Connected BrandsThe Connected Brand 
One of the hardest aspects of marketing is to deliver consistent and clear brand communications. Getting a simple brand truth that is central to creating a clear understanding of a brand is difficult. Even if you find it, being consistent is harder.

Often product brands or corporate brands are understood while you are in the room but as soon as the brand champion leaves, the clarity and consistency slips. Great brands have a story that is told easily and consistently, even when your not there. It’s this concept of sharing of stories that we humans have a gift for that is so attractive to me from a brand communication point of view. People are only able to share ideas easily when they can personalise the idea into a story. The biggest problem for marketeers is how to ensure that the  their audience shares a story about the brand with the same meaning to their friends. Its unlikely that the story will remain unchanged by the audience and intact its almost essential that it is changed and made personal to create authenticity. To do this every brand needs to be based on a mixture of facts and emotion that creates value for the customer. Creating value is based on uncovering insights about the life and environment of the customer. These insights point to areas where customers will see value in your brand.

I have found that the dedication you put into uncovering a brand insights makes the difference between a brand driven by word of mouth and buzz versus brands that rely on big advertising budgets to bring it to the front of mind. Figure 1 outlines the process I use to generate brand Insights. As you can see I am trying to move away from the surface insights people usually stop at. My goal is to get a deep and meaningful brand insight. This is because I can be more sure it will speak clearly and truly about the customers life and how the brand fits in to their personal story.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Insights and Brand Story

I spend a lot of time in research and thinking about archetypes and metaphors to help me dig below the surface of brand insights. When I find metaphors in customer dialog I get a much better sense of the internal communication platform people are using. Often the turn of phrase that creates an insight clears the fog (there is a metaphor from me) and leads the way  (there is another) to clear communication possibilities, ones that will be better understood by customers.  For example in research for a treatment for Hepatitis B I heard on several occasions people describing the disease as “feeling dirty on the inside” and just wanting wash their blood to be rid of the disease”. It certainly place you closer to what some people with Hepatitis B think. If after research I can find a common metaphor for the brand its helps me start the creative process of writing a story based on the metaphor. After all you could say that a metaphor is the shortest story you can tell.

Good metaphors are so descriptive that people get a whole story in a couple of words. However, more often than not I need to build a story around the metaphor for the brand I’m working on. In the Storytelling Map post I tell you how to do this. Other parts of the complete story are  the backstory and conflict and tension, without which there is no story. Another part of the brand story development involves analysing relevant archetypes (defined here). By looking at the brand and its audience, several archetypical characters come to the top of my mind . Anchoring on these tells you how you people will expect your brand to behave. It gives it personality and an direction (often referred to as an arc). Your audience has a common collective understanding of archetype. When you brand behaves as its intended archetype roll suggests, your brand is seen as authentic. When you brand behaves differently or without consistency, your brand is quickly viewed is inauthentic and your audience will quickly start looking elsewhere for authenticity.

Storytelling Map
Storytelling Map

With these elements in place, I test the verbal story with my audience. Both my target customer audience and my internal stakeholder audience. Its important that the story sticks verbally with them. I’m looking for that moment of excitement and understanding as I tell the story. I listen to see how long it takes until the story is told back to me. Its always a good sign and great indication that the brand story is working. You have an active role here as a story needs to be told to be heard so you have to practice and hone down the story at this stage.

From here with embryonic story in hand and some followers to boot, I start on the visual story (in another post I will discuss the auditory story). Deciding the visual view point and entry point to the story is very important. If the story is true and compelling you will not need to tell the whole story. You are  looking for the visual reference to spark the imagination and let the story run in peoples minds, like the the opening of a film. There is no magic bullet here to complete this stage. You need great creative insight and people to work with you. I’m no Designer or Creative Director but as the client for some of the great advertising companies, I can write great brief and steer the brand constantly and authentically during the creative process. Your ability to write great briefs is the key to great execution, especially if your not a designer.

As a brand develops, the central story does not change but characters and situation evolve. Having the story means that you can, when the time is right or when the audience decides, change  the point of view the brand story is told from. It keeps the story central but allow a fresh view of the same story. You can keep telling the same story but from different angles and entry points. In this way your not tempted to change you core brand message outside of the framework you have built but you and your audience have the freedom of a big stage to play out the brand story .

I keep coming back to the phrase big brands are born from simple stories, told well. Making sure your brand is connected to the real lives of your customers through a brand story is the key to a great brand.