Striking a responsive chord with consumers is a challenge.
Using brands to connect with the individual consumer is not easy, despite recent research that shows brand storytelling is an effective advertising strategy to attract customers and create or sustain a brand’s competitive advantage. However, brand stories are only effective when they immerse us in the story, arousing our automatic awareness, comprehension and empathy. It is no easy task immersing someone in your story, particularly if there was no existing interest or knowledge of the story, unlike other forms of narrative, such as a novel. The intention of reading a novel is to experience or be immersed in an external narrative that incites emotion, connection, identity, movement and resolution.
We seek out these narrative experiences with a novel, or a film, because they are designed to create this sort of immersion. Brand stories are different in that they are not invited into the customer space, they are not sought out for the story. Also, they cannot offer the pure immersion into a narrative that we would experience with Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries or Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, for example. Brand stories play a much longer game and develop direct relationships with their audience; and the evolution of a brand is the manifest symbol of the customer-provider relationship itself.
There are various explanations for the search for stories in our brands. Perhaps it comes from a need to know with whom we are transacting, to be able to use our ability to judge the trustworthiness of a merchant, something we practiced for many years. Maybe its also that we value what we purchase, we value our time and we are aware that there are so many options out there, that we need some way to create different values, so that the distinction between products/services is not restricted to price, convenience and professed quality. We all want to make the best decision. The plethora of companies out there with their constant communication, trying to capture our precious attention, is a bit much for many of us. It's like if you go on the dating game, but instead of three contestants, there are twenty and they all just list their job, earnings, age, medical history and hobbies, in quick succession. And then you have to choose. You would probably be frustrated because it was just too much information and not much about the their characters because you had no time to talk and get a feel for each person.
Both explanations see our need for a relationship with brands as a fundamental motivator in our responsiveness to compelling brand stories.
We need the initial story to make a judgment about whether we identify and can connect with it and then we need to remain in dialogue with the brand so that we can create that additional value that sets the brand apart in a sustainable way. But, it takes time to get a good 'sense' of another person's character and it takes even longer for customers to get a 'sense' of a brand. This is because the brand character evolves in the context of the customer relationship, almost like a mother-child relationship. We all know from Freud that a child's character develops in relation to the mother (or primary caregiver) and there is a strong psychological and philosophical case for that the basic core of the self develops within the context of primary relationships. For more on this see my very philosophical and very nerdy account of the development of the individual character in relation to others.
The point is that the character of the brand, or the brand-self, develops in the context of the customer relationship, and while it may develop to become very sustainable, it can never reach maturity as one would in adulthood. The brand story shares the same type of relationship with the audience as our myths and sagas. The nature of these stories change as society changes, and the new generations are immersed in the new myth, which in turn triggers social transformations, which are then reabsorbed into shared myths, which ultimately change. This means that once the initial phase of dependency during which a brand establishes its core identity has been passed, the relationship between brand and customer resembles more of a symbiotic relationship.
So, what is the take away here?
The most important point that stands out is that a very real social relationship exists between customer and brand, and that this is not just a trendy way of talking about getting in sales. And like any actual relationship, real feelings and risks are involved, and what wins the day, in addition to value, is vulnerability (or what many marketers refer to as authenticity). So, the skills and attitude that make us care about others and others care about us are now incredibly important in the transactional space. Therefore, attracting the people with whom you and your brand will connect is the best way to support authentic social relationships. Connecting with your tribe, as they say.
Moral of the story: be yourself, be good to others and always strive to be a better version of yourself. People will notice and people will care.
Written by Bronwyn Wood - Psychologist and Brand analyst for RnD photography.
RnD photo studio is based in Oerlikon, Zürich. We specialise in branded photography with people, including business portraits, professional headshots, leadership portraits and CV photos. We also focus on corporate photography and team portraits, as well as brand photography for architecture and real estate. Bronwyn provides a brand assessment that forms the basis for visual concepts so that we can take photographs that support your brand vision. Whether it is for a leadership portrait, commercial real estate photography, employee and team portraits, or business photography for your website or company launch, we get to know you and your brand first and then we take great photos. Our process: we Connect with you, we Clarify who you are, and we Conceptualise how we will capture your brand and help tell your #BrandStory.