I recently enjoyed a two day storytelling seminar given by Robert Mckee, the legendary story doctor who has worked with luminaries of the movie industry for more than 3 decades.
Stories are art, crafted to take the reader on a journey designed by the author to deliver a meaningful emotional experience. This seminar, and I recommend you seek out one of Robert’s London seminars if you have the chance, provided me with a rich learning experience that helps me in my desire to understand better the correlation between our emotions and values and the brands we buy.
I believe brands need to be storytellers. Using craft and structure to reveal the complex associations of values, benefits and features to their audiences using language they intrinsically understand and connect with. Their stories must tell the simple truth of their existence, helping their audience to see clearly their value, design and importantly create a platform for long term engagement.
It is in the storytelling therefore that some brands fail. They offer the same quality of service or product as successful brands, and yet they don’t translate this into their own success. They fail to capture the imagination of their audience and we must ask ourselves why?
In tough market conditions many brand owners are forced to treat their brands as commodities, pressured by the demand for sales and a focus from the boardroom on buying short term brand loyalty. This has two long term implications for the brand. Firstly it can turn a premium brand in to a value brand that is traded (which isn’t sustainable) rather than positioned, and secondly it makes the brand compete with other brands in the wallet and not in the minds of the audience.
Whilst audiences want brands to recognise and reward loyalty, we as brand owners need to inspire them too. If all we do is reflect and remind them that money is always the key driver in their life, we’re letting them down. The brand owner must focus beyond the effective management of their marketing budgets and simply trying to buy customer loyalty.
We must convince audiences that when value in the economy is shaky the values of the brand remain constant, offer tangible benefits and give them something to believe in and sometimes aspire towards having.
“But the majority of brands have to deal or die” is the answer from many brand owners but this simply isn’t true. Some brands, with very little money, have managed to engage their audience and developed deep emotional relationships that inform, entertain and differentiate.
They have become storytellers, that enable their audience to connect with the values of the brand and absorb meaning through the craft of their brand story.
So what are the components of an effective story:
1) Unlike stories that are fiction brands must tell the truth of their existence. Why do they exist in the world, to serve what purpose for their audience? Here the reason is all important. We want to create (A) because (B) needs it to enable them to do (C). A brand story, in its telling, should smoothly transport the audience from A to C, be utterly transparent and feel right. You know when your been strung a line, you feel it. It you don’t believe it, you can be sure your audience wont either!
2) Frame your story to reflect accurately (without dwelling on it) the pain in your audience’s life you wish to remove with your brand. I use the analogy of people reading horoscopes. Those people that believe them look for themselves in the writing of the horoscope.
If they recognise themselves or a character trait or a situation they are experiencing they instantly develop a deep bonds of trust with the writer because “They get me!” It shows your audience that you understand them intimately. Adversely, if you simply scratch the surface of understanding your audience how can you hope to translate learning into meaningful products or services?
3) Craft your message using all your learning about your audience to be instantly recognisable and understandable. You must speak the same language as your audience or risk them missing the point of your brand.
4) Take your audience with you on a journey that has a clear destination in mind. The characters of a story are all moving toward some desired outcome, every action either positive or negative will move them toward it. So too must your brand story, it must help your audience towards a deeper understanding of the values, benefits and features of your brand and not simply make un-connected statements regardless of them being true.
5) Entertain if possible but at the very least inform your audience so they can differentiate your brand from others. The example I always refer too is Blendtec. Their blender may not be a sexy brand but that didn’t stop them thinking about and translating the values and benefit of their blender into something that is both fun, entertaining and informative.
“Will it Blend” started life as a campaign and has grown into a community where the owner of the company asks the simple question, “Will it Blend?”. It being everything from industrial magnets to hockey pucks! Delivered through YouTube, short video’s of them attempting to blend a whole raft of objects entertains but subtly re-enforces the benefits of the brand that being that Blendtec blenders are very robust, dependable blenders.
Reflecting on the great depression of the 20s and 30s, audiences going to the movies actually grew. People found the money and went to the movies to escape the harsh reality of living and for the 90 minutes telling of a story found a world crafted for them by screenwriters, authors and play writers.
Audience’s today don’t want the constant reminder of the frugality’s of living. They need value of course but they also want to be told a story and believe in something. They want to know we care about them and not just the pound they carry around in their pocket.