The Pepsi Challenge has shown that Pepsi tastes better than Coke. Nevertheless, Coke consistently sells more than Pepsi. Neuroimaging studies have revealed why this is so: Coke evokes a stronger emotional response in the hyppocampus, the part of the limbic system in the brain that forms long term memories. Long term memories are formed thanks to stories. This is why we humans love narratives, and that is why we can memorise them so well. For millenia, and before the invention of writing, generations of human beings passed information through poetry to their young. Sometimes this poetry was several hundreds of thousand lines long; think of the Iliad or the Mahabharata, or Popol Vuh.
We connect with ideas, not facts. In the context of branding, and idea would be a product, a service, a country, a person, anything. If that idea creates a positive emotional signature to its audience, if we feel good when we see or hear or taste that idea, then the brand is strong. If we feel nothing, or feed negative, then the brand needs to do a lot of work.
But what is an “idea”? It is not the product, or the service, or the country, or the person. Ideas form from stories people say about the object of interest (product, service, etc.). As marketers we aim to create and encourage story-telling about the brand we want to promote. If we achieve that, and these are good stories, then we have achieved a positive emotional response (or “signature”) every time the brand is talked about. And that should be our goal.
Digital media provide us with interactive ways for engaging with people. Successful digital branding is all about telling and sharing stories about the brand.
The art of story telling is as ancient as our species. Neuroscience has shown that our cognitive systems are wired for stories; indeed that it is through stories that our memories function. When we see something, or hear, or smell, or touch, or taste, our memory retrieves contextual information about the stimulus and builds a “narrative” about it. This is how we get to recognise and categorise what the stimulus is all about, and decide how to respond to it.
We can reverse engineer this cognitive process and ask ourselves how can we build recognisable brands that make people want to relate to them. Let me explain here that by “brand” I do not necessarily mean a commercial brand. It could be a charity, a scientific research organisation, a political party, a country, or a person – or anyone or anything that desires to be identified in positive terms by society at large. The key to building a brand is story-telling. If one can weave a compelling, emotive story around their brand, then people will react to it in a positive way. They will be able to identify with it. Importantly too, they will be able to “tell the story” to their friends, and therefore become links to a long chain of word-of-mouth.
But how do you build a story around a brand? This is where literary theory comes into play. Putting together the right words, creating excitement through a plot, sketching the main characters; all these are tools that can be used in putting together a compelling brand narrative. Starting from a stakeholder analysis and an organisational values analysis, the next step would be to compose representative and compelling vision and mission statements. These statements must somehow capture not only the keywords and the spirit of the brand, but also the narrative “yeast” to be used in putting together derivative narratives. Such derivative narratives, like stories within a story, could then be used to communicate the organisation across all channels and for every campaign.
Thus one does not need to keep inventing stories from scratch. The brand that possesses a strong narrative is a source of inspiration for any campaign; in advertising, lobbying or fundraising.
If you want to build a story for your brand, contact us!