Some marketers like to work forwards. Advertisers for example often tell a story and then wait to gauge the reaction they get. Direct marketers on the other hand start by quantifying a reaction (in the form of a return) and then craft a story to generate that response. What I’ve been discussing recently is whether some of the stories brands tell are too focused on what brands want to project about themselves and their world, and not focused enough on first identifying the specific reactions they need to be eliciting from their audience. Working back in other words. Wrapping a story around a response.
Storytelling draws listeners into the world of the storyteller
There’s no dispute that storytelling is a most effective mechanism for drawing people in. According to this article in Psychology Today, “the reality is that we’re hard-wired to find emotional stories with a strong narrative arc seductive”. In fact, psychologist Dr Uri Hasson and his team at Princeton University have found that when we’re listening to an engaging story, the response patterns in our brains become markedly similar to those of the story-teller’s. “In effect, you’re literally getting on the same wavelength as the narrator …”
So those brands that can encourage buyers to react in ways that feel most ‘right’ for them are likely to be the brands that consumers feel closest to. It’s logical to infer too that those reactions need to carry right through to the brand experiences people receive. In fact experiences should amplify reactions in order to lock in brand loyalty and repeat purchase.
Wonder as a benchmark
By way of example, Disney tells stories filled with magic in order to generate a palpable feeling of wonder from its audiences. The experiences Disney provides at the box office, at its parks and at its live events then bring that sense of wonder alive. As a result, wonder is the benchmark reaction for Disney. A Disney story, film or experience that does not generate wonder is off-brand.
Here’s the ongoing challenge for Disney. As consumers become more accustomed to seeing and experiencing extraordinary things the bar for what generates wonder continues to rise. What was wonderful in 1955 was a lot less demanding, technically and experientially, than what audiences require today to be wow-ed. Which is why of course brands like Disney need to continue to evolve their stories and their experiences. The reaction may not change – but the requirements to achieve that reaction probably will.
5 reactions brand stories can provoke
So what sorts of reactions should brands be looking to provoke through their stories today? This recent article by Hazel Barkworth alludes to some of the reactions that consumers are likely to be drawn to in the years ahead:
- The opportunity to feel involved – according to Barkworth, consumers are moving beyond single touch point experiences towards what she describes as “powerful story worlds with multiple strands of narrative on multiple platforms”.
- The opportunity to feel efficient and organised – consumers want to feel smarter, that things are going faster and that they are being more responsible. The wish to have more is being replaced by a desire to see that they are getting more – more done, more quickly.
- The opportunity to be creative – with the advent of technologies like 3D printing, Barkworth says, “Soon everyone will be a manufacturer, able to create what they want, when they want it.”
- The chance to feel pampered – as the world closes in, and pressures continue to mount, escape will look more and more inviting and luxurious.
- The opportunity to feel they are doing something meaningful – People want all aspects of their lives to be rich and full. They want to be able to derive depth and meaning from the things they choose to do. Brands, Barkworth says, will compete on their ability to deliver on the intensity of response that consumers crave.
Does your story make people feel one of those ways? Perhaps it provokes a different reaction but one that is just as strong, distinctive and personalised? Because if it doesn’t, what’s it doing?
Photo by Kohlmann.Sascha