5 Critical Attributes For Successful Brand Stories

Jerome ConlonSeptember 23, 20194 min

Developing an inspirational brand vision can be challenging to achieve because of a common set of obstacles. In many companies, reward systems are set up around product line P&L responsibilities, not around nurturing a higher-level brand vision and company identity. A company with multiple product lines, divisions, and countries, will find all levels and divisions vying for their own allocation of advertising dollars to support the particular product sales that each decision-making unit is responsible for, but when there’s nothing allocated for development of the overall company story, naturally it gets neglected. At Nike, in 1986 we made the wise choice to set aside about 40% of the total ad budget for brand level ads rather than product advertising. It was from this brand story budget that the ‘Just Do It’ campaign was paid for. Over thirty years later we continue to see the investment in this campaign working for Nike. And it was from this brand level work that we learned over time to focus on five very important brand story attributes:

1. Emotion

The single most important element in any story, the most compelling reason why people go to the movies, read novels, watch television, or see plays, is often the one element missing from the scripts of beginning screenwriters: Emotion. The power of any important piece of communication lies in its ability to connect emotionally with the audience. But the overwhelming evidence in evaluating screenwriting for all kinds of purposes (in both entertainment and commercial advertising) is that the writers think too much and feel too little.

2. Empathy

The premise of Stephen King’s novel The Stand, could easily be considered lame – it’s the end of the world, and all the “good” survivors gather in one place, while the bad ones assemble elsewhere, leading to an epic clash of good versus evil. It’s the oldest idea under the sun, yet it’s an absolutely brilliant novel. Why?

Because King demonstrates what is ultimately the most important trait for any author to convey, empathy. King knows how his characters feel, he walks in their shoes, he knows how they think, and he converts their innermost feelings to words that grab us and make us want to know more. As a result, most readers can’t put the book down.

Empathy is also your key to success, empathy toward your characters, and empathy toward your audience.

3. Probe The Fascination

Some of the most powerful ideas connected to brand story can be found in what fascinates people about the hidden field energies you attach to your products and brand experience. Consistently probing what’s fascinating will create a feeling that will give unity to your brand story, in just the same way that a musical key gives unity to a musical composition. What fascinates your audience?

4. Reveal Little Bits Of The Hidden Truth

The great stories and myths get their power from revealing little (or large) bits of hidden truths. The more hidden truth a story contains, the more appealing it likely will be.

The topic of contemplating the hidden truth of our individual or collective life journey and potential is a very big idea, one that has barely been probed to any level of meaningful depth.

The case could be made that in every business category there’s also an unexplored world of hidden truths waiting to be uncovered, and having done so they can change the nature of the marketing game in an entire category, disrupting the old paradigm and business models in the process. 

5. Access The Hidden Truth

Feelings form communication from our unconscious to the conscious mind, a link that’s obvious with physical or spiritual feelings, although perhaps less so with feelings associated with creative process. When you play with creative ideas, the positive and negative feelings you experience are important messages from your creative unconscious, and when you learn how to read these feelings in yourself, then acquire the ability to play with creative ideas as a direct means of coming into contact with the hidden truths.

Getting in touch with your creative self through your feelings is indeed the core of the creative process, and if you’ve developed an empathetic understanding of your target audience, your feelings can give you confirmation when your work will connect with others.

You might first notice messages from your creative subconscious, such as a brightening of your mood when you view the work. When you actually assemble an effective campaign and media plan, and execute it well, perhaps you’ll experience a shift in demand as the brand story breaks through: drag is reduced, speed increases and consumers connect.

These core ideas and others can be found in my new book The Brand Bridge – How to Build a Profound Connection Between Your Company, Your Brand, and Your Customers.

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Jerome Conlon

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