Creating Transformational Brands

Over the course of the last few blogs we have delved into scenarios where consumers have fallen out of love with brands Coke’s obituary test and where brand love has been embraced Coke’s Happiness Machine. The brand that has experienced both has been Coca-Cola so I think it is only fair that we decode how this powerhouse seeks to transform its’ franchise. The key way to do this is to establish a ‘signature story’.

The project that illuminated this is what Coke labeled the “Happiness Machine”. At a student hangout at St Johns University in New York, an ordinary looking Coke vending machine was installed with hidden cameras in the room. Unsuspecting students approached the machine to buy a Coke and instead got a series of surprises.

First, the machine started dispensing a seemingly endless stream of Cokes – quickly gaining the student’s delighted attention. Then a hand emerged from the machine, offering a bouquet of flowers. The surprises kept coming. A balloon dog, a pizza and finally a submarine sandwich yards long emerged from the machine. Two students were so happy that they gave the machine a hug. Like many moments of happiness, these were prompted by unanticipated generosity and the fact that nothing was expected in return.

How do you come up with effective brand stories? How do stimulate the right stories, filter out others, refine the most promising and ultimately decide which ones to resource and which to elevate to flagship status?

The Happiness Machine was inspired and guided by the Coke vision of connecting happiness with a clear target market. It was not aimless.

Inside your organisation, which strategic message needs clarity or an emotional boost? Is it your values, your brand vision, your customer relationships or your business strategy? What are the priorities? Which employee or executive perceptions and attitudes need to be created, reinforced or changed to allow the business strategy to succeed? Externally, what aspects of the strategic message can influence customer relationships? What are the priorities in brand enhancement or brand activation? What are the target markets, and which ones are most conducive to stimulating growth or loyalty?

Realise that the strategic message or messages can inspire the development of a wide variety of story heroes, story contexts and presentations. Getting a lot of ideas is a way to get good ideas. Ferret out the existing stories to make them visible enough for consideration. But create a flow of new stories, too.

Developing a rich story set offers several benefits. The effort harnesses creativity, increasing the likelihood the novel and intriguing stories will emerge. And when there are multiple target markets, it is unlikely that a single signature story will be effective in all of them. The Happiness Machine idea that works on an American college campus may need a different twist in the United Arab Emirates or Rio de Janeiro. Lastly, if several signature stories are aimed at the same audience, they can reinforce one another and avoid becoming stale with repetition.

Rather than waiting for the “sure thing” story, try those that are imperfect but have some chance of being effective and set what works. If some, like the Happiness Machine story, already click or are worthy of further investment and refinement, go ahead with them. If not, back off. In the digital age, speed is vital and quick testing is feasible. You can afford to introduce many signature stories or sets of stories and let the best emerge.

CMO Perspective – Mastercard

A brand can become a story hero via programs or promotional events that are unrelated or only tangentially connected to a product or service. If so, the story must communicate brand characteristics that go beyond the offering. The Happiness Machine story demonstrates a form of happiness driven by a Coca-Cola experience. MasterCard provides another example.

MasterCard has long built brand enhancement and visibility with its “priceless” concept. It shows how people can value experiences and family connections more than things. The challenge was to inject energy into this long-running campaign by creating stories that intrigue and gain involvement. How to do that?

The effort started with customer research showing that people find more happiness in rewards when they are unexpected. This led to the “Priceless Surprise” program, in which cardholders are surprised with a visit from a celebrity, or free event tickets, or both, generating a new set of “priceless” signature stories.” Rewards very unlike those of other loyalty programs. In one example, a Justin Timberlake fan is stunned when the singer knocks on her door just to chat. In still another, at a MasterCard sponsored concert at the Moscow Conservatory, the audience is surprised when Darth Vadar and his soldiers enter the hall to hear music from “Star Wars.”

Delivering such emotional moments has made for powerful stories and brand energy. Some 260 of these “Priceless Surprise” events across 34 countries have surprised 270,000 people. In Europe, MasterCard found a 47 percent lift in brand consideration associated with the stories within the prime target audience.

In Latin America, it saw an 89 percent increase in the likelihood of using that card. In Canada, 31 percent of cardholders reported that they were most likely to use MasterCard due to the possibility of a surprise. In the Asia-Pacific region, the campaign got 47 million social media engagements and a click through rate 1.5 to 3 times the industry average.

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