Most consumer durables marketers are comfortable in their crafted brand position, knowing what makes their value proposition unique. But, there is a need to produce feature-benefit messages for media channels. We argue that story creation and narrative creation for value proposition are two fundamentally different challenges.
Right now, a brand position of differentiation, however esoteric, usually abstracts real-world concepts, takes segments of people who exist, and treats them as if their sole purpose is to buy a durables product and absorb that product’s value proposition and proof points. Narrative goes the opposite, less abstracted, way. It looks at people living their lives, consuming and experiencing – what we call participating - in a story or theme about something besides the product itself. Brand position and those aforementioned proof points are tangential – not the transactional end meaning itself. When we’re consuming stories, we see the information, the entertainment, or both. We use story, in part, to construct our own identity and, in part, to make sense of the world. The content obeys the structural constraints placed on it – format, digital landing pages, social, etc. We get grounded, familiar.
In our work with Bissell for example, we use themes of meaning like, “pet ownership” and “love,” that are adjacent to the brand and audience-classic marketing message: ‘please-buy-this-vacuum-feature’ relationship construct. Because stories are not designed as advertising messages in pre-purchased media containers. Stories are based on a series of exercises that unlock meaning. You can link them to brand by extrapolating the existing audiences, positioning, and proof points into possible themes. Stories are also based on the data in real-world observed behaviors in the market, around some type of larger action or larger construct related to a product – “pet love” versus “cleaning up better,” for example. There is some reconfiguring and evolving of an existing brand to be more in service to topics and story world creation across channels than a sales message. All this is done to create a multi-platform publishing model – a story world – that articulates points of theme participation and expected outcomes across multiple channels and real-world experiences from animal shelter owner profiles to carpeting and cleaning a dog park in NYC and the puppy bowl show during Super Bowl.
This is a different approach. It’s different than channel-specific creative teams getting their time in the “magic cave” in search of the big idea that is also, when you think about it, in service to a further abstraction - the brief. The frequency of certain elements in a multi-platform story/publishing endeavor allow for work to live on a scale of probable performance in certain formats like Instagram versus a one-off swing-for-the-fences TV campaign. The better performing stories and corresponding formats rise to the top and we learn from them as well as the ones that don’t. Theme, timing, sequence, format, and subject of each asset become more understood for execution as they occur over defined time periods. Story world creation also includes external experiential factors such as larger cultural trends, pre-defined events, contextual environments, and levels of meaning. All of these come into play as a story world is established for ongoing conversation with potential and existing customers between the brand and ideally between audiences themselves.
Linking all of this together for a brand requires cooperation between various marketing functions and their corresponding partners. In our experience, it’s best to understand the relationship of larger participation themes and the brand’s potential for credible expression across multiple channels that, when organized to work together, will achieve coherent meaning and affinity for audiences, as well as better business outcomes. The output of this activity is a participation architecture that identifies time, channel, subject, and creative expression. This is kind of like a journey map in form, but also incorporates a way to view from a probability perspective of human choice, as well as takes into consideration various influencers along with available social, public, and cultural narratives.
Established and newer companies may want to consider exploring the potential adjacent areas where people are living their lives to unlock shared places of meaning and participation with their product and brand in the marketplace for greater gain. Use that as a way forward, a trial to understand the opportunities, before deciding to commit fully to a narrative and story world executional approach.