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Brand Storytelling

Branded Houses Offer A Single-Story Option


Branded Houses Offer A Single-Story Option

The pull to simplify is felt strongly by brands. Many large brands are consolidating their portfolios to capitalize on the power of their master brand. There are obvious operational efficiencies to be gained, but equally important to the functional benefits is the potential emotional benefit in how the brand idea comes to life through brand storytelling. The effects of an organizational shift like that can’t help but spill over into culture and strategy. This troika of organization + culture + strategy, as Hilton Barbour and Ashley Konson model, forms purpose. When each of these three is in balance, purpose is best poised to allow the strongest story to be crafted.

A Story Worth Choosing

In his book The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz cited that limitless freedom to choose (in a marketplace offering dozens of options for chewing gum, ketchup, olive oil, etc.) produces limitless amounts of anxiety. In the mobile-first world, the number of choices faced by consumers has exploded on a geometric scale. Whether directly or ambiently, people are connected to their devices all of the time. Studies show the average user ‘picks up’ their device 50-60 times per day, and spends two minutes on each ‘pick up’ between email and social, weather, traffic, the notification layer, e-commerce, and even a quick game.

With all of these choices affecting varying degrees of anxiety in the way individuals experience life (and encode experience to memory), portfolios of brands with individual, yet somewhat connected brand stories, should expect that multiple story options require multiple choices. I suspect the ability to create meaning can be significantly eclipsed by the anxiety of the choosing experience, whether agonizing over 24 flavors of jam, or deciding which story is worth focusing attention. In the same way we watch movies, stories have the power to capture the imagination like the weekend premiere of the latest Hollywood blockbuster. But the same blockbuster played in a different context might face competition wherein we pause the story to deal with the interruption and resume, or we let the story continue in the background and might not feel we’ve missed anything.

Consider this scale of brand story effectiveness with the first representing the ideal.

1. Continuous: The ultimate goal of drama is to hold the audience’s attention. Every year during the American Super Bowl, a few marquee brands succeed at captivating the continuous attention of consumers with great publicity. Budweiser is famous for bringing this quality to the passive-absorbing medium of broadcast. Holding attention also occurs in other ways across earned and owned media. In this manner, consumers choose to direct their complete attention to the story and are actively attaching meaning. Emotional resonance is at the core of these stories which, as Mark DiSomma says, answer one of these questions: “Want to play?” if B2C; “Want to win?” if B2B; and, “Want to change,” for non-profits.

2. Segmented: Brand stories can be segmented for any number of reasons, and often are ‘paused’ in the way people pause the DVR to answer a phone call. Segmentation indicates consumers have a connection to the story but cannot devote their full attention, for any number of reasons. It is not reflective of story lacking resonant potential. The B2B buyer might digest an enormous amount of information in the role leading up to the purchase decision (and ideally loyalty). The opportunity B2B brands have is to design their content marketing programs like an episodic television series. So long as the appeal to how the brand wants to make the buyer(s) feel drives the story, the cadence and content in which the story is presented and revealed can leave room for surprises, coincidences and sequels. Knowing that the brand story is likely to be consumed in a segmented way allows the story to be designed for the availability of the audience.

3. Interrupted: As resonance decreases, stories are less sticky. The emotional connection may only be at the surface, which is not always a negative and can be a gateway. Holiday sales in retail or other short-term “impulse activators” may be the only story the brand sets out to tell. But interrupted stories can be moved up in effectiveness and frequency and reach across multiple channels helps make this possible. Retailers usually invite customers to opt-in to incentive and loyalty programs. When the relationship takes on new meaning, the story becomes more effective, with events like Nordstrom’s half-yearly sale becoming permanent appointments in the calendars of their customers.

4. Fractured: With little or no resonance, the brand story simply does not create any desire strong enough to defend against shifting consumer attention. Even the elements of the story that might create resonance come in broken and disconnected pieces. It might not even be a reflection of how strong the story is. The 50-60 pickups a day with mobile devices give countless opportunity to result in a fractured story experience. The person newly in love and absorbed in text messages, the anxious business person directing attention to email, or the friend reading emotionally charged Facebook posts transports consumers to other states and other worlds, regardless of where they are.

While creative content and omni-channel strategies can optimize the brand story for alertness and receptivity, consolidating portfolios’ individual stories under the master brand (when the move can be supported by research) offers another way to optimize. Sub-brands are increasingly testing weaker than the parent master brand and there’s no surprise there: Less to remember = less to choose = less anxiety. If consumers see behind the curtain, why maintain a curtain? Lowering the anxiety associated with choosing experience affords the best chance for the choice to be remembered as pleasant, and even meaningful.

Memory is how the mind keeps score and memory, how we feel about the story we tell ourselves, absolutely guides how we make future choices. Because availability is precious, brands will offer the best story when the story is matched to what consumers really care about, and where they are available to care.

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