A boy and his pet penguin: It was one of the advertisements that stole our hearts this Christmas season. It had joy, love, giving and the magic of a child's imagination. And it was also a brilliant example of storytelling. 

In case you missed it, the commercial showed a youngster playing with his best bud, a frolicking penguin who suddenly starts noticing couples in love. After the boy picks up on his pal's loneliness, the next scene shows him guiding the penguin to their Christmas tree, where he surprises the bird with a perfect mate

As if this wasn't magical and touching enough, the advertisement then reveals that the boy has been playing with a much-loved toy penguin all along – and has unwrapped a spotless new stuffed animal to form the happy couple. 

The brand? John Lewis, a department store company now associated with making dreams come true and fuelling the imaginative world of children. 

Storytelling and branding 

Storytelling is a trend we've seen in television commercials and other advertising campaigns for some time now.

Rather than focusing on detailing the qualities of their products and services, brands are telling heartwarming tales that more subtly relate to their offerings within a very human, entirely relatable context. The tactic builds up the brand identity and positioning, making a memorable association with the company or marque itself. 

And it's not hard to see why the technique is so effective. These marketing efforts often tug at our heartstrings, playing on our nostalgia and emotion to forge a strong connection. Storytelling also helps form the brand's more human face, which organisations can then build on through social media campaigns and other strategies. 

Incorporating stories into your marketing events 

John Lewis built a whole series of outreach efforts around Monty the Penguin: music to raise money for the WWF, an interactive e-book, social media posts, Monty's goggles in their stores and a Magical Toy Machine in one of its shops. By reinforcing this story, it becomes even more linked to the brand's identity. 

In addition to leveraging powerful storytelling for your commercials, social media campaigns and similar advertisements, could you apply the technique to your exhibition and trade show displays?

For starters, by working with experts on a design strategy that captures the image and messaging of your brand, you could tie in the stories you've been telling elsewhere – or tell a fresh story about your organisation, products or the people who use them. Strategic lighting, interactive elements, technology: These tools are all excellent building blocks to tell a story.

Why does branding matter? 

Although storytelling like this can be a lot of fun, its business benefit is something to take very seriously. In a day and age when the customer is more empowered than ever, fostering strong, enduring relationships could be a significant competitive advantage.  

When The Financial Brand polled a number of marketing leaders in the bank and credit union industry about their views on branding, many pointed to the value of the strategy for driving trust, loyalty, community relations, positive associations, name awareness, growth and more.

"Branding saves you money," said Madeline Anderson-Balmer, marketing manager at Bellwether Community Credit Union. 

"Your ROI is recognition in the community and a constant building of your reputation. You can't grow without either one." 

How effective is storytelling in this regard? John Lewis's ad has generated 13 million views (and counting) on YouTube, according to Herald Sun, with the campaign becoming a trending topic on Twitter before the commercial even ran. 

Fast Company contributor Duke Greenhill tallied up the ROI for brand storytelling within several companies. He found that one online company was able to increase product values by 2,706 per cent by encompassing them in a story. On a broader level, he noted that Tiffany & Co.'s stock increased from US$72 to $82 per share within one month of its storytelling campaign in June 2011. 

Whether or not you make storytelling central to your brand positioning, the bigger takeaway might be to focus on the message you're conveying with your marketing efforts. Rather than simply presenting products, create a visual display that makes a strong impression. That way, your exhibition can have its own happy ending.