Who Are The Characters In Your Brand Story?

Last week we delved into conflict which is the second element of Storytelling

Another basic element in storytelling are your characters. We have seen how conflict marks the turning point in the story, but in order for this conflict to play out, you need a cast of interacting and compelling characters.

Even though I would suggest not to start your brand story with “Once upon a Time”, the classical fairytale is built on a fixed structure where each character has a specific role to play in the story, and each and forms an active part of the story. This classical structure can be found in storytelling traditions throughout the Western world – from old-fashioned folk tales to Hollywood action packed blockbusters

Generally speaking a successful conflict needs a hero and a villain with opposing agendas. The adversary can take on many guises, both physical and psychological. In the case of a brand it could be a competitor with a conflicting purpose. By battling against the adversary, the heroine is able to struggle against her personal development and resolve the story’s conflict. The resolution of the central conflict is proof of the story’s message, as the heroine attains, or fails to attain her goal. If you are looking at a Corporate brand the following can be used as a guide:

Each individual role must be as clear and concise as possible in order to achieve a dynamic and captivating story. Below, a break down of the core story of Apple Computer shows how individual characters are clearly defined

Once your characters are established, the task falls to making each character as well defined as possible. Just like the hero in a fairy-tale, your brand also has a set of skills and passion driving it towards its goal. In order to make the role of the hero more pronounced, it can be useful to look for some well-known images to describe your hero’s personality. George Lucas in developing the iconic Star Wars definitely drew on the lineage of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell. For your brand a useful reference is from Margaret Mark & Carol Pearson’s seminal book on archetypes: ‘The Hero & The Outlaw.’

For brands, the challenge is to place itself within just one of these hero profiled, though some of these frameworks do overlap. For example, your hero can be both rebel and adventurer. Richard Branson and his company Virgin are a great mix of an adventurer and a rebel. The important thing, is to narrow down your selection, and stick with the hero figure you identify within your company. It also helps to consider ‘the hero’ from the customer’s perspective. Will your customer be able to identify with the personality of the hero? Are your hero and customer searching for the same thing – be it adventurer or rebellion?

CMO Perspective – Apple

In 1976, Steve Jobs and Steve Wosniak founded the computer manufacturer Apple, in California. Even back in those days, the company already represented the human side of computer technology, breaking with norms and the way in which information was traditionally controlled within society.

The Macintosh was far more than just another new product when it was launched in 1984. To Apple, it was a technological revolution that would change the world.

This theme formed the basis for Apple’s adaption of the universe created in George Orwell’s classic 1984, in the advertising for the launch of the new Macintosh. The science fiction novel describes a totalitarian society where The Party controls all information and brainwashes the populace to adhere to the demands of the system. People are under constant supervision and the fear of The Party’s mind police is ever present. But beneath the surface, a revolution quietly simmers.

With reference to the book, 1984, Apple staged itself as the rebel fighting against the establishment. It becomes a story of how the new Macintosh would provide information technology on the premise of the individual, giving him or her the opportunity to express themselves on their own terms. At the same time, the story painted a poignant picture of what the world might look like without Apple.

The commercial shows a terrifying, prison like environment populated by a mass of tragic-looking people all wearing the same grey uniforms, all with the same expressionless faces, all marching along like robots. Eventually they congregate in front of a big screen projecting the image of an authoritarian leader who is blazing the words, “Our unification of thought is a more powerful weapon than any fleet, or army on Earth.” Simultaneously, the mind police start chasing a colourfully dressed young woman who lunges full speed at the big screen brandishing a large sledgehammer, which splinters it with with a terrific crash. Cue to the message. “On January 24th Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 wont be like 1984.” This famous commercial was shot by one of Hollywood’s great storytellers, Ridley Scott.

Choosing a story with such overtly political content was both contentious and risqué. Apple placed itself in the role of the hero as the people’s savior, with more than the slightest suggestion that the adversary in the story was Big Blue, IBM. At that time, IBM had a monopoly-like status on the market and was the natural exponent for the cold unification that Apple was rebelling against. Apple’s basic message has not changed since. The company’s brand has centred on the story of creative diversity and having the courage to think outside the box.

In a market where the majority of the players compete on price and technology, Apple still places ‘people’ at the centre of everything they do. Technology has to work based on human premises – and not the other way around. Their soft values of individuality and creativity are reflected all the way through to the company logo, an apple of nature, with a bite taken out of it. In spite of fluctuating economical performance Apple has created a strong core story and an extremely loyal customer base all around the globe.

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