Great brands are easy to spot. They are iconic, talked about and present in our lives. Some of these brands are goods like iPods, or watches, some are cars, while others are medical, like Aspirin. Brands extend past objects to people, like David Beckham or Obama and even to countries.
After writing on the topic of storytelling for a while I have seen how storytelling is central to brand image creation and brand destiny. I have seen there are different types of stories that people tell around brands. Great brands have the effect of creating happiness for the people using them or the people and communities around them. The happiness created may be long or short-lived but either way there are different types of story associated with brands.
I have seen many brands use storytelling but fail to connect to their audience in the way that brand makers intend. As brand makers we are all trying to get our brands used and heard by our audiences but the challenge of being listened to is getting harder. So why is that? Why do our brands either connect of fail to connect? I think there are five levels of brand storytelling that you need to consider when building your story so you can be sure you are going to connect to your audience.
Level 1: Reciprocity, drive and enthusiasm
Level 2: Inspiration, persuasion and motivation
Level 3: Trust and authenticity
Level 4: Choice and freedom
Level 5: Happiness
I have an idea that we are all aiming to create happiness in creating and selling brands. Happy customs are good customers. Unhappy customers don’t often come back for seconds. Storytelling is important to creating brand equity through customer happiness. Each of the levels lends itself to different types of story and different types of telling. Great brands are able to build the pyramid of stories moving the customer experience from level 1 through to level 5. When you look back at the list, these levels create the connectedness many of us have felt when we have experienced a great product, service and brand. Think back to some of the legendary brands like Coke, Nike, Apple, Starbucks and Harley and you will be able to find the following types of stories.
Level 1: Stories of what the company gives to the customer how it makes the customer feel. What we give.
Level 2: Stories that describe effect of our brands on our customers. What we create.
Level 3: Stories of the company or brand philosophy behind the brand. What we become known for.
Level 4: Stories that customers tell about purchasing or acquiring the brand. What customers get.
Level 5: Stories that customers tell of using the brands.What customers want.
It may seem that we should only focus on the stories on level 5 “Creating Happiness” but the more I think about it the more I see that this is only really successful when the base of stories is also in place. The connectedness between these stories come from lots of different research looking at happiness. The stories we tell that show our happiness in life are those where we are in flow. We are free to tell those stories and happy to do so. Can you remember wanting to tell you best friend about the latest thing you bought? Something you were really proud of? Something that signalled a little part of your personal arrival. Something you repeated a little story about to different friends? Important stories that precede these are stories of the choices you made and the freedom to make those. To enable these choices, stories that the company making the brand must have communicated to you were stories that enabled trust and the authenticity that breed trust in you to part with money. Once again, there is a lower level of story that told by great brands to enable this trust. Before trust and use come the ability to move people to do something different. Stories that motivate , inspire and persuade people are important. You can’t create trust and authenticity without desire! Lastly its been well-studied that people become givers through reciprocity, giving without expectation of receiving. The enthusiasm crafted in level 1 that creates the drive and reciprocity is essential to gain access to people minds.
I think people have told stories from these different levels since story telling began. As Jonathan Gottschall says we are a “The Storytelling Animal” we are literally programmed to tell stories about everything. For the first time I think its possible to see how these different stories work together to build Superbrands.
I have had several teachers along the way to help me towards this view. Here are most of the masters creating compelling stories across these levels. I’m indebted to them for their inspiring work and making me think everyday.
Happiness: Rubin, G. 2008. The Happiness Project. Harper.s
Freedom: yengar, S. 2009. The Art of Choosing. Twelve.
Choice: yengar, S. 2009. The Art of Choosing. Twelve.
Authenticity: Cialdini, R. B. 2005. influence. HarperBusiness.
Inspiration: Roberts, J. M. 2007. Igniting Inspiration. Booksurge Llc.
Persuasion: Borg, J. (2006). Persuasion. Pearson Education.
Motivation: Burg, B., & Mann, J. D. (2009). The Go-Giver. Pengui
Drive: Pink, D. H. 2010. Drive. Riverhead Trade (Paperbacks)
Reciprocity: Cialdini, R. B. 2005. influence. HarperBusiness. Burg, B., & Mann, J. D. (2009). The Go-Giver. Penguin
Storytelling: Simmons, A. (2005). The Story Factor. Basic Books (AZ)
Burg, B., & Mann, J. D. (2009). The Go-Giver. Penguin
- How CIOs Can Help Storytellers in All Brands and Industries (blogs.wsj.com)