Everybody loves a good story. And while we may say that we want brands to focus on value and features, those commercials which are most memorable – and which reinforce the brand the most – are those which tell a story as opposed to merely providing a list of features and value propositions.
Those stories can take three different forms: Product-related, company-related, and completely unrelated, and surprisingly, all work towards reinforcing brand – even in the case when the commercial offers no meaningful information whatsoever about the company or product.
In the first category, Doritos has clearly mastered the art of storytelling with its “No Dogs Allowed” commercial, which shows dogs trying to sneak into a supermarket to buy Doritos. The commercial doesn’t say much about what the chip tastes like, what the ingredients are, or who came up with the secret recipe, but it’s still one of the most memorable commercials on the airwaves today – and the Doritos brand gets embedded in our heads as a result.
Everyone, for example, knows the story of Colonel Sanders, and much of their marketing still today revolves around the personality of the founder rather than the product itself – and that strategy certainly sells a lot of fried chicken.
Broadcast commercials seldom have enough time to offer details on product value, so the story is everything. Dos Equis beer is the undisputed king of storytelling, with their “Most interesting man in the world” series, which does little to talk about ingredients, quality, or taste, but it creates a personality – a cultured European character who everybody wants to know. And it sells a lot of beer.
The storytelling involved in promoting digital brand awareness is especially challenging, since the story has to usually be told in 60 seconds or less. Those brands which have had the most success with it approach the task with an iconic character which appears across multiple promotions or advertisements, which allows the storyline to develop beyond the 60-second capsule. Everyone knows the “most interesting man in the world” not because Dos Equis created a single commercial, but because they created a series.
Digital brand awareness is often reinforced in the form of a website or brand journalism placements, giving the marketer a greater opportunity to reinforce brand by telling a story of the company itself, since it’s not limited to a 60-second format. Information-based websites are great – and it’s true that consumers are much more invested than ever in doing their own due diligence, conducting their own research, and looking for hard data to help inform their purchasing decisions. But at the same time, they want a story to go with their data.
This tactic can be particularly useful for an established brand looking to gain a foothold in a new market. HotelsCombined, a leading hotels comparison platform with significant market share in Australia and the UK, entered the US market with an iconic character of its own already in place, Max – an adorable cartoon teddy bear. The choice of a walking, talking teddy bear was a good marketing choice for reinforcement, since the teddy bear is universally recognized as a comforting sleeping companion, and it has already been shown to be effective in building that all-important personal connection to the audience. The bear’s dry humor and adorable Aussie accent gives HotelsCombined customers a strong connection to the brand, which is reinforced with a series of highly-viewed videos in multiple languages.
“The story of how we have transformed HotelsCombined into an international brand is as much about Max the bear, as it is our leading hotel search platform,” said Chris Rivett, travel expert at HotelsCombined. “Max’s message is about the simplicity of the platform, but in working with our marketing agency, we have gone beyond the message of utility. Our customers – and customers for any company interested in effective branding – want to have a personal connection. Max, as our brand ambassador, gives us that connection.”
“We have always found that consumers are looking for a combination of factors from their favored brands,” said Ash Sobhe, founder of marketing agency R6S. “Information and data about price, functionality, and features is essential – but it’s the brand’s personality that makes it come alive. It creates a personal connection.”
The data, comparisons, and prices can drive sales, but only in the short-term , said Sobhe, since competing companies are more frequently doing the same thing – and price-driven and feature-driven data will only drive sales up until the point where your competitor begins offering the same thing. “The data supports the consumer’s research, but the story is what drives loyalty,” added Sobhe.
Brand managers are concerned about getting out the data – they naturally want consumers to know the feature set, the price points, and the unbiased research that supports both their product and the broader product category. “But positioning that dry data in the form of thought leadership – interesting, industry articles under the byline of a company leader – can drive it home,” said David Schutzman, president of boutique PR agency David Schutzman Marketing. “It’s one thing to publish information on an anonymous web page – but when that information is delivered in the personal voice of a company founder or CEO, it becomes a lot more real and meaningful. ”
Best practices in branding today have been shaped by a demand for more information, combined with widespread availability of data – and the fact that marketers have multiple digital formats with which to tell their story. Ultimately, that story-telling takes both short-form and long-form tactics, with the short-form broadcast successes like Dos Equis and Doritos, and long-form digital web tactics such as Cold-Fix, which expand on the backstory and create a more personal connection and a loyal customer base.