Sets of Brand Stories

Last week we looked at how strategies (revitalization & growth) can provide the signature backbone for brand story development. Refer to brand strategy stories

Today we will continue this theme and build on it by introducing the notion of ‘sets of stories’ to ensure that the strategy is embedded in our target market’s minds.

Brand strategy stories rarely stand-alone. They usually come in sets. As we shall see, there are two advantages to having sets of stories. First companion stories add interest, energy and visibility. Second, a story set can express the depth and breadth of the strategic message, which may be too much for one story to convey.

Here we will consider sets of brand stories with the same strategic message.

Sets of brand stories with the same strategic message come in many forms, and with varied rationales. Some elaborate the master brand story. Others accommodate different applications, spokespersons, perspectives or plots. The challenge is to manage the sets so that they collectively provide additive power synergistically. Toward that end, each needs a role, and the stories should be held together by some commonality beyond the strategic message.

A master story can be elaborated with other stories that add depth and interest. A certain aspect of the story – a character or a location, for example – can be the hero of a supporting story.

The Tesla growth story that we addressed last week at tesla growth story was elaborated by a host of stories. Those included the construction of an enormous assembly plant in Fremont, California; a distribution channel in which customers could pick up their cars in Fremont and take a factory tour; the build-out of charging stations; the creation of a battery plant in Reno, Nevada; and the features in the Model S that enhanced the driving experience.

A brand story can appear in different ways over time, but always with a similar message and impact. The Clydesdale stories for Budweiser are an example. Nearly every year since 1996, a new Clydesdale story has appeared in a Super Bowl ad with a different plot and characters. The ad is always among the top Super Bowl commercials. When USA Today picked the top 50 Super Bowl ads of all time, Budweiser Clydesdale commercials took five of the places.

A story can be made more interesting by telling it from different perspectives. There are 25 charity: water signature stories that introduce different perspectives. The goal of this organization is to provide everyone with clean water. Among the core tenets are these:

  • All money goes to wells (overhead is covered by a separate fund-raising effort)
  • The wells are locally run
  • Donors get to find ‘their’ well on a map and see a picture and text description of it.

A bold target is to bring clean water to 100 million people by 2020.

Multiple brand stories with the same strategic message have two main motivations.

The first is to create interest, energy and visibility. The second is to provide breadth and depth to both the core story and the message.

Having only one brand story can present a huge problem: It can fade from memory. If you have heard a story once, you don’t need to hear it again. How to keep it visible? A flow of brand stories with the same strategic message but unique variations can create or maintain interest.

When stories work, the early ones provide motivation to attend to the later ones. They pre-sell the next story, thus reducing the challenge of attracting attention. The challenge with multiple variations of course, is to avoid having the stories become repetitious, tiresome or even irritating.

This is the second motivation for a story set. Carlton Draught ran a ‘Made from Beer’ campaign over a number of years. The resulting aggregate story is thus more memorable and has more impact. Multiple executions also allow the breadth of the strategic message to emerge.

CMO Perspective: Skype

The strategic message of Microsoft’s Skype is that its power to connect more visually and verbally lets them do things together that would not otherwise be possible if they think outside the box.

The communication goal is to demonstrate how Skype enables creative approaches to seemingly impossible situations.

  • A music conductor in New York was attracted by the talent among subway musicians there. How to harness and expose that talent? Create a symphony played by 11 subway musicians, each in his or her usual location but heard and visible to the conductor via Skype on 11 laptop computers, each resting on a folding chair. The story was told in a video and advertisement.
  • After 12 years teaching Pilates in Georgia, Denise Posnak moved to New York, but she wanted to keep training her Georgia clients. What to do? Skype was the answer. Using it, she could teach those clients from her New York base or wherever she was travelling. In fact, the client’s experience improved. They no longer needed to drive to the sessions or wear fancy workout attire, and their comfortable home environment engendered a more efficient workout. Clients who traveled could tap in from wherever they happened to be. With this new operating method, Posnak is now teaching people around the world.
  • Sarah from Indiana and Paige from New Zealand were each born without half of a left arm. Their mothers wanted them to get to know each other, but how to have a relationship when so far apart? The solution? By using Skype to connect daily the girls were able to share their experiences and create a deep friendship. Skype later brought the two girls to New York where they had an emotional meeting. The Skype story of Sarah & Paige received over 42 million views and over 3,000 press mentions, plus exposure on TV.

Together, these stories tell the basic story that Skype enables creative people to do amazing things, some life-enhancing and others life-changing. They provide a message that a single story cannot.

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