Stories add to the humanity of brands. They help consumers think through and act upon a narrative that is fundamentally rooted in human truths. Stories generate empathy. We see ourselves in the tale. Or we see a side of ourselves. Or we see the ‘me’ that we would like to be. Without that narrative, everything is dominated by features, data and discounts.
Everyone has a story now. Or at least most brands claim to have one. But having a story in many ways is like having a product. Really it means nothing if it is not competitive as a narrative and personally relevant to each recipient. So your story must be distinctive from the other stories that are in play in a market and it must continue to be so. That’s challenging in fast moving sectors where there is always something new to look at, another brand tale to try.
I’m dismayed by how frequently the conversation around content seems to devolve to quantity and tactics. That’s hardly surprising in some ways because of course the two are quickly linked. When everyone’s using the same tactics, quantity starts to look like the only differentiator.
Marketers are busy talking up the value of telling the stories of their brands. But why aren’t more organisations structuring their own strategies and issues as stories, and what role are marketers taking in making that happen?
Ten years ago, Don Tapscott and David Ticoll’s book “The Naked Corporation” foresaw a time of transparency in which businesses would find themselves more visible and subject to greater scrutiny. They were on the money. But in an age where everyone is more inclined to talk a lot louder and a lot more frequently, have brands reached a point of “too much information”? Do brands risk being so familiar that people feel they know them too well? Will over-familiarisation work against the marques of tomorrow?
Marketers often talk about story as if it is one thing. But brands with multiple stakeholders need to cater for different responses and priorities by streaming a range of stories to a range of audiences at different times. The reason is simple. The things that make a brand attractive in one context are different from what they might be in another context. Inclination changes, sometimes markedly, depending upon what people value.
Some marketers like to work forwards. Advertisers for example often tell a story and then wait to gauge the reaction they get. Direct marketers on the other hand start by quantifying a reaction (in the form of a return) and then craft a story to generate that response. What I’ve been discussing recently is whether some of the stories brands tell are too focused on what brands want to project about themselves and their world, and not focused enough on first identifying the specific reactions they need to be eliciting from their audience. Working back in other words. Wrapping a story around a response.
At some point, a culture that is serious about what it intends must put those intentions in writing. That’s about a lot more than documentation. Declaring what you come to work for collectively amounts to a commitment. So many companies squander this opportunity in my view. They market what is happening rather than explaining it. They expand on what it means for the company rather than how it benefits the individual. They paint a process and not a picture.
The temptation when you’re working with a brand is to continue to treat it just as a product or service. It’s simpler to do so. It’s contained. You can add features to it or introduce a variation to it. But I’ve wondered aloud with marketers in the past whether treating a brand as the personification of an idea – one that needs to develop and evolve – is not only more interesting but actually vital in a world where story is king and great content is rarer than one might think.
In this presentation from last year I talk about how great stories are structured and about the power of the nutshell of truth that lives at the centre of a great story. I show how changing just one word of that kernel can have dramatic effects. Towards the end of the excerpt I touch on something that will become increasingly important I believe as brands gravitate to longer ideas: the stories must continue to evolve if they are to avoid commoditising into the stories of industries. What’s your sequel? Acknowledgements Di Fuller once again worked her magic with the design.