What is that makes a brand great. Why do we have likes and loyalty to objects and do marketeers really have influence over our minds? We certainly know our minds most of the time. We make choices of one product over others, hundreds, if not thousands of times a day and most of the time we do this without the really thinking about it. Choice of this over that is influenced by many factors and we are only starting to understand what makes us choose. Certainly our reasons for choice differ depending on the category we are choosing in. The way we choose cabbage is very different to the process we go through for buying a flat screen television. The consequences of choice can be a big factor. Does it matter if the choice is right or wrong? In medicine this can literally the difference between life or death, but not all decisions have this level of consequence. The time frame we have to choose in can also make a difference to the way we make choices if we are pushed into making choice. Other known levers of choice are emotion and familiarity. It’s certainly harder to be chosen without some level of product or company familiarity. So the general formula for brands we like are; brands we know, have experience with a brand or at least a previous experience with the parent company, where we have time to choose and the consequences of choosing that brand are not likely to be negative or the brand is the option where the outcome is most positive out of all the available options.
“If your brand can fit a story line your customer is telling themselves your brand can get integrated into the customers life.”
Loyalty comes from brand authenticity and user experience. I’m a big fan of fans. They are better than customers because they will go beyond your vision of the brand. They tell you how to sell to them and in return for your listening and repeated delivery of your brand promise that resonates with them, they reward you by becoming advocates. They tell your brand story for you and make it credible with their own authenticity. Brand fans are more than rationally involved with the facts of your brand, they have belief in your brand and see a bigger picture. Loyalty then is the repeated acceptance of your core brand promise and the interplay with the users emotions and experiences. But can marketing pull the wool over customers eyes and influence them to do things against their will? In some superficial ways yes marketing or advertising can create temporary movement but this doesn’t create fans and has been shown to be unsustainable. This model trades on, at best mis-truths and often on deception. The lack of authenticity is felt and the brand support dies. Superbrands therefore trade of the evidence and repeated user experience to reinforce the initial choice and act as a frame of reference for all the other brands not chosen in the same category.
But how do brand and corporate stories help make these Superbrands standout and become long lasting? In his book, The Visual Story, Bruce Block writes, “the audience realizes the character is acting in a certain way because you need him to act that way (mechanical) and not because he needs to (organic).” In the same way when you wish to impose how your audience uses your brand they will see this as mechanical. Creating your customer experience based on the way they organically want to use and see your brand will create, loyalty, trust repeating it the experience creates authenticity. Stories then are the way that you can build brands that help customers organically accept your brand into their life.
If your brand can fit a story line your customer is telling themselves your brand can get integrated into the customers life. Your brand story then is the small communication that transports the customer to think of their own story. As these two stories blend and if your brand can be experienced at the same time with varied visual volume you and your customer will create a new story together. Each time there is a choice to be made the story that encompasses your brand gets played and you are chosen. More importantly this new co created story is the one that gets told by the customer to their network getting you closer to more people than todays advertising budgets allow. This is where I would invest my efforts generating a group of fans.
I think understanding the nature of story in marketing helps lower the fear I hear in people when I talk about telling brand stories. I think people feel they need to write War and Peace and not a short ,well worded phrase, that can transport the audience to their inner story. I see this in my mind as the tributaries of a rivers of thought in a customers head, constantly flowing. When I tell a brand story that matches the speed and direction of one of these tributaries, together we form a new flow. When I get this wrong its like standing in the river trying to walk upstream. For a while i’m able to stay their but eventually I will just get swept away.
So our jobs become clear. We need to be sure that we know the inner stories our customers are telling themselves every day. Then we need to see the best one our brand can swim with. The story then is the instrument that brings this life story to the surface and allows co creation. For example the main narrative around arthritis for a primary care physician may be on keeping patients stable for the longest time. While stories of pain free days are important evidence they are a bit like walking upstream in the arthritis conscious river. Communication (stories) based on real data on the reassurance the physician could give a patient about the stability they can co create with brand x starts to flow together. How the physician uses the brand, the results he sees and how the company supports the gathering and retelling on the effect is what I spend my time creating and ensuring so I generate brand fans.
I don’t think you can do it with cabbages but for just about everything else I think understanding people’s stories, creating targeted brand stories and helping customers retell stories can create Superbrands.