We’re All Suckers For Narratives
November 2, 2007
I have a passion for and history of helping digital marketing companies in new, emerging categories become significant and recognized brands. Itâ€™s what I do best. When people ask me what is my secret sauce, my answer is simple: itâ€™s the ability to probe deep and elicit the essence of who you are, and to extract key stories that passionately demonstrate relevance, mission and a human connection to our world. While great brands are the result of many things â€” particularly all the factors that deliver great experience over and over and over again â€” itâ€™s the presence of compelling, authentic stories that determine high resonance in our minds. Face it, weâ€™re human and weâ€™re suckers for narratives.
But itâ€™s more than my gut that supports this notion. According to a three-year study by the Advertising Research Foundation and the American Association of Advertising Agencies, ads that tell a branding story work better than ads that focus on product positioning. As reported by Brandweek, 33 television ads across 12 categories were analyzed by 14 emotion and physiological research firms, with tools that included testing heart rate and skin conductance to brain diagnostics. Reported Brandweek: â€œThe report contends that in many ways, advertising is stuck in the past. The 20th century was dominated by a one-way transactional focus where ads were pushed at consumers. Today, consumers interact with ads to â€˜co-createâ€™ meaning that is powered by emotion and rich narrative.â€
While this study of advertising effectiveness and emotion is fascinating, itâ€™s critical to acknowledge that its greatest relevance really has nothing to do with advertising. Sure, we all want our ads to perform better. We all want to figure out how to make our advertising a service or benefit, and avoid advertising as nuisance (well, some of us, at least). But the most valuable takeaway is at the core brand level â€” specifically, how our minds are hardwired to embrace narratives and distill meaning with emotional force.
Revert back to my simple method for brand success: elicit the authentic essence of who you are, and then extract key stories that passionately demonstrate relevance, mission and a human connection to our world. For many of the early start-ups Iâ€™ve devoted blood and sweat to over the years, this spirit was the primary vehicle that enabled traction when there was nothing else to lean on â€” especially a big advertising budget, or any ad budget at all. More than anything, it was the forceful presence of this spirit in the people themselves that built core brand success â€” from the CEOs, the management teams, the employees, the partners, the contractors and especially the customers and prospects themselves. Strong brands are rooted in raw social and cultural contexts. While facts and features are important, the authentic narratives become the platform that let a brand take on a life of its own. They create reason to believe, and help transform product utility into experience and connection.
While this phenomenon is particularly evident in smaller businesses, it holds true for many large companies as well. As companies get larger, they typically use various mechanical media and distribution tactics to extend narrative virtue and achieve scale. We see this happening with virtually every large business, and itâ€™s a model many advertising agencies build their businesses on. Of course, the paradox is that with greater scale, the more institutional and faceless a brand becomes, making authentic narratives ever more important â€” but challenging to maintain. Which all goes back to the importance of having strong, foundational narratives to begin with.
In a world of growing advertising clutter, brands with authentic and compelling narratives â€” human ones â€” will be evermore advantaged. Those foundational stories increasingly will become brandsâ€™ best defense against advertising blindness and marketing disconnect. Perhaps most challenging will be a companyâ€™s ability to be true to itself and let those narratives shine through. In this age of growing transparency â€” where our mental BS radars remain on high alert and are only further sensitizing â€” narratives canâ€™t be artificially manufactured.
Now, tell me, whatâ€™s your brandâ€™s narrative?
This also was myÂ MediaPost Spin column.