and widening our eyes, we can see the glorious nature of the ordinary.

Narrative reframing clears away the detritus of habit and familiarity. It reminds us of the mundane’s glorious reality.

I’m not saying you need to talk to the microorganisms living in your small intestine, but I am saying that how you communicate certain ideas and values can dramatically impact the way people receive and, subsequently, react to them.

Unless you communicate your brand’s values and services in ways which make your audience pause in their tracks and tilt their head in wonder, your voice will be lost in the faceless, clamouring ocean of brands.

About the Author

Lindsay Isler

Lindsay is a graduate of the University of Virginia where she received a Bachelor’s in English Literature.