Just as a good Hollywood movie can draw us in as willing participants into the depths of its plot, so too can a good brand make us feel as if we’re part of something much larger than ourselves. The best movies are often defined by great characters – characters who spend their time facing challenges and overcoming obstacles in an effort to find that special someone or something that will bring meaning to their lives. Memorable movie characters are often ruled by emotion and are driven by an underlying need to make a difference in the world.
The classic movie hero is the one that attracts us the most, and makes us feel as if we want to be part of something great as well. Truly great brands have that same effect on us. They have the capability to put our lives and experiences into context if they tell a great story or remind us of a situation in our lives which held significant meaning for us.
Famed scientific researcher and marketing innovator Louis Cheskin was one of the first people to realize that, to be effective, communication had to reach consumers at both the conscious and subconscious levels. To sell product, it was necessary to appeal to consumers at both the rational and emotional levels, since it was emotion that stimulated interest and created desire in a product. Americans bought Mustangs because they associated themselves with the brand traits. The name implied “rugged” and “fast” and conjured up emotional meaning in their minds. The Mustang story wasn’t just about a car, it was about being part of something “real.” You could drive the Mustang across the country. It was wild, yet gave the owner the feeling that he could control it.
In a sense, we are the story of the brands we use. A brand is a reflection of how we want to be perceived by the world. It sums up our hopes and expectations as to how we want to interact with the world. If I consider buying your brand, I’m choosing to enter a conversation with you, and that conversation better tell a story if you want to keep the conversation going. The brand better be of high quality as well, or the conversation will stop right then and there.
If it was possible to package our lives and categorize brands that had meaning to us at specific points in our lives, we could design a brand map that would give others insight into who we are as human beings. In the world of brand story, our lives are the sum of the products we choose to engage in, or the places we choose to visit at key points in our lives.
In the preface to the book Make Your Voice Heard by acting and vocal coach Chuck Jones, Katie Bull said that “In theater, stories wake us up to what we care about, or might not have realized we care about.”
When we buy a BMW, a Harley-Davidson, a Coke or a can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup, is it really the product we’re buying, or the feeling we get from using the product that makes us buy it? Is it the car or motorbike we’re buying, or the thought of us using them on the open road that fuels our purchase decision? Do we want to be perceived as the entrepreneur or the rebel – and which products will help us tell that story to the world?
The best brands enter the conversation through the heart and soul of the consumer. The brands that win are those that are able to break through the clutter by telling a better story. They relate to us at an almost primal level, and are able to claim a spot within our psyche.
Consider Campbell’s chicken noodle soup. Besides being of great quality, I buy Campbell’s chicken noodle soup when I’m not feeling well because that’s the brand my Mother gave me when I was sick. In choosing the Campbell’s brand, I’m not so much buying the soup as I am buying the “feel good” and “wellness” factors associated with its consumption. I relate to Campbell’s because it’s a story of nurturing and warmth. No other brand can relate to me on that level.
If I choose to take my winter vacation at Mont-Tremblant, it’s not only because of the quality of the skiing, but because the resort invokes such positive memories in me that they transport me to another place and time. The Tremblant brand evokes a story that engages me, and I feel compelled to live the experience over and over again.
In the marketplace of the future, story will be the new currency. Customers who choose to play a role in your company’s brand will be able to buy story shares in it. Imagine if the world’s stock exchanges reflected this new trend and became known as the Toronto, New York or Tokyo Story Exchanges? Instead of CEO’s, what about creating new positions as Chief Storyshare Officers?
The global brand stage of the future will be ruled by companies who are able to engage and retain customers that continue to play a character role in their storybrand. Just as interactive media is able to engage us through its ability to provide ongoing narrative, so too can a good story make us feel as if we’re willing participants during each stage of a brand’s lifecycle.
Great brands tell a story, and the ability of a brand to bring consumers into a magical dimension will become increasingly important as more and more companies turn the competition for market share into a quest for mind share.
Karen Hegmann is a marketing communications veteran with over 20 years experience in brand strategy/promotions, business development, public relations and business writing. An exceptional writer and speaker with the ability to tell a compelling story, she has been published in numerous national and international trade publications.
As principal of K-Vision Communications, Karen provided strategic communications advice and web content to clients such as Alliance Atlantis Communications, Canadian Securities Institute, Habitat for Humanity Toronto and Toastmasters International.
She believes that advertising and business in general could better connect with their target audiences by adopting storytelling and narrative techniques currently being used to move audiences in the film and entertainment industries. Her blog ‘Narrative Assets’ tells the story of how Art, Science and Technology impact Brand Communications and Marketing. In her past life, Karen was most likely a cinematographer or film director. She is proud to be a ‘graduate’ of Hollywood legend Robert McKee’s Storytelling seminar.