The power of brand storytelling on the national stage

Image courtesy of CNN

Image courtesy of CNN

Given the wacky election cycle we’re in, you don’t have to look far for how the power of a good story can sway people. Even reasonably intelligent ones.

Whether you like him or not, Donald Trump is the supreme storyteller running for office. He keeps it simple:

“America was once great, but it has fallen from greatness. Therefore, I’m going to make America great again.”

That’s it. The one, two, three punch the Donald uses 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, has no narrative. She is like a cagy boxer rope-a-doping her way to what she seems to believe is a shoe-in nomination and presidency. Zero story. And that is why so many voters wonder who she really is and what she really stands for, even after decades of watching her fly around Capitol Hill.

Finally, in all of the Republican and Democratic debates, have any of us seen civil, civic debate? Constructive thought leadership and conversations? Of course not. Which is indicative of the lack of reaching across the aisle we see in Washington, which results in disconnected legislators and ineffective legislation.

Creating a Brand for Civil, Civic Debate

Arthur N. Rupe wants to change all of that. Rupe was Little Richard’s first agent, made a fortune in both the music and oil and gas industries, and is now funding high school and college debate programs across the country. In his late 90’s, Rupe is a Libertarian who feels 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. The new movement is called Podiuspodius_friends

Now that you have most the backstory – Step 1 of the proven Story Cycle we call, “Where in the World Have You Been?” –let’s complete it by claiming the movement’s #1 position in the hearts and minds of its audiences:

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: debate organizations and associations, adult influences including parents and teachers, and finally the students themselves. Remember, Podius is NOT the hero of this story about debate. Their audiences are.


The third step 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 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 of the Story Cycle we come to grips with the antagonistic forces that Podius most overcome to be successful as America’s #1 funder of educational debates. These obstacles include everything provincial industry thinking and conservation mindsets, to  how social media promotes invective versus critical thinking, to indifference and apathy.

Podium 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 of the Story Cycle, we defined Podius as the mentor or guide to their audiences and customers. Podium 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 grow powerful outcomes, the debate process itself, as promoted by Podius, engenders 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?”


Every story, including your brand story, as 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.


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 rebaters 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.