The concept of Brands and Branding has become a popular topic of conversation among business people, marketing professionals, and design thinkers. Within these conversations circulates a lot of jargon that perhaps participants themselves don’t even understand. We use expressions like “brand awareness”, “brand segmentation”, “brand equity”, etc. often interchangeably. I have begun to wonder if I could just add about any 3-4 syllable word next to “brand” and immediately sound like an expert. Perhaps the most common word I’ve heard used presumptively as if its contextual meaning was common sense is the word “story”. Undoubtedly you’ve heard or read someone saying that brands are stories and that branding is about telling stories. Perhaps we all understand this on the surface, but for this newsletter I thought I’d try to take your understanding of the “story” idea a little deeper so that this knowledge can be useful to you as you sell and advertise your products.
In 1926, a U.S. copywriter named John Caples penned a sentence that headlined one of the most talked about ads of the 20th century. Charged with the task of compelling people to take instrument lessons from the U.S. School of Music, he a crafted story about a young man named Jack who sat down at a piano at a party to the surprise and derision of the other guests. The ensuing story of astonishment, applause, and acceptance was summarized by the headline, “They laughed when i sat down at the piano. But when I started to play!” Remarkably, there is very little in the ad about the “features” of the lessons, how qualified the teachers were, how long the program would last, or how much the lessons would cost. What jumps off the page and comes to life is the scene of a piano player who, thanks to similar lessons, experiences the triumph of turning doubters into fans and disdain into desire. Jack not only overcomes an adverse situation, he becomes an acclaimed member of the group that minutes before would have just as soon cast him out. We all can empathize with the emotions encompassed by that experience. That empathy led the original viewers of the advertisement to respond in droves to a simple call to action.
When we create our own advertising, or when we prepare for sales calls, its easy to try to “out feature” our competitors by relegating our pitch to all of the ways our “stuff” does more at cheaper prices, but this ad and the century of advertising research that followed it remind us that attributes and functions do not ultimately influence behaviors. We are not that rational. People act because they feel, not because they calculate. They respond because they want the experience the product or BRAND promises.
You may wonder how this relates to brand. Here are a few questions that might help you craft a brand story for your next ad campaign or sales pitch:
1. How do you expect a person to respond when hearing this message or experiencing this brand?
2. How will the audience feel as they participate in your event or service?
3. What kind of person connected to or represented by this brand?
4. Where does this person go for information and purchase suggestions?
5. How will this experience or event enhance the life of the targeted person?
6. How will specific features of this initiative contribute to the emotional experience?
7. How does the essence of the your brand make you the premier destination for your audience to find what they crave most?
*This article contains research adapted from aakeronbrands.com, a blog by brand guru David Aaker