Updated: May 30, 2021
By Michela O’Connor Abrams
When did we move from transaction-based consumerism to brand ambassadors or brand critics? It used to be that consumers only wanted to know the facts. How much does a product cost? How long will it last? Is there a warranty? Today, consumers are looking for a relationship with a brand that transcends these practical questions. They are changing what matters to them, and this has become especially pronounced during the pandemic. It’s not about the badge (the brand emblem). It’s all about what is behind the brand...the people, the ethical practices, the sustainable policies, the social responsibility scores, and much more. (See, The End of the Status Symbol) Our Design Insights Forum consistently points to the desire on the part of the most affluent, design savvy consumer, to have a relationship with a brand in order to buy goods or services from them.
Because so much of the way we shop is through digital experiences (transactions), consumers now crave a human connection with the brands they buy. For this reason, brands need to connect with their buyers in a deeper way...
Technology has democratized the role of the consumer. For better or worse, every consumer considers that they are in charge of a brand’s reputation by their reviews, their scores, their posts, their social channel interaction and more. Because so much of the way we shop is through digital experiences (transactions), consumers now crave a human connection with the brands they buy. For this reason, brands need to connect with their buyers in a deeper way, much in the same way that a print magazine tells stories to connect with it’s audience. Today’s consuming community is defined by what marketers call a psychographic, which goes beyond demographics and dives in their attitudes and behaviors - all of which can be monitored by their digital behavior. The most successful brands know their consumers and their prospects. They map all the data they have on them and create personas. These personas are in fact the day-in-the-life stories needed to engage the most well aligned consumer with the brand.
Brand storytelling brings together the product’s facts and customer personas as well as the emotions they evoke.
The History of Brand Storytelling
Brand storytelling was fueled by the digital revolution, led in part by Apple. Apple is now one of the richest corporations in the world, but when it first launched, it told a story that anyone who bought an Apple computer would be bucking the status quo and “thinking different.” Remember Lee Clow’s Super Bowl commercial introducing the Macintosh? A female runner in technicolor throws an iron mallot that smashes a large black and white screen projecting a depiction of George Orwell’s Big Brother, and then the commercial cuts to a slogan that says, “...you’ll see why 1984, won’t be anything like 1984.” Since then, Apple has expanded their reach into music, phones, netgear and more. Design Insights Forum consistently reports that Apple wins every time the question is asked, “which brand do you admire most”? (2009-2020).
Brand storytelling brings together the product’s facts and customer personas as well as the emotions they evoke. It introduces a consumer to a brand’s purpose and values, whether it's smashing the status quo, or showing a commitment to sustainability or supporting liberal immigration policies. This not only creates loyalty, but it can make consumers become ambassadors of that brand.
Designing A Brand’s Story
Designing the voice of a brand is now more important than creating a marketing strategy in the traditional sense (i.e graphs showing data, facts and figures on the consumer demographics the product needs to target.) Neuroscience studies show that our brains are wired to better remember stories more than logic or data, and studies also show that stories inspire empathy. Designing its story also helps a brand find it’s tribe - the people who are part of its story. Telling specific and emotive stories they care about, will also help to grow its audience by asking the questions “What is it like to have a relationship with the brand? How is it going to feel?” Our client Amberleaf, for example, recently changed their name to Amberleaf Home, and they are regularly telling stories about what home means to them. Their CEO, Jim Wong, is a first generation Chinese-American whose family escaped Mao by coming to the US in the cargo hold of a ship in 1963. For Wong, the meaning of “home” is at the center of his brand (See Collective Conscience at its Finest)
The Difference Between Content and Advertising
Brand storytelling is not traditional advertising or public relations, which is selling a product, service or story. Owned media, which is generated by the brand itself, are the stories, whether told through blog posts, podcasts, videos, or social media that represents and brings to life the different people in your brand’s audience, or psychographic, and their values. For example, you could start by highlighting the people who are champions of your brand in order to make them part of the story as well as sharing their stories.
We’d love to hear your brand design stories with the #storiesasdesign