Storytelling predates writing; the earliest forms were spoken, combined with gestures and expressions. They also include fairy tales, myths, legends and many of religious origin. There is much to learn from stories. Thus with brand storytelling it is possible to transform a brand from a frog to a prince, prolong brand life and even slay a competitor or two in the process.
Saint George (AD 280 to 23 April 303), for example, is immortalised in the myth of Saint George and the Dragon. Initially, a soldier in the Roman army, he became venerated as a Christian martyr. Also adopted as patron saint of many countries, cities and organisations.
The story about George and the Dragon returned from the Crusades in the 11th Century. In what is now a legend, the dragon lives at a water hole and requires a gift of a sheep or maiden to allow the locals to reach the water. When it is a maiden, they draw lots. However, one day a princess is chosen. She begs for her life but to no avail. Then George comes along, slays the dragon and saves the day.
Great stories touch and move us. Particularly when seen in a cinema, or through mini movies – as some television advertising has become. Not only do great stories engage, but they merit retelling and sharing. Only the best stories grab attention, are ‘liked’ and shared. In this rich digital media world (1), we are therefore all writers, photographers, producer/directors and editors.
It is the same for brands. Only the best impress journalists, trade buyers and of course, consumers. Some brands became great through brand storytelling. Some stories are born of reality, many of accident or serendipity and some invention.
Figure 1 shows a typical cinematic story structure. This is useful for brand storytelling. Act 1 involves setting the scene, introducing the characters, conflict and setting. It then concludes with a climax or set-back (turning point 1 (TP1)). Act 2 develops the story, with rising action and tension, and concluding with another climax or set-back (turning point 2 (TP2)). Finally, in the last act, the dénouement, the story reaches a climax, and resolves.
For example, that good always triumphs over evil. That every cloud has a silver lining – i.e. that you can derive some benefit from every bad thing that happens to you. Or that fortune favours the brave – that drive and determination is essential to success. Christopher Booker’s Jungian-influenced analysis of stories and their psychological meaning, espoused seven basic plots (2). Margaret Mark and Carol S. Pearson subsequently highlighted eighteen: eight guides or gifts and ten warnings (3). Figure 2 shows eight familiar stories mapped to Mark and Pearson’s need-states.
‘Transformations’ deal with significant change in attitude, behaviour or personal growth. ‘Overcoming the Monster’ stories are crime and adventure staples. They feature archetypal heroes (and villains) such as George and the Dragon. Also James Bond vs. Scaramanga (The Man with the Golden Gun). And Harry Potter, growing from boy to man, while battling Voldemort.
The typical story-line is baddie does bad thing (set-up), goodie fights baddie and loses (story development, set-back). Then goodie digs deeper, fights back and wins the day (dénouement). In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, he kills a young maiden and then goes after Harker, the hero’s fiancée. Harker and friends then hunt and eventually kill Dracula. Thus saving Harker’s fiancée (and allowing them to live happily ever after).
Brand archetypes can play different roles in narratives, and inspire brand storytelling. In a typical ‘overcoming the monster’ story-line, archetypal heroes, such as James Bond and Harry Potter are protagonists (leading players). Equally the brand could still be the hero, but not the protagonist. Alternatively a bit player – perhaps the protagonist’s assistant or ‘weapon’.
Consider a utilitarian hero archetype, cleaning brand Mr. Muscle. In a typical 3 act story, we see the housewife battling the dirt, getting tired and frustrated at her inability to clean the house etc. until along comes the hero, to clean away the dirt and save the day. The protagonist is the brand user or housewife, and the adversary, simply dirt.
Nike is a more inspiring, hero(ine) archetype (4). The protagonists in Nike advertisements are usually athletes or ordinary people, and the adversaries are fellow competitors. In a typical 3 act story, the athletes compete against each other. One wearing Nike clothing or using Nike equipment, suffering set-backs yet finally winning, and winning applause.
The Nike advert (below) features a tennis playing protagonist vilified for being a pretty face. However, the antagonist is not just a fellow competitor but public dismissal, or disdain. All questions confidence in the athlete’s skills. Will she, won’t she succumb to the pressure? Watch the advert to see the dénouement. Also feel how the rising tension strengthens the brand story.
Now work through these simple brand storytelling steps to finesse and execute your brand strategy.
Great brands like great stories are based on great truths. Great truths include customer and brand truths. So look inside and outside your business to find them.
Consider characters, the role of the brand, and how your brand could transform customers’ lives. How can you create rising tension, and a dénouement that fits the brand? Also involve disparate people in the creative process and allow time to nurture the ideas. Figure 3 shows a start-point brand storytelling concept.
While great stories and great brands touch people in different ways, they are based on a clear brand strategy and also express a consistent message. So for creative brand storytelling involve diverse experts in early brand development. Also consider how the story unfolds or presents through different media and choose media that enhance the message and enable sharing.
1. According to https://www.internetlivestats.com there are now over 1.1 billion websites including a burgeoning range of social media including Facebook, You Tube, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Snapchat and many more.
2. Booker, Christopher The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories.
3. Mark, Margaret and Pearson, Carol S. The Hero & the Outlaw. Building Extraordinary Brands through the Power of Archetypes.
4. Named after Nike, the Greek goddess of victory.
With 96% UK households having internet access in 2020 (1), the ability to buy food, clothes, music, films, sports equipment, holidays, cars etc. has never been easier. Shopping no longer takes place just in the High Street but anywhere, anytime. So what is the impact on how customers shop generally and what does this mean for businesses and brands?
More UK customers shop online compared with other major countries. Eight in ten (79%) internet users said they ordered goods or services on-line in 2010 (2). They also spent more time on retail sites; an average of 84 minutes in January 2011 compared with 20 minutes for Italy and Poland (2).
Mobile phones are also changing shopping behaviour with significant growth in those connecting to the internet via their mobile phone. Further smartphone ownership nearly doubled in the UK between February 2010 and August 2011 from 24% to 46% and nearly half used their phone to go online in October 2011 (2).
The use of wi-fi hotspots increased seven-fold from 2007 to 4.9 million in 2011 as has watching TV online with over 27% of UK internet users watching TV online every week (2).
Changes in customer behaviour present new opportunities and threats to ‘bricks and mortar’ and ‘clicks and mortar’ businesses and (r)etailers.
Understanding the sequence, nature, and importance of the steps in the customer’s journey allows marketers to what influence’s awareness and sales of a particular service or product. In turn how to promote it and where and how to add value. The traditional view of the customer journey is as a linear series of steps, as espoused by Lavidge and Steiner (3) et al.
Though this is less relevant in the online world. With the proliferation of online media, the customer journey is becoming non-linear; a more random, looping, stepping stone process. Customers use online to aid shopping decisions as well as buy. Increasingly from the comfort of their own home, desk or even bus! Retail is used to see and touch. Customers jump to and fro on their journey, reflecting, comparing and considering. They also jump from online to retail and back before finally buying.
Many factors influence if, how and when they buy, as well as their relationship with, and propensity to endorse a brand. Online media, specifically fact-finding tools and ratings on Amazon, ebay, Twitter and Facebook et al, play an increasing role.
(1) Office for National Statistics, Internet access – households and individuals, February 2020
(2) OFCOM, Sixth International Communications Market Report, December 2011
(3) Lavidge Robert J and Steiner Gary A A Model of Predictive Measurements of Advertising Effectiveness: Journal of Marketing, vol. 25, no 6, 1961.
There is widespread recognition among children’s tv producers that income from tv programme sales is seldom enough to cover production costs so brand licensing is often centre stage to increase revenue. However, if you start by thinking about brand innovation the upside is even greater.
The current brand licensing process is typically an auction. A producer makes a show. It’s then sold to broadcasters and aired. Production of a ‘style guide’ follows, with a synopsis of the show, the key characters and design elements. It’s usually an impressive tome, a wonderful work of art. This is then sent to potential licensees with a brief asking them to come up with new product ideas. The product rights are then sold to the highest bidder.
But the current model often leads to little more than putting a label on a product. While there are a few bucks in adding a logo to a pair of pyjamas, pencil-case or rucksack, the benefits seem marginal. Does the label aid brand recognition, stand-out or value? More likely it relegates your brand to a commodity found in cheap and cheerful stores. Thus undermining the brand.
Therefore thinking from a supply-push product development mindset alone isn’t enough. It’s akin to throwing mud at a wall – and hoping it sticks.
Moreover, markets are increasingly competitive. Media owners compete against retailers, and consumer goods companies. These businesses are amongst the most sophisticated organisations in the world. So, learning from, and out-thinking them, is helpful.
Consumers choose based on their needs; whether an offer meets their needs, and also by weighing up the benefits of competing offers. They subsequently buy when their ‘needs’ become ‘wants’. The retail trade also buys and stocks-up similarly. Based on what sets their store apart, and also drives store traffic and meets their customer’s needs.
So invest in audience or consumer research to make better product development and brand innovation decisions. In particular, invest in meaningful insights on consumers’ needs and behaviours. Also understand what engages and sets your tv series apart. Look for unusual character and personality quirks. Do this at the same time as programme production, in order to maximise both programme development and brand innovation opportunities.
Stimuli (1) brings to life ideas. Thus better enabling consumers to react to ideas, and challenge and build them. It therefore moves conversations beyond the superficial to the detailed. In turn, helping to uncover more insights. In addition, insights become more meaningful and better articulate how to differentiate products and services, and also command a premium. All can then be hard-wired into ‘style guides’ and also brand marketing plans in order to deliver the return on investment you need.
Brand licensing is a valid and powerful means of extending a brand into new markets and growing sales. However there are commercial upsides in thinking beyond slapping your label on a product. So think about what currently sets your brand apart or could in the future, and develop a brand strategy based on these insights.
Extending programmes beyond the tv screen to create brands requires the programme’s unique essence to be truly understood. Do this by seeing through the audience’s eyes. Also by using creative stimuli to explore, and push creative boundaries.
The same thinking process applies to any organisation thinking about how to extend their product or service into new markets. Carpe diem.
(1) Stimuli reproduced courtesy BBC Worldwide. These are just a handful of some 70 plus ideas created in order to explore new product and brand innovation opportunities for The Secret Show. Read more about our approach to brand extension and using creative stimuli in research.