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The Power of Story

The current BMW advertising campaign takes an interesting departure from its traditional "ultimate driving machine" message. It is now selling "joy." Or as one television commercial puts it, what’s important is "not just what we make, but how it makes you feel."

Walmart has done a masterful job of evoking a mood that moves saving 10 cents on toilet paper way up the Maslovian scale by asking "What are you saving for?" This transformation and transcendence of low prices into fulfilling a child’s dream is nicely illustrated in their hockey mom webisode:

With so many products and services eventually turning into commodities, the promise of a new experience or a new feeling is a great way to promote those products and services. It "de-commoditizes" them and holds far greater promise than just having a bigger list of features than the other guys.

It’s easy to get absorbed with promoting features and benefits, but then fail to tell the bigger brand story.

This is where marketers can turn to poetry, drama and narrative for the proper inspiration. Features and benefits need to be sewn together into the fabric of story to really get traction with an audience.

Adidas does it with a tagline: Impossible is Nothing

Apple does it with an ongoing dialog between Mac and PC personified.

Liberty Mutual does it with beautiful pay-it-forward vignettes in their inspiring television commercials.

One of the ways we start the branding or re-branding process with our clients is to create a brand story book. It lifts the conversation above the bullet points and feature sets. Those will come later. We’ve seen this approach work with everyone from tech companies, iced tea bottlers and educational institutions, to non-profits, architects and BBQ restaurants.

Story is universal. Everyone loves a good story.

I’ve seen some of my most tedious presentations immediately rescued by a good story. Storytelling is like blood-doping for communicators.

Every company has a story. It could be the unlikely origin of the company; or perhaps how an organization rose from the ashes of defeat to become a success. Or maybe the story to tell is how a critical moment in the company’s history shaped its character and redefined it forever.

When you stop merely marketing what you sell, and instead tell a story that projects what people will feel or experience, they can plug into your brand story and you’ve gained some valuable mental real estate with your audience.

©2010 David Heitman