I know I’m a dim bulb, but being a liberal arts grad is both blessing and curse. It’s wonderful to see the world in terms of poetic metaphor and meaning. It’s also a distraction that can lead me to overestimate my own skills as a communicator, as well as misjudge anybody’s interest in hearing what I have to communicate.
Most branding suffers from this conflict. It’s evident in how tenaciously its creators hold onto the belief that they have the authority, capacity, or right to tell stories.
We don’t, of course. Stories is a code word for reasons to get consumers’ attention and convince them of things that might not necessarily be wholly true. Our excuse is that consumers aren’t rational buyers, so it’s brand death to rely on truth alone in marketing. Functional reality is too dull and its experience an undifferentiated muddle. People need more, and that means an open invitation to us to attach or concurrently present images and ideas that are irrational. Relying on truth alone wouldn’t just fall on their deaf ears; it would bore and offend our artistic sensibilities.
Here’s why we’re wrong:
Consumers are rational buyers. What’s your irrational or unsubstantiated behavior is my well-reasoned, thoughtful decision. every purchase makes sense to the purchaser at the moment they fork over their money, just as every sale can be second-guessed and reinterpreted thereafter. There are qualities upon which each decision are based, and to categorize some of them as irrational is an abrogation of your brand’s responsibility to inform and respect your customers.
More rational decisions make better customers. So much of marketing budgets are spent making brand promises to which usage and experience must live up. It might be easier to make a sale promising (or implicitly suggesting) that your face cream will reduce the effects of aging, or your beer will make guy drinkers more attractive to hot babes, but you’re going to spend more money afterwards trying to perpetuate those myths, or coming up with new ones when your old promises are proven hollow.
Skip engagement and deliver understanding. You’ve got this wondrous technology that lets you stay in touch with the world, and you’ve been told that your challenge is to come up stuff to propagate through it. How about if the mandate of your branding to achieve true understanding with your customers…what your products or services do, how they do it, why, where, and when? Make it compelling and fun and sexy, but make sure it gives your customers inspiring true tools with which to make decisions.
The trick is to allow them to create the stories. If your brand were a movie, you’d be the producer, not the director, and certainly not an actor. Your customers are crafting the stories because they’re living them, and your job is to give them the respect, information, and ongoing support so they can live it in the best ways possible. What differentiates your brand isn’t what you purport to say or do but what they truly do and say. So if it’s a movie it’s probably a documentary, not a fantasy and (hopefully) not a drama or horror flick. Brands are narratives.
Next time you or your agency think you need to come up with a story to tell your customers about your brand, consider that they didn’t ask for it, don’t need it or know what to do with it, and it only makes it less likely they’ll be happy with your brand over time.