Why brand stories should be more like biographies, rather than novels

brand conversationsAs you may have gathered, I am a strong believer in the power of storytelling as a means of understanding and developing brand value propositions. I know that this is a massive over-simplification (and there are many narrative structures), but generally, the underlying story in a novel builds through tensions to a major climax and then to a resolution. Our brand stories however, are ongoing. They are multiple stories, tensions, climaxes and resolutions. In this way they are more biographies or histories.

I have heard brand stories described as epic poems, perhaps likened to the Odyssey. But those great journeys had a an ultimate destination. For our brands, we would like to see an on-going journey with many interesting stops along the way. I’m reminded of the great poem Ithaca, by C.P. Cavafy;

Ithaca has given you the beautiful journey.
Without her you would not have set out on the road.
Nothing more does she have to give you.

Our brand stories are all about the journeys, not the destination.

Brands are involved in dynamic storytelling

The other similarity brand narratives share with biographies is that they are dynamic. By that I mean it is not the static one-way storytelling of a work of fiction, but involves multiple other stories. Indeed, it is the weaving of the narratives of others that gives the story its richness. A great actor was once asked how he played the role of a king: he responded that he didn’t; it is the way other actors on stage respond to him that makes him look like a king.

It is the interaction of the stories of others with those of the main protagonist (the brand) that is the model for brand-value narratives (BVNs) in the social media arena. Others talk, comment, and tell stories about us that then aggregate to form what we hope will be a long, ongoing narrative.


One comment

  1. Ian I think that this post can only be prophetic. The more co-creative a brand gets, the more it is expected to take into consideration feedback. By definition, the progressive narrativization of branding is bound to urge research agencies to become equipped with methodologies pertaining to textual semiotics. However, it is prudent to notice potential methodological pitfalls in the process, compared to traditional “offline” consumer research. First, unsolicited brand-related feedback is occasionally not controlled for either in terms of sociopsychodemographic profile (as mandated by ESOMAR standards), including methods for cross-checking sample representativeness in case of random sampling. Second, there is no way of filtering whether unsolicited brand stories stem from particular “social networks”, thus introducing bias in the diegetic backbone of a brand-related narrative structure. Third, in order for the plethora of random comments to assume a coherent narrative structure one needs a concrete methodology, otherwise one is confronted with a stream of fanciful impressions (which in the context of a traditional qual predicament may be distinguished through probing from latent thoughts and drivers- let us not forget that for particularly conspicuous signs, such as brands, axiological judgments occasionally function as enunciative glue among members of an interpretive community, rather than as well-thought out associations pertaining to distinctive functional and emotional aspects of a brand’s essence). Fourth, given the inherent openness of a text and the ability of a fanciful impression to transform into a background expectancy by virtue of the easiness and speed of information flow, unless stringent controls in terms of feedback filtering are in place (with regard to as per the above yet uncontrollable variables), it is highly likely that useless feedback may be taken on board and even more precariously acted upon. In conclusion, unless “richness of narratives” is coupled with effective “reduction methods” and sufficient “methodological constraints” brand narrativization is likely to yield to unmanageable “infinite” semiosis.

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