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Posts Tagged ‘Brand Stories’

As a direct result of Web 2.0 and media fragmentation, consumers have dissed advertisers.  Specifically, they’ve dis-integrated marketing.  Over the years, advertisers accumulated and adopted new media for their messages, and their agencies worked to integrate all of them around a common look, feel and tone. All of which made a ton of sense in a push media environment; in the best cases, common elements made the sum of all these integrated parts greater than the whole.  Advertisers appreciated and encouraged the growth and perfection of integrated marketing.

You Have A Choice: Choose Well

You Have A Choice: Choose Well

Consumers however, had their own ideas.  They may understand that commercials are the tax they pay to enjoy free entertainment, but that doesn’t mean they’re happy about it.  So in recent years, as the internet and DVR’s and DVD boxed sets allowed them to consume media of their own choosing from specialized niche programming channels on their own schedule and terms, they quickly adopted new platforms and technologies.  Even as advertisers worked to integrate marketing, consumers effectively dis-integrated it.

This is one reason social marketing experts are so loathe to use the “campaign” word; traditional campaigns are hardly adequate to span our hyper-fragmented, disintegrated media environment: an environment extending far beyond paid media to include earned media like recommendation and word of mouth.

That’s also the key reason why the means to organize and link all of this dis-integrated marketing lies in brand missions.  Not simply brand stories–those inform the mission, but are not enough by themselves.  We consider advertising an active verb–communication that works, that creates, that does something; specifically, Element 79 thinks it should Incite Interaction.  That’s why a brand mission makes sense–it’s something to do.  Somewhere in the intersection between the authentic brand story and the relevant consumer truth lies the brand mission.

Once you determine that, once you define it and make it real and begin seeding it across all of your paid media, consumers begin to understand the brand’s mission and what it means.  And if your insights are correct and your brand truths are genuine, they take up that mission on their own and begin spreading it on the brand’s behalf.  And disintegrated marketing no longer looms as a scary threat.  Because now people can rally around an idea, which travels much further than an execution.  And they can adopt missions, which they take in much deeper than mere messages.

All of which means that today, the ultimate question for agencies is: “Do you know your brand’s mission?”

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79
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A few weeks back I mentioned I was re-reading Robert McKee’s tome “Story” in hopes of finding some fresh insights to tap into as we wrap our minds around the notion of Brand Stories.  Happily, two smart guys–Doug and George–posted thoughtful comments that helped sharpen my thinking…

First, Doug cited how Brand Stories rarely have a beginning, middle and end.  In the one-way world of the old push advertising model, that was not a problem–we told stories as closed loops.  But today’s social storytelling has no set story entry point nor any guidelines to keep stories consistent.  Doug also mentioned ‘listening’ as critical to making the story human and authentic–our ultimate goal for Brand Stories.

George was a bit more pointed–he wondered if I ever actually did plow through McKee’s voluminous tome.  Truth be told?  Nope, not this time.  In the end, McKee focuses too heavily on screenwriting for my purposes.  Still, he makes some salient points, most regarding the critical aspects of motivation and character: issues our industry all too often ignores.

Something Tells Me There's More To This Story Conflict Too

Something Tells Me There's More To This Story Conflict Too

So I dug deeper into my closet, checking out old writing books and eventually turning up a copy of Linda Seger’s Making A Good Script Great.   Her book has two advantages: it’s shorter and it’s paperback. Plus, it focuses on conflict–the key element to any story.

Linda wants her students to find the conflict in their stories, and to do so, she helpfully breaks them down into five types: inner, relational, social, situational, and cosmic.

Practically speaking, I didn’t get a lot out of her list–aside from thinking that ‘Cosmic Conflict’ would make a pretty cool band name.  Still, I like her challenge to identify your story conflict, and so I started applying it to some of our clients.  Not surprisingly, the client brands that consistently inspire our best work have easily-identified conflicts.  For Harris Bank, the source of conflict would be impersonal, disengaged banks.  For Cricket Wireless, the conflict is a cellular version of “The Man”–uncaring, disdainful, gouging to our customers.  And for Amway–a company that had never really advertised and became an all-too-easy punchline–the conflict is misperception.  These conflicts underpin each brand’s respective tagline: “We’re Here to Help,” “Respekt for You,” and “Now You Know.”

You can have great variety among the brand stories you and your audience generate, as long as you have a well-defined conflict rooting them to a similar theme.  And if you know the conflict, it really doesn’t matter where people enter along your story path–if the conflict stays consistent, story beginnings, middles and ends don’t really matter.

The conflict for the advertising industry’s story right now is convergence.  Interestingly, that’s also the answer.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Just Your Typical 16th Century Heliocentric Mad Man...

Just Your Typical 16th Century Heliocentric Mad Man...

Ten to fifteen years ago, some very smart leaders in the advertising industry drove a Copernican shift; a conscious move away from a well-established mindset that put client brands at the center, to one that put the consumer at the center.

The thinking was that brand efforts should revolve around the consumer, with their needs as paramount to all brand decision-making.

It made a lot of sense.  And with regard to many aspects of advertising, it still does.  For instance channel and media planning must put the consumer at the center of all of their efforts, insuring our messages reach their chosen audiences.  Similarly, R&D and new product innovation works far more effectively when serving a strategic intent.

But yesterday, I was discussing the relative merits and challenges of converting the agency to a position centered around brand stories with Lance Hill, one of our creative planners.  In the midst of our conversation, he suddenly stopped, cocked his head the way a German Shepherd might when it catches an intriguing scent, then mused “If we commit to brand stories, then we can’t put the consumer at the center–the center must be the brand if we want our stories to be authentic.”

That’s heresy!  Outrageous!  And of course, entirely correct; brands that pretend to be something they are not in hopes of tapping into some perceived zeitgeist are the equivalent of politicians who swing through the Southern states and suddenly add “y’all” to their vocabulary.  It is dishonest, over-reaching and false.

The best brand stories are authentic: deeply so, with all the idiosyncracies and quirks of the people behind them.  So in honor of Lance, who coincidentally celebrates a birthday this weekend, let me direct you to one of his favorite brand stories: the Adidas/Run DMC story told by Reverend Run himself.  Fascinating, profane, illegal…and unflinchingly honest.  It’s far from my story, but four pairs later, this is my brand.  Enjoy.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young: most reasonable people would accept the argument that the three of them together don’t add up to a single great vocalist.  And yet as rock singers, each reigns sublime in their own right.  How is that?

As noted by critic Daniel Durchholz

Said by critic Daniel Durchholz...as praise.

We respond to their idiosyncracy, their remarkability, their singularity. We respond to them much like we respond to characters in a story; if they were perfect, we wouldn’t care because they wouldn’t feel realistic, but a flawed hero gets us every time. The imperfections, the shortcomings, the blatant failings draw us in, make us relate, and flesh out these characters as believable people. Like us.

As we create brand stories instead of mere campaigns, we need to tap into this sense of what makes a hero human and tie that to our products or services. The challenge lies in convincing a client that admitting, or even touting imperfections will actually increase relatability; with marketing dollars at a premium, few want to invest the time, money and effort in anything short of high-gloss perfection.  After all, manufacturers value perfection.  Their assembly lines eliminate inconsistencies and hone tolerances to microns.  Yet when deep rows of exactitude crowd shelf after shelf in our superstores, the imperfect product creates the most interest.  This  fuels the rise of the handmade movement and outfits like etsy.com but that’s probably fodder for another post.

As advertisers, we can serve this simple truth best by bringing humanity to our brand stories in terms of authenticity: not perfection, not idealization, but authenticity.

For a great example of that, go to the iTunes store, punch up Tom Waits and just listen to the sample for his song “Gun Street Girl.”  Listen to the hard-edged experience limning his gravelly growl and you tell me this isn’t a man who knows a thing or two about dying his hair in the bathroom of a Texaco or getting liquored up on roadhouse corn.  Bless him…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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