“Brands are no longer what we tell people we are, but what our community says about us.” Says Patrick Hanlon, author, CEO and founder of THINKTOPIA.
People have become immune to sales copy. Instead, a brand should create a bold identity, build a tribe, create a memorable character, develop behavioural habits, be a commanding voice, lead and convince people to change using well-chosen communications tools.
The most important element to narrative branding is that it begins with the customer. And I’m not talking about your classic target demographic ‘Book club Betty’ or ‘Eleven Largers Larry’. You’re not looking at people with generalised habits or disposable income, but people who have a certain set of values.
Take the rise and rise of Scamp and Dude. The founding idea of this brand was to ‘create a brand that helps children feel more secure when apart from their loved ones’. From separation anxiety dolls to clothing with a ‘Superpower’ button on the sleeve (to press when in need of a boost of courage, love and support), they have devoted their product lines to increase the bond between parents and children — especially when they’re under difficult circumstances.
It’s the communication between the parents and children that matters here, not between the brand and the customer. People value time with their kids. They value emotional support in times of hardship. Scamp and Dude encourage a societal value that fosters positive behaviour within an important relationship. Founder Jo Tutchener-Sharp primarily used Instagram as her communications tool and the company has grown from an online store to a brick and mortar shop in Highgate within two years.
Second of all, the product or service created for sale should be an authentic tool that genuinely helps support these values. Your discussion around the product or service also needs to be authentic.
Just look at the abomination that was the Fyre Festival. The widely ridiculed flop sold a dream of escapism on a foundation of fraud. Without having thought out the logistics of running a music festival on a small Caribbean island with very little infrastructure, the founders put out a highly successful social media campaign selling a luxury and freedom they couldn’t deliver on a large enough scale to make a legal buck on.
Another role of narrative is to grant your brand credibility. You, your employees, your customers and potential customers will all need to know who and what they’re dealing with. They will need to make quick decisions based on your communications, they will need to make financial decisions based on your communications, and most importantly, they will be asked to spend their time absorbing your message. We live in a time-starved world overloaded with information. This glut means that a brand voice needs to ring clear and true. Your brand narrative (an origin story, visible founder/leader, company framework, elevator pitch, strap-line, boilerplate and brand promise) has to be precise, succinct and original. And finally, your intention needs to be set out from the beginning — you simply can’t waste people’s time by being wishy-washy. Like consultant and public speaker Simon Sinek says, ‘begin with your communication drive and let everything else build up to that’.
Any brand communication needs to make an impact. Impact is multifaceted and can happen in a verity of subtle ways, but for the sake of simplification, it boils down to this; entertainment or exception. Television adverts deliver campaigns in this way. Charities use shock and sympathy — exceptional narratives outside of our normal day-to-day. Using mascots, like a certain car insurance comparison site, delivers entertainment in little dopamine zings of cuteness and amusement.
Essentially, the audience needs to be taken on a journey. From start to finish your communications need to be captivating. Using a story or a metaphor will deliver your message efficiently and keep your listeners’ ears. A great story will change the way people think. If you can give people a way to visualise change then offer them the tools to facilitate that change, then your brand will thrive.