Brand storytelling is the craft of utilizing narratives to convey the essence of a brand. It goes beyond mere marketing messages; by tapping into emotions, a deeper connection with the audience is created. Thought leadership, on the other hand, involves the strategic establishment of an organization as an expert within a specific industry or field. This entails sharing insightful perspectives and valuable knowledge.

At first glance, these two disciplines, seemingly representing emotion and rationale, appear as different as night and day. However, smart brand strategists spot an opportunity here: Uniting the power of both can significantly enhance brand impact by crafting a compelling narrative that not only embodies the brand’s essence but also positions it as a leading authority in its category.

Now, how can these two elements be effectively combined in practice? These four steps, supported by examples from sports brands, could provide the answer.

1. Align thought leadership with brand values

The next step of unleashing the potential of thought leadership and storytelling is to acknowledge that they share one source: your brand’s essence. While deepening expertise in your category enhances your offerings, your brand’s narrative reminds customers of its underlying purpose. The true convergence of these two angles lies in your values and the behaviors they inspire. Stories often unveil these brand characteristics, so it’s crucial to ensure that your thought leadership content closely aligns with your core values, as well.

Patagonia stands among the select few apparel brands where expertise and narrative stem from a shared set of values. Their essence is captured in the statement: “We’re in business to save our home planet.” This ethos blurs, if not erases entirely, the boundary between showcasing expertise in environmentally conscious manufacturing and weaving a narrative that urges action: buy less, keep longer.

While your brand may not naturally have such a seamless fit, aim to harmonize elements of your story with your topical expertise. This alignment should not only be evident in the topics you choose and the insights you share; it should also manifest in your communication style. Be distinctive, regardless of your specialization. Put your stamp on it, give it your twist, make it yours.

2. Incorporate storytelling techniques

Infuse your thought leadership content with the compelling storytelling elements we all know from brand management practices. Use anecdotes, case studies, and real-life examples to illustrate your key points. Stories humanize your brand and can transform seemingly rational expressions of thought leadership into rather emotional and relatable narratives.

An interesting example of this approach can be observed in the practices of the young yet successful sportswear company On. The Swiss brand publishes a print(!) magazine titled OFF: “Rooted in run culture, OFF combines human stories about sport and movement with inspiration from the worlds of art, design, fashion, and sustainability.”

One powerful technique that On applies here is visualization. Sure, many tend to think of written words for conveying a message, but of course there are numerous ways to tell stories. Expert content can be poured into shapes other than textual ones, even when it is of a scientific kind. As a matter of fact, isn’t the ultimate demonstration of expertise the ability to visualize the essence of content?

3. Stay authentic and humble

Becoming a thought leader isn’t a self-proclaimed title; it’s a reputation earned through time by actively collecting, facilitating, and sharing knowledge. For that, you need to be eager to give the stage to others and communicate that you never stop learning.

The online Adidas community features courses on various topics, brought to its customers by external experts. In doing so, they position themselves not as all-knowing authorities, but as curious connectors. (And certainly, the company behind the brand also benefits from valuable insights gained through these interactions.)

Authenticity lies in embracing curiosity rather than claiming omniscience. It’s not about knowing everything; it’s about demonstrating a willingness to learn and grow. Embrace both successes and challenges, as imperfection invites conversation and fosters human connections–which simply makes your brand more human.

4. Engage with your audience and/or fellow experts

Encourage dialogue and engagement with your audience and experts in your industry. A prime example of this is the Nike Experts concept. Through an app, the brand encourages its customers to learn from real athletes out there. “Real Talk. Let’s Do It. We’re psyched to connect Nike Members to real style-forward, sport-smart Experts,” embodies their commitment to authentic engagement.

Showing your engagement in discussions related to your topics builds a sense of community and grows trust. As a matter of fact, stories are written for (and with) you on the go. They are as true as they can get and as such, complement meticulously planned campaigns. And when they don’t work content-wise? The connection forged with your customers and shared passion for the topic are invaluable.

One and one is three

Synergy between storytelling and thought leadership can offer the ideal combination of awareness and appreciation. By aligning narratives with core values and incorporating storytelling techniques, brands can forge deeper connections with their audience while showcasing expertise. Remaining authentic, embracing curiosity, and fostering genuine engagement are key. This approach not only positions brands as thought leaders but also cultivates trust and community. Ultimately, the synergy between storytelling and thought leadership will make your brand more desirable.

And if being perceived as a credible expert in your field might not be explicitly outlined in your brand strategy in the first place, isn’t achieving top-of-mind status in the category the ultimate goal for every brand manager? So, if thought leadership isn’t already a focus for your brand, make it part of your story.

Cover image: Meranna