Marketing-stories, and stories about stories

52379795_ef6c266af6_m.jpgMany traditional branding methods, rely on values & attributes to define brands, but these tend to be similar in competitive markets. “Innovation” and “Simplicity” come to mind as current popular values. “Empowerment” and “Enabling” were very strong about 5-6 years ago in the bubble days.
Values & attributes also tend to be limiting when things get intricate, they start to merge or contradict, broaden their meaning to the point they become useless at creating focus, or worse turn to generic clichés.
Often they will just float out there in their pure bright solitude, increasingly disconnected from your organisation, your brand, what you meant for them to do. From meaning.

Stories are closer to the way people interpret, articulate and communicate (complex) meaning in most contexts.
That’s another reason one-word-equity (whether you refer to the “new” concept or the “old” one) just can’t work – The association networks people have about brands are tangled, fluid, complex things. Trying to introduce focus using this “laser” approach is hopeless – the mind will (and should) resist. Telling a story influences perception in a much subtler way.

Stories are so central to culture and the way our minds make sense of the world, that the same message communicated using a story, enjoys some of the following advantages:

  • Stories are more memorable
  • Stories are more interesting
  • Stories are more evocative
  • Stories are perceived as more unique
  • Stories are more believable / authentic
  • Stories encourage identification and empathy
  • Stories contain conflicts in a credible manner
  • Stories are more viral

You can tell various stories about any brand, some may accompany it for it’s entire life. For marketing purposes it’s better to focus on one story as credibility, relevancy and differentiation allows, even if through different manifestations.
Additionally, there seems to be an advantage to identifying/creating an “over-arching” theme, which ties everything together, often using a familiar structure from similar stories. One of the names for this structure is “Plot”.
The word plot is quite close to the word plan.
Planners should spend more time recognizing plots and plotting. 🙂
Other words that share similar meaning? How about design or architecture? (See, I’m not just paranoid, it does all tie together.)

Tracing some marketing plots is what I’d like to do next. Doing that, I’ll be telling stories about stories, in an attempt to make sense of how they work.
(stories about stories are sometimes called meta-narratives or (cultural) myths, I will aim to use the term plot consistently)

(Final note: I’ve been obsessed with this subject for a very long time, so if I’m jumping ahead or if something is unclear – let me know, and I’ll do my best to bring it back on track)

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4 thoughts on “Marketing-stories, and stories about stories

  1. Hi Yigal,
    Your link is slightly off-topic. I’m well aware of the recent flourishing of narrative led perspectives in organizational culture and knowledge management studies, but then again, narrative led perspectives have been influential in nearly any social science (and beyond) in the last 20-30 years.
    It is not always marketing related, which is what I’m trying to focus on.
    Incidentally, I’m currently involved in a major brand/organisational culture project with one of Europe’s biggest corporate players, when I can, I will blog about it.

    BTW, I think you’ll find this blog of interest if you don’t know it yet.


  2. I agree with the above, but we should not turn the argument into a better or worse scenario. Values are an indispensable tool as they serve to short-hand stories and they are used as an investigative tool for the identification of key elements of a company’s culture. While values are a useful model, their use has the same benefits and risks of any model. Models simplify data so we can move around their component parts, examine each in a headline fashion and recombine the apparatus in a more suitable way. Stories help us not to forget what each of the models parts are, they help us assemble the parts in previously incomprehensible ways and they give us a more rich view of the overall model itself.

    In my experience, stories that have been selected without the identification of values tend to lack a common set of morals. Telling enough stories over time will eventually enable us to give everyone a clear idea of the culture we want to create, but the time it takes to tell all these stories is not terribly practical.

    Stories that take the form of shortish (1 or 2 page) positioning documents (or prints ads) fall into the same problems that values do. In written form, you really do need volumes of stories to properly address the full cultural picture of a company. Examples like the HP Way come to mind. This book gave us an appreciation for how the company grew, how the founders values themselves changed and why and what the founders wanted to leave behind as a legacy.

    Values that have been selected without sensitivity to the company’s stories have only a surface value which lack any deep differentiation or meaning. Without the stories, people will not feel attached the brand since they will not have a real sense for it. Values without stories rob the complexity that is inherent in any cultural system and miss out on the anthropological benefits of key stories that shape the company.

    So, the answer is obvious enough. Both values and stories are required for an organization. Both have their time and place and need to be considered to help get a more deep and well-rounded view of the company out in as little time as possible.


  3. Thanks for this elaborate comment.
    I didn’t mean to discredit values entirely. They still have an important role in articulating what brands are about. I still use values (especially in constellations of different values types) to help my clients and myself to discuss their brand and articulate it.
    It’s when they are used exclusively that i find they tend to fail.

    Another reason to use narratives is that they bring in the time element, which is crucial in order to address any experiential aspects. Single words are asynchronous by nature, narratives are the best way I know to start thinking about the role of time for a brand.


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