Why every brand must 'tell its story' now

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on November 16, 2005

Why every brand must 'tell its story' now

Marketing communications about quality, features, and low prices are all very well but if the brands they're talking about don't "tell a compelling story" then they risk not being heard, according to Deskey's vice president of strategy, Warren Church.

The "features, quality, pricing" type of marketing communication is considered noise by many consumers today, and those who feel that way are getting progressively better at blocking it out. According to Church, the telling of a compelling story is one thing that a brand can do to be heard again. The vivid picture conjured up by the brand, and its supporting story, is what leads a consumer to recall the brand at the time that counts - the moment of purchase decision - leading to long term sales and a strong emotional connection.

Making it up... A product on its own seldom tells a story as such. But a brand gives the product a sense of identity, and a reason for being. And the story for each brand has to start with the truth and build up from there.

Church explained: "It doesn't have to be a true story, but it does have to be true to the brand. Almost every firm has a history, a special or unique ingredient, a strange form, a famous user, a particular process, singular values or years of consistent delivery. The art comes in finding which area offers the best story – and which is most relevant to the target audience. For this, you need good, honest, credible and actionable consumer insights."

Deep insight According to Church, a good consumer insight is one that goes deep - it's a piece of intelligence about the target audience that goes beyond simple demographic information. It's the kind of thing that might be overheard when two of the target audience meet and talks about their lives, beliefs, hopes and fears.

For example, parents of small children in nappies often feel that nappy rash is a sign of their shortcomings as a mother or father. (It's not, of course - it happens to everyone.) But that's an insight that a nappy manufacturer can use to start building a brand story. By contrast, the idea that "mothers are always busy" is not a useful insight - it's an undeniable fact but it doesn't help your brand develop a story.

"The best stories are bridges between the brand and the insight. Stories that people can believe. The story must also be the kind of narrative that everyone in the company will also believe, because if the storyteller doesn't believe his own tale, no one else will either," said Church.

Weaving the story Every touchpoint with the customer offers a platform on which to embellish or strengthen the brand story, to add a little mystery or delight. When Deskey worked with Starbucks a few years ago, the company looked for an insight from which the Starbucks story could evolve. Deskey found that Starbucks consumers tend to be explorers by nature: they like to try new things. But the overwhelming variety of blends made this journey risky, so people stuck with the bean variety they were familiar with, unwilling to invest in a bag of coffee they might not enjoy.

Starbucks and nappies But the story devised from that insight captured the "spirit of exploration" with a rebirth of the Siren (the seductive woman of the sea) that's integral to Starbuck's identity. The company was, however, careful to keep the actual exploration of coffee in-store to something safe. The beans were classified into three categories: bold, medium, and mild. This allowed consumers to try something new within their taste preference (and that's a key insight for brand managers and marketing executives everywhere). The result was an 8% lift in year-on-year sales.

And going back to the nappy insight, in more recent work on Luvs Diapers in the USA, Deskey spotted an insight that led to a totally new look for the brand in-store. Mothers buying 'value' nappies didn't want to feel like they were doing less for their children - instead they wanted to be congratulated for being smart with the family budget. So the new look for the product addresses exactly what they wanted: It looks more like a premium nappy while also celebrating the hectic pace of young families (and still being a money-saver). Again, the strategy produced results appeared on the bottom line as a 4% increase in market share.

Practicalities Church warns that details really do matter: "This is where many firms break down - right at the very beginning of the creative process. These details, if executed well, can lead directly to significant sales increases as a result of a solid, up-front marketing strategy."

Competition for consumers' attention is fierce, and standing out from the crowd of brands is getting more challenging with each passing day. Church concludes that throwing more marketing dollars at simple brand awareness campaigns (e.g. more advertising) is becoming less and less effective, and that advertising is no longer a practical "trial and error" medium. In short, to gain an audience's attention - and hold it - the marketer's job is now to understand what they're saying, thinking, and feeling, and most importantly how the brand's story can meet them on that emotional ground.

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