Tuesday, 2 August 2016

What story is your brand telling?

Storytelling is the default human mode. I can't help it; you can't help it; it is how we relate to the world. Everything that we see, hear, touch, smell, and taste fits somewhere into the narrative of our lives. And if you don't believe me, ask yourself this, "why am I reading this blog post?"

Still here? Good. Let me tell you about stories. For some reason, probably related to staying alive in jungles and on plains in spite of lions and snakes, our brain is a relational machine that links events to memories and then threads them together in story form. We hear the rustle in the bushes, link that to the story told about a distant cousin ambushed by a hungry lion, and depart from said bushes in a hurry, aided by a bolt of adrenaline. Or we see a stick on the ground and our first thought is "snake!" Although these reactions are automatic and inevitable, they are a form of pattern recognition that is linear and temporal in nature. That is to say, one thing leads to another.

One thing leads to another. It's the story of our lives. But all good stories have a protagonist, or hero, and the most important hero is you. You are the protagonist of your own dramatic arc. And we're all the most important person in our own stories. As a result, we tend to characterize ourselves. You know what you're like, don't you. You've even used that expression I bet - "... and, you know me, I went and did ..."

When a brand sends out any marketing material (ads, blogs, packaging, social media) it should be appealing to that inner protagonist. To do that, the brand needs to decide what type of protagonist they have in mind, and what kind of story they want to tell. Done correctly, this will result in an instantly engaging experience for the consumer.

There are too many articles and books on this topic to name here, suffice to say, sitting atop the tree is one Carl Gustav Jung. Although his (and Freud's) applications to clinical psychology and psychiatry have been roundly criticized, Jung's discussion of archetypes remains important to the foundations of human storytelling (and probably to anthropology generally).

As the diagram at the top of this post suggests, there are different 'modes' of protagonist and story. Each brand has its own mode. The successful ones stick to their archetype. Google is the Sage, Dove the Innocent, Apple the Magician and of course, Nike the Hero. By framing their campaigns within these archetypes, they ensure that anyone who fancies themselves as that kind of person will find a friend in their brand. You then attach the right kind of story for the archetype you wish to use and there you have it!

Consider a real estate agency. They might think that they really just want to be the Everyman, the regular guy who belongs. They think that this engenders trust because who doesn't trust Bob next door, right? This is perhaps a faulty strategy because the Everyman does not stand out from the crowd. He's just an extra.

We all know that real estate agents stand out (mostly because of the suit, the prestige car, and the loud voice at auctions). Basically nothing about the real estate agent says "Everyman", so it's unwise to try to appeal to that archetype. Instead, agents should frame themselves as, say, a blend of Jester and Sage. Sure, they're fun loving and want to get the most out of life, but they're also wise in the ways of the market.

Anyone who wants to buy a new home wants these two things - a great new home, and a clever purchase. Anyone looking to sell a home wants to know that their agent knows the market, but also that he's bringing a whole caravan of buyers, like he's the Pied Piper of Property or something. If you can get these fun and wise messages out there, you will be top of people's mind when they go to choose an agent.

Stories are memorable; plain vanilla facts and information are not. Also, good rhetorical skill is essential to telling a story memorably. You liked the alliteration of Pied Piper of Property, didn't you? Yes, seductive stories sell.
You want to be memorable.

It's worth remembering that big companies start small, and famous brands were unknown once. So it is that no company attempting to grow should forget the power of the story they tell. Consistency is the key to a developing brand. Know your audience type. Know the story you need to tell for them. Stick to it and your brand will be entertaining, engaging, and might, just might, become like a virus of the mind, one they'll spread across the world. That's the kind of pandemic you want to see!

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