What marketers can learn from their grandmas

Wednesday 09th, January 2013 , , ,

Online branding needs to be fortified in manifold ways. One way is through compelling cross-channel storytelling. Brand stories need to be consistent to be effective.

Recently I came across an article which described in fascinating detail how the games industry is being propelled by intriguing marketing stories. It then occurred to me how every single object that forms a part of our daily lives has a story behind it. For instance, my favorite pair of Levi’s believes that every woman is unique and hence should have clothing that caters to their unique fitting requirements. That’s their story and one that resonates with most women on a philosophical as well as daily operational level. Talk about great online branding!

There are plenty of other instances of how effective brand stories have captured the fancy and loyalty of audiences across the globe. One that stood out in the past year (2012) was Red Bull’s Stratos jump. It had the entire world buzzing. Post the success of the campaign, Red Bull, as a brand, has now come to convey a sense of adventure and thrill to consumers. One particular brand story that stands out in my mind is Coca Cola’s Open Happiness campaign. In times when media is always spewing tragic news from around the world, this campaign conveyed that instances of positivity still exist. Take a look at this video. What does the viewer take away from this? Coca Cola and good times go together.

The need to have compelling brand stories has always been there but it is become more pertinent to online branding of late. Previously brand stories followed a different format. They communicated about how their product/service worked in different situations. While this format spread awareness, the effect didn’t translate to engagement and emotional connect with the viewers. So the manner of storytelling and the tools have undergone a change. Also, with the multiple avenues of communication existing today, the story needs to be capable of translation across numerous channels.

When creating a brand story, it is necessary to consider a few aspects:

  • The team that puts together the brand story (should ideally be a mix of marketers and writers)
  • The audience it is intended to reach
  • The type of story – historical, anecdotes, fictional
  • The interactive aspects of the story
  • The tools that will be used to publish the story

Research consultancy Latitude suggests that four elements be included in the brand story – immersive experience, interactivity, integration across multiple touchpoints and impact that leads to action.

Incidentally there are multiple ways to drive home your brand story. The first and most obvious vehicle is through content. Through creation of interactive content that is aligned to your brand story, you can connect with your audience in a way that will ensure that they remember what your brand stands for. Case in point being American Express’ Open Forum where they feature advice and supportive content for small business owners thereby emphasizing the fact that they support small enterprises. Second, you can consider making a video to propagate your brand story. These videos could talk about your brand’s history, describe your products or just represent your brand’s beliefs in a fictional story format. There are multitudes of other options available when it comes to choosing the right storytelling vehicle.

Even great packaging is a powerful vehicle to convey a story. One obvious example that will instantly occur in the minds of urban dwellers is that of Apple and its uber chic packaging. This practice is also being leveraged smartly by regional players like Chumbak. On purchasing their Auto Raja bobblehead for a friend, I was pretty floored by the packaging of the product – colorful depictions of the idiosyncrasies associated with an Auto driver, all depicted in the quintessential Chumbak style of imagery.

All this fuss about brand storytelling is bound to raise one question – how exactly does it influence consumers? Scientifically speaking, being absorbed in a story releases oxytocin which is usually associated with emotional interaction. Stories are important because a narrative helps our brains cope with the multitudes of stimuli that bombard us every day. Psychological studies prove that when it comes to making a sales pitch, you’re more likely to succeed if you weave a great story rather than throwing facts and figures at your audience’s heads. This is primarily because human beings process information very differently when it comes to fiction, making them drop their intellectual guard which is firmly in place during rational discussions. The more your audience is absorbed in what you have to say, the more likely it is that you will be able to change their mindsets. As Jonathan Gottschall beautifully puts it in this article, “But we are beasts of emotion more than logic. We are creatures of story, and the process of changing one mind or the whole world must begin with “Once upon a time.”

If you’re a hard-nosed marketer, it is likely that you’ve wondered through the length of this blog what sort of ROI you can expect from investing in such an exercise. According to this article, great storytelling helped make whopping profits on a variety of products, from snow globes to luxury brands like Burberry and Tiffany & Co.

The simplest way to build a great brand story? Understand your audience’s mindset, map it to what your brand offers, establish effective stories and monitor the reception, making tweaks wherever required. Nothing a comprehensive strategy can’t tackle. All considered, unless your brand manages to capture the audience’s fancy, the quest to success is very likely to be long and disappointing.



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