The power of brand storytelling on the national stage

Whether you like him or not, Donald Trump is the supreme storyteller; the Brander in Chief. He keeps it simple:

“America was great. But America is no longer great. Therefore, I will make America great again.”

Stunningly banal but powerful.

That’s it. The one, two, three punch the Donald used to incite voters, crowds and the occasional riot. By the way, we call it the And, But & Therefore (ABT), which is the DNA of story: A foolproof way to structure a story, as the Donald has proven.

Unfortunately, it apparently doesn’t matter if he tells the truth or not. His story is winning.

Hillary, on the other hand, had no narrative. She was like a cagy boxer rope-a-doping her way to what she believed was a shoe-in presidency. Zero story. And that is why so many voters wondered who she really was and what she really stood for?

Finally, in all of the Republican and Democratic roustabouts, do any of us witness civil, civic debate? Constructive thought leadership and conversation? Of course not. Which is indicative of Washington: disconnected legislators and ineffective legislation.

Creating a Brand for Civil, Civic Debate

Arthur N. Rupe wanted to change all of that. Rupe was rock star Little Richard’s first agent, made a fortune in both the music and oil and gas industries, and funded high school and college debate programs across the country. In his late 90’s, Rupe is a Libertarian who felt the collapse of our democracy will come from the lack of civil, civic debate for the good of all.

The Arthur N. Rupe foundation used the Story Cycle to define a new debate movement to help get students enrolled in and benefiting from their local debate clubs. They called it Podius.

This article takes you through the 10-step Story Cycle System™ we used to craft the Podius brand story strategy.

Now that you have the backstory – Step 1 of the proven Story Cycle we call “Where in the World Have You Been?” – let’s complete use their history to claim the new debate movement’s #1 position in the marketplace:

Podius is the #1 resource for growing and fostering national debate through high school, college and civic events.


In Step 2, “Who’s Your Hero?” we identified Podius’ three audiences to create customer personas:

  1. Debate organizations and associations
  2. Adult influencers including parents and teachers
  3. Students themselves.

Remember, Podius is NOT the hero of this story about debate. Their audiences are. They are at the center of the Podius brand story.


Step 3 of the Story Cycle brand story strategy process is to determine “What’s at Stake” for your audiences: what do your customers want? For debaters, what’s at stake is:

  • Strengthening our democratic institutions
  • Turning a growing apathy and frustration toward the government into intelligent and articulate conversations
  • Preserving discourse to thwart social media trolls
  • Growing the national debate community among schools, teachers and students
  • Increasing access to debates
  • Improving Americans’ capacity to address issues with thoughtfulness
  • Having the courage and conviction to defend a position, and the empathy and intelligence to find a common ground


In Step 4, “The Call to Adventure,” we explore disruption in the market. Is the brand causing the disruption, or is it responding to disruption? Either way, disruption is important to help establish urgent relevance for your brand articulated through its unique value proposition.

For students, parents, teachers and the civic-minded, who want greater access to resources and events that foster intelligent civic debate, but are confronted by indifference in the community and are confused by many loud and disparate voices…

Podius is the definitive resource for public forum debate from high school through secondary education and into the broader community.


In Step 5 :”Villains, Fog and Crevasses,” we come to grips with the antagonistic forces that Podius must overcome to be successful as America’s #1 funder of educational debates. These obstacles include everything from provincial industry thinking and conservative mindsets to how social media promotes invective versus critical thinking to indifference and apathy.

Podius’ mission is to make debate cool again and promote the healthy discourse that results from the process. At the center of the Podius story – the heroes of this journey – are the top three audiences we identified earlier.


In Step 6 , “Enter the Mentor,” we defined Podius as the mentor or guide to their audiences and customers. Podius believes that the strength lies in deliberative democratic self-government. Podius preserves our democratic institutions by championing and modeling intelligent civil debate. The foundation invests in high school and college debate programming while creating a movement to inspire students, parents, teachers, professionals and the civic-minded to embrace intelligent and respectful public discourse.

The brand promise of Podius is Elevation: to elevate the thinking and discourse, which in turn elevates the outcomes.

The Podius brand gift is Appreciating intelligence. Not only does civil, civic discourse appreciably grows powerful outcomes, the debate process itself, as promoted by Podius, engenders an appreciation for how the respectful dialogue and arguments unfold for a greater truth.

We then defined the archetypal personality of Podius as the Hero. This isn’t to suggest that Podius runs around saving lives and pounding its chest. Rather, the Hero archetype’s desire is “To prove one’s worth through courageous acts,” with a motto of, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” The hero’s goal is expert mastery in a way that improves the world. This archetype helps its audience grow in competence and courage.


Step 7 of the Story Cycle brand story strategy process mapped the three primary mile markers of the Podius customer journey: brand awareness, adoption and appreciation. This is important because you need to understand where your audience is on their buyer journey so you know what brand stories to tell when and where.

For Podius it comes down to awareness through inbound marketing and its website, adoption through the use of the organization’s funding and guidance to produce stellar debate programs, and appreciation as the Heuristic Heroes spread the word of Podius throughout the nation.


Victory is at Hand” is what we call Step 8 of the Story Cycle. It’s the when and where we celebrate the successes with our core audiences. These victories include wins in each step of the journey from awareness to adoption to appreciation. It’s important to celebrate the short-, medium- and long-term victories to demonstrate momentum and progress in the stories every brand tells and lives. Ask yourself: “What does success look and feel like to my audiences, and how will I be there to celebrate it with them?”


Step 9: Every story, including your brand story, has a moral to it: a universal truth. This is important because very brand must build trust, share its beliefs and connect its values with its audiences to move people to action. We helped Podius put a fine point on the moral of its story by crafting its brand purpose:

Podium exists to help Americans preserve and strengthen their democratic institutions by championing intelligent civic discourse.


Step 10: How do you move audiences and customers from appreciating you to brand evangelism? Designing rituals into how they experience and share your story is what Step 10 of the Story Cycle is all about. A simple example are the 10 images I’ve featured in this post. This is the visual story behind Podius that is immensely shareable through online social media channels, as well as earned buttons and badges as debaters level up through the program.

Can you see the brand ethos, personality and character being communicated through each of these graphics, which are meme fodder?


The Podius brand story can be summed up as:

Because American freedoms are won and preserved through intelligent civic discourse, the Podius movement is arguably the definitive and clarifying voice that challenges the status quo by championing thoughtful debate, encouraging debaters and creating critically engaged citizens from high school to the White House.

Podius, as the Defenders of Debate, create beasts of back & forth.

Now that’s a surprisingly cool brand.