Brand narratives – time to tell stories?

Is your brand an open bookBrand narratives are a useful tool to help get to grips emotional values and connections with a brand. I have often noticed in workshops when people are struggling to get over their brand proposition and begin to ‘tell the story’ of their brand they become more comfortable and the communication flows easily. In this case we are usually dealing with the brand history, but there are other narratives that are very useful in understanding the brand personality.

Every brand has at least two narratives – the first is the historical narrative we have just considered. This is the brand’s history or back-story, its pedigree if you like. This can be long or short, but even if your brand has only existed for a few weeks it still has a history. The second is the current narrative. This is the story that revolves around the brand now and what is happening in the current environment. Think of it as TV series: the historical narrative is the background and history, what we know about the characters, the location and the story so far. It gives us expectations of what will happen in the latest episode and how the players are likely to act and behave. However, we still can’t wait to view the latest episode and see what new twists and turns the plot takes – how true to form characters respond and what surprises there are. This ‘latest episode’ is like the current  brand narrative.

Take the example of BP: its historical narrative is long and worthy, from its roots as ‘British Petroleum’, the third largest energy company and the fourth largest company in the world however, its current narrative could be described as, “a story of greed and international intrigue where nothing is quite as it seems – internecine struggles and striving for redemption”. The brand is desperately looking for coming episodes to be populated with good news stories.

Over time, the current narrative episodes may be absorbed into the historical narrative – indeed we see this in BP’s case where a number of safety and environmental ‘episodes’ could now be seen as part of the story and characterising the brand perception. More often, however, they reflect the fluidity of the brand. It reminds us that the brand narrative is always contextual in time, place and environment.

It is a useful exercise to write down these two narratives for your brand – its historical narrative and the current one. Then ask yourself does the current story enhance or diminish the back story? To be continued…


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