Big brand narratives

Storytelling is a hot topic today for marketers and CEO corporate storytellers alike, who are keen to connect with their customers, staff and investors through compelling and unique stories.

Some marketers of long established brands believe they can benefit from rediscovering and rekindling their heritage through eliciting brand stories from various stakeholders including front line staff and retired employees.

In research undertaken with Tourism Australia on well-being holidays (presented at the AMSRS conference at the Hilton in October 2009), the feelings integral to a well-being holiday in Australia were explored. Stories to tell others can be an important component of the take home holiday experience. Yet words alone could not fully convey these subtle feelings evoked. Rather, visual story telling proved more effective. This involved inviting well-being holiday-makers to first select from a data base of images and build their own stories about well-being holidays around the visual images.

Jack Daniel’s is possibly one of the world’s greatest story tellers. Jack Daniel’s developed its stories by first harvesting the anecdotes and commentary in interviews and workshops with current and retired staff (as well as sourcing other company materials such as books and articles). The company then aligned those stories with Jack’s core corporate values. Once a fit with Jack’s strategic goals was identified, these stories became the subtext of the Jack Daniel’s marketing campaigns and dictated the tone and manner of all communications between the company and its consumers.

Social collaborative forums are one widely used medium for story sharing though the stories generated via this medium are not nearly as rich as those sourced by more traditional face to face qualitative research.

The task of harvesting our stories in focus groups and depths however, usually requires a shift in facilitation style and elicitation technique. Customers and Employees can be asked to suspend judgement and opinion in the story harvesting phase. They are also asked to provide information in a specific and concrete manner when recalling experiences, and not to generalise. Probing past the general is always challenging. Asking people to ‘take a minute to think of a specific occasion which links to a generalised comment’, can assist. Alternatively, story probes which require them to ‘take me back to the beginning – what happened first? And what happened next? Etc’ is also useful.

To be of value, the stories don’t always have to be real life ones. By encouraging creative story telling, we engage the sensory motor area of the brain and thereby elicit a different type of response which is extending understanding.

When using visual images to explore feelings and perceptions about brands and companies, it has also proved useful to encourage creative story telling using probe like this:

“Now I’m going to give you a few minutes. Please take these four pictures and weave these into a story. The story is up to you but it should express something important about the topic. It should preferably have a beginning, a middle and end. You can start with ‘once upon a time”.

According to neuroscientists, story telling is hard wired into the human brain so it is very natural for people to tell us their stories. While individual stories can lend a sense of credibility to a brand’s promise, it is often the discovery and strategic management of the big narrative/s behind the individual stories that really matters. Yet the big narrative theme is usually hidden and requires interpretation.

INSIDE STORY has developed a 4 step story telling process for building and optimising brand story telling both internally and externally.