Three Good Places To Begin Looking for Brand Stories

Today, brand story matters more than brand strategy.  In a world of product parity and saturation, where consumers consciously dis-integrate and opinion enjoys a powerful mass channel, the single greatest service an evolved agency can provide their clients is to identify and define brand stories.

Clearly identifying and defining brand stories: that seems like a simple, straightforward task, but it rarely is.  we inevitably assume too much.  We consider consumer benefits self evident.  We believe product meaning must be universal.  Far too often we share the mindset of former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous proclamation where he admitted how hard it is to define hard-core pornography, but “I know it when I see it.”

Justice Stewart later recanted his hazy view as “untenable.”  It’s the same with Brand Stories; fuzzy thinking won’t stand.  Defining a really great, truly simple and sharable brand story requires deep brand immersion, strategic thinking and cultural investigation.  Here are three places to start that search.

  1. People at the Client With Unique Brand Experience. For god’s sake, not marketing people.  Field salespeople, product developers, longtime employees—these kinds of people can provide remarkably diverse perspectives on a brand and that diversity of perspective is invaluable at the outset.  Our long-running “We’re Here to Help” campaign for Harris really originated from stories we picked up from branch managers, remarkable anecdotes where tellers or loan officers went far beyond the narrow 9-5 mentality to truly serve their customers, often in totally unexpected ways.  Within weeks of launching the campaign, the story of Harris’ commitment to unexpected help was everywhere, from billboards to lobbies to CEO Ellen Costello’s corporate stationery.
  2. The Stories Consumers Already Share On Line. This source is invaluable since Brand Stories exist whether we choose to foster and influence them or not.  People form powerful opinions based on their own experience, peer recommendation, and the powerful cues sent through product and package design; we need to understand these stories before we can optimize them in a way that serves our marketing communication needs.
  3. Historical Marketing Materials. It never ceases to amaze me how many agency and client types assume they can ignore past advertising and just start fresh with a clean slate.  That’s simply ridiculous wishful thinking.  It’s pure hubris to totally disregard the stories consumers already hold (see #2) and it rarely works (Tropicana Pure Premium’s short-lived package redesign anyone?).  You need to assess where you are before you can plot out how you will move to a more advantageous position.

Of course, there are dozens more places to begin the process of carving out effective Brand Stories: competitive analyses help find blue water for parity products, interviews with Brand Evangelists help outline the most meaningful benefits, simply using the product provides invaluable first hand experience for imaginative creatives.

Where do you start?

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79
Middle aged ad guy says:

Jonathan Harries had a view, or commandeered one, that all brands originally had a premise and promise. That seems like a good place to start. More often than not, a brand in trouble has compromised its original premise or promise. Or they’re no longer relevant.