“Metaphor is both a detour and a destination”.
“Metaphor is both a detour and a destination”.
In Lovemarks, Kevin Roberts said ” I want to be as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the centre”. It’s a great quote and has me looking for stories from the edge. Especially when creating pharma brands the centre is the norm. There are not many of us at the edge yet.
“The essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action while reason leads to conclusions.”
In the last edition of MISC magazine I read the article by Paul Isakson on “ Truth, Beauty and Transformation” as the central themes for brand stories. I agree with Paul that these are essential elements of story but I gravitate to three components of story that could be even closer to the center of every story. My three forces in story center around Choice, Freedom and Happiness. These themes seem to reoccur across culture and continental boarders.
Wherever you look you see stories of choice or the lack of choice. As with each of my three there are positive and negative stories to be told. A brand may use these stories as part of positioning urging the consumer to advocate for change. Counties use these stories to define and maintain society norms reinforcing the way counties and society choose to live. Choice or the lack of it is the literary equivalent of tension. Without tension there is no story worth telling or listening to and here choice becomes the tension.
These have been told everywhere as part of our ambition and drive for life. Freedom is split into two aspects. Freedom to and freedom from. This is well explained in the great book by SHEENA IYENGAR in “THE ART OF CHOOSING”. So essential are these that few stories do not have some aspect of freedom woven into the meaning of the story. From Mandela to the Olympics (especially Para Olympics) or the Landrover brand. Freedom is a central theme. Countries also use these stories as part of their culture. It’s central like choice because of our humans aspiration to improve and advance.
Finally there are stories of happiness. Building on the other two story themes we seem to be programmed to seek happiness. Maybe this is based on long-term happiness subthemes like love, family, wealth and security or the type of enlightened happiness that come from doing good and all that stems from giving. Happiness stories could equally come from shorter-term subtopics like sports, food and films. Call it fulfillment or Maslovian self actualization but many of our actions play this story willing us to seek out these forms of happiness.
Of the three themes there appears to be a hierarchy with choice leading to freedom and freedom leading to happiness. For brands these are essential customer experiences that need to be understood by marketers, advertisers and consumers alike.
Did you ever stop to think what happens to the billions of words spoken everyday? What happens to the words that don’t get heard? How long will they live for and do they make a noise when they fall on the floor, unheard , unused and ignored?
A preventative measure to stop this typographical suicide is story. It remains the best way to get words heard and understood. Just ask any child listening to a story. Stories keep the spoken word alive.
Stories are the electricity that jumps, boosted with renewed energy from one person to another like electricity traveling between pylon to pylon eventually reaching and powering your home. Another way of looking at story is the way ideas jump from synapse to synapse purpose renewed.
But back to those falling words. If you cannot build a story , then use the metaphorical ink from the words you write to paint a picture. It will last longer and people will tell your story from it.
Keep listening to hear if your words are hitting the floor and keep thinking about your story.
Inspired by a great conversation with Paul, Martin and Chris at Make Believe UK.
Some people write about the conspiracy of emotional positioning. Apparently it upsets their sense of order in the world. Apparently is just a ruse by advertising agencies to print money and has no basis in positioning. Their premise is that a value proposition “Why I should do this vs that” from an economic standpoint and clinical data are the only factors physicians use to make decisions. They believe that these two factors alone constitute positioning. As a scientist and a pharmaceutical marketer I disagree. I think emotion will always be present in the process of choice. It’s choice that everyone is trying to influence and positioning is our way of understanding which way our customers choice compass points.
I agree that many positioning statements thought to have an “emotional ” element are never going to work. Look at cited examples like “Be your Best” & ” Return to Life” . These are bumper stickers or tag lines at best. It’s not brand positioning. Customers will not think like this after using the brand and it will not be the reason they remember the brand or choose the brand in the future. Like it or not, when you communicate clinical data or value propositions, your customers will create a story around them to give it meaning. So it’s up to you. You can either let people create their own meaning to your brand or you can guide them to a common understanding of the brand through metaphor and brand story. Yes there will be emotion, you need it as the word itself implies emotion implies movement from the root of the word.
Employing emotion is really important for all communications. I think it’s the “secret sauce” that creates authenticity. Imagine life without emotion. It would be robotic, sanitized and controlled. It would be artificial and I think people fail to move when communicated to in this way. Lets clear up a few myths of positioning. Advertising does not create positioning. Data and logical argument alone does not create positioning and what you say about your brand position is, it is not positioning. What your customers say about your brand is the reality of your positioning.
In a final attempt to convince you that data and logic alone are not enough to carry a brand, I am reminded of the fragility of our own minds and the propensity for us to create meaning out of data. The biased assimilation of information means that logical conclusions are almost never straight forward. They depend on the bias your audience carries with them. These biases are based on society, culture and memory and a key part of memory will be emotion. I think you need a story that taps into customers emotion to guide the way people process data and brand information. A great brand combines meaningful clinical data and a compelling value proposition but is communicated in a way that lets customers experience emotional aspect of the brand to create meaning.
The Connected Brand
One of the hardest aspects of marketing is to deliver consistent and clear brand communications. Getting a simple brand truth that is central to creating a clear understanding of a brand is difficult. Even if you find it, being consistent is harder.
Often product brands or corporate brands are understood while you are in the room but as soon as the brand champion leaves, the clarity and consistency slips. Great brands have a story that is told easily and consistently, even when your not there. It’s this concept of sharing of stories that we humans have a gift for that is so attractive to me from a brand communication point of view. People are only able to share ideas easily when they can personalise the idea into a story. The biggest problem for marketeers is how to ensure that the their audience shares a story about the brand with the same meaning to their friends. Its unlikely that the story will remain unchanged by the audience and intact its almost essential that it is changed and made personal to create authenticity. To do this every brand needs to be based on a mixture of facts and emotion that creates value for the customer. Creating value is based on uncovering insights about the life and environment of the customer. These insights point to areas where customers will see value in your brand.
I have found that the dedication you put into uncovering a brand insights makes the difference between a brand driven by word of mouth and buzz versus brands that rely on big advertising budgets to bring it to the front of mind. Figure 1 outlines the process I use to generate brand Insights. As you can see I am trying to move away from the surface insights people usually stop at. My goal is to get a deep and meaningful brand insight. This is because I can be more sure it will speak clearly and truly about the customers life and how the brand fits in to their personal story.
I spend a lot of time in research and thinking about archetypes and metaphors to help me dig below the surface of brand insights. When I find metaphors in customer dialog I get a much better sense of the internal communication platform people are using. Often the turn of phrase that creates an insight clears the fog (there is a metaphor from me) and leads the way (there is another) to clear communication possibilities, ones that will be better understood by customers. For example in research for a treatment for Hepatitis B I heard on several occasions people describing the disease as “feeling dirty on the inside” and just wanting wash their blood to be rid of the disease”. It certainly place you closer to what some people with Hepatitis B think. If after research I can find a common metaphor for the brand its helps me start the creative process of writing a story based on the metaphor. After all you could say that a metaphor is the shortest story you can tell.
Good metaphors are so descriptive that people get a whole story in a couple of words. However, more often than not I need to build a story around the metaphor for the brand I’m working on. In the Storytelling Map post I tell you how to do this. Other parts of the complete story are the backstory and conflict and tension, without which there is no story. Another part of the brand story development involves analysing relevant archetypes (defined here). By looking at the brand and its audience, several archetypical characters come to the top of my mind . Anchoring on these tells you how you people will expect your brand to behave. It gives it personality and an direction (often referred to as an arc). Your audience has a common collective understanding of archetype. When you brand behaves as its intended archetype roll suggests, your brand is seen as authentic. When you brand behaves differently or without consistency, your brand is quickly viewed is inauthentic and your audience will quickly start looking elsewhere for authenticity.
With these elements in place, I test the verbal story with my audience. Both my target customer audience and my internal stakeholder audience. Its important that the story sticks verbally with them. I’m looking for that moment of excitement and understanding as I tell the story. I listen to see how long it takes until the story is told back to me. Its always a good sign and great indication that the brand story is working. You have an active role here as a story needs to be told to be heard so you have to practice and hone down the story at this stage.
From here with embryonic story in hand and some followers to boot, I start on the visual story (in another post I will discuss the auditory story). Deciding the visual view point and entry point to the story is very important. If the story is true and compelling you will not need to tell the whole story. You are looking for the visual reference to spark the imagination and let the story run in peoples minds, like the the opening of a film. There is no magic bullet here to complete this stage. You need great creative insight and people to work with you. I’m no Designer or Creative Director but as the client for some of the great advertising companies, I can write great brief and steer the brand constantly and authentically during the creative process. Your ability to write great briefs is the key to great execution, especially if your not a designer.
As a brand develops, the central story does not change but characters and situation evolve. Having the story means that you can, when the time is right or when the audience decides, change the point of view the brand story is told from. It keeps the story central but allow a fresh view of the same story. You can keep telling the same story but from different angles and entry points. In this way your not tempted to change you core brand message outside of the framework you have built but you and your audience have the freedom of a big stage to play out the brand story .
I keep coming back to the phrase big brands are born from simple stories, told well. Making sure your brand is connected to the real lives of your customers through a brand story is the key to a great brand.