The other week I spoke at a local university to a group of businesses start-ups. They all appeared to have worked hard on their brand tools, and the subject of most interest was their individual brand story. It didn't seem to occur to them that they had one to tell, and that – more importantly – it must be told from the 'outside in'. I explained to them that telling your brands story’s from the outside in is very much like a tango. You must dance with your customer, whisper in their ear, and see their needs – reacting swiftly and genuinely.
Customer insights and brand stories are inextricably linked, especially in today’s digital world. Stories need to be continuously refreshed, spontaneous and full of life. Like tango dancing, no one leads and there is no set structure. Dancers are nimble; their footwork, rhythm and speed react to the mood, music and their partner. This tactic serves itself well to the way in which brands should tell stories today – reacting to their customers' lifestyles, conversations and challenges. In storytelling, it’s okay to follow – as long as you are following your customer.
In this fast-paced environment, your challenge as a brand is to react and respond to your customers with an appropriate, relevant and interesting story. With the rise of social media, choice and on-the-go lifestyles, stories need to be forever new to capture attention. They need an unexpected quality – a twist – that will make it memorable. Telling truly impactful stories requires a real understanding of the conversations in your customers' community. Take the Airbnb Superbowl commercial from earlier this year. It's a simple yet impactful manifesto shared as a reaction to the political climate in the USA.
"We believe, no matter who you are, where you're from, who you love, or who you worship, we all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you accept."
By inserting themselves in this conversation, the #weaccept campaign acknowledges Airbnb's customers' current challenges, and uses the insight to build on their overall brand mission of ‘Belong Anywhere.’
Creating brand stories from the outside in requires a real understanding of why the customer wants to deal with you. What resonates with them? How does your brand fit into their lives? Looking from the outside – that is, looking at your brand from the customers' perspective – can lead to insightful stories that capture emotion and cause action. Stories that stick are ones that touch a nerve. You need to hook their emotions, yet be genuine about this. What problem are you trying to solve, what's its value to a person, and how would it make them feel? Look for the space in your customers' lifestyle where your brand can play.
Recently we created an anti-smoking campaign for Counties Manukau Health as the result of an insight-driven research study. The insights provided clear pathways to change a well-known perception in the community – that smoking is ‘cool.’ By looking from the outside, we were able to develop a positive, user-generated Snapchat campaign (in partnership with Motion Sickness Studios). The Snapped Out campaign resonated with the community, and subtly repositioned smoking as unacceptable.
If you really listen to your customers, you can leverage their stories to drive your creativity. By analysing how your products and services fit into their lives, you can gain valuable insight into their needs and desires.
In 2013, Google delivered a piece of emotional storytelling that illustrates this point. The story starts with Baldev, a man from Delhi, telling his granddaughter about his childhood friend Yusuf. Baldev hasn't seen Yusuf since the partition of India in 1947; when India and Pakistan became separate countries, their friendship was forced apart. Baldev’s granddaughter arranges for them to meet again on his birthday. Arm's-length stories like this provide a chance to experience a variety of emotions without the risk of those emotions affecting you personally. Wonder, fear, courage or love can be tested out in the minds of customers as they listen to a story.
Like Google, Baldev and Yusuf show us that a dancing brand story is the greatest tool in the brand box.