Brands Must Stay True To Their Meta-Story

Chris WrenJune 11, 20183 min

Brands have grown keenly aware of the importance of building a strong narrative. But behind the best brand narratives we can find a meta-story, that is, a master narrative that is deeply embedded in the culture. These larger core ideas are easy to relate to, and we somewhat have come to expect them.

At the 2015 Un-Conference, Mark Di Somma presented on the topic of customer engagement, distilling B2B, B2C and Non-Profit storylines into three core questions that are at the heart of their respective meta-narratives. In the last few years, some brands have wandered away from these central stories, many times “purpose-washing” their message in ways that often come off as inauthentic, resulting in backlash.

Think about your brand, and how your brand’s story relates back to its meta-story.

B2C: Want To Play?

What B2C brand doesn’t want to help a customer enjoy their life more? Whether you’re selling food, medicine, travel, or education, the core question being answered is very much along the lines of “Want to Play?” While you might argue that an athletic apparel brand wants to help their customers compete, or that a healthcare brand wants customers to be well, both of those things are so that their customers will be able to enjoy their lives a bit more. As Kevin Mowrer says, “It’s not what you sell your audience that makes your franchise a success. It’s the invisible empowerment that they take away for free!” That invisible empowerment is the power to play.

B2B: Want To Win?

B2B brands are often speaking to whole companies, focusing on buying committees. Very few businesses (and people in business) are content with the status quo. They want to grow and be successful during that growth. This is why the most successful B2B campaigns (especially given the rise of account-based marketing) will dig deep into the motivations of all personas involved in the purchasing decision. By positioning each persona as having an integral role in helping their business better compete, the brand is able to build on intrinsic motivations. I have seen a number of B2B brands create tactics to help influential individuals on buying committees “convince their boss” as a way to help demonstrate individual competence and excellence – all the while helping their organization win. Department heads could be shown to bring massive productivity improvements while the CFO helps the team win by keeping costs down. All of this contributes to a team win.

Non-Profit: Want To Change?

The most straight-forward of these meta-stories belongs to not-for-profit brands, as they are trying to affect some kind of change in the world. Successful stories will always relate back to this core idea, and often rely on evidence and testimony to stick with customers. In a recent piece on purpose and positioning, I showed how Bailey’s wandered away from the storyline of “want to play” and changed their narrative to women’s empowerment. (pictured) They adopted the meta-story we expect non-profits to have, and their campaign failed miserably. But, thanks to quick thinking, they went back to the heart of who they are, and now are in alignment with the B2C meta-story.

As brand stewards, you’ve got a responsibility to craft stories with meaning. And to do that, you need to meet customers where they actually are, not where you think they are. Meta-story alignment can help provide a foundation for many different types of tactical executions that are grounded in the types of stories customers expect in B2C, B2B and Non-Profits.

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