It is incredible to believe that something that quite possibly began around a campfire has evolved into a complex global industry. The branding of a business or product is crucial in a day and age when people consume advertising and media at an alarmingly fast rate and brand loyalty is more important than it has ever been. With the ubiquity of brands’ influences, campaigns have become so detailed and involved that marketers often get lost in them and forget the real objectives of branding: trial and loyalty.
To succeed, you must first convince someone to try your product, and then — assuming satisfaction is achieved — encourage them to remain loyal to your product. It really is as simple as that.
Today’s customers are smart about the purchases they make and are often well educated about a product prior to ever stepping foot in the store to make a purchase, largely due to the Internet. To convince prospects to try your product, you must move them first to awareness, then to interest and then action. Short of their mothers telling them that your product will change their lives, you have to say or do something that causes them to say, “You know, I’m willing to give that a try.”
And how do you achieve that? How about a fast-talking pitchman raving about all the benefits? Infomercials and car salesmen have pretty much killed that one. Or maybe a celebrity claiming that it is all they ever buy? Unfortunately, celebrities are expensive, and above all, today’s smart customers know celebrities are getting paid to make those claims.
So, what really works in a marketing landscape where very smart customers are being inundated with every imaginable kind of pitch?
A simple story.
Think about the commercials that really stick with you. They tell a story — one that captures your imagination and, admit it, may even bring a tear to your eye.
These types of commercials are effective because people make decisions emotionally and then justify their decisions with logic. It goes something like this: Wow, I love the way that looks. I think I really need it and it is [insert logical reason here]. Nothing elicits emotion like a story, and the simpler and more heartwarming the story is, the better.
My product doesn’t lend itself to storytelling, you say? You’d be surprised. A battery company promoted its products by telling the story of a deaf football player. An automobile company made us believe in the quality of its products by telling the story of Detroit — the tough, gritty place where its vehicles are produced. A company that makes household cleaning products told the story of the sacrifices moms around the world make for their children, which gave us all goose bumps and made moms proud to purchase its everyday products. A brewery made us all go “aw” by sharing the story of a friendship between a Labrador puppy and a Clydesdale. And, of course, Nike reminded us that there is greatness in all of us.
The one thing all of these stories have in common is the ability to hold our attention and make us think, if only for a moment, and that is what makes all the difference. It pushes the message into our long-term memories. We think about it, share it on social media and, perhaps most importantly, remember it when it comes to making a purchase.
Which brings us to the second goal of branding: loyalty.
Consumers want to feel good about their purchasing decisions. They feel successful and fulfilled when they purchase a truly reliable car, find a cleaning product that actually works as advertised or locate a doctor who really does understand them. In a world where we are too often exposed to marginal products and questionable sales tactics, people want not only to feel good about their purchases and the companies that produce them, but they also want to feel an emotional connection to those products and companies.
Inspirational stories make us all feel good, both about ourselves and the companies the stories represent. They make us stop and think about what in life is really important, versus just noise cluttering our minds. Whether it is a friend, family member or, yes, even a multi-billion dollar corporation telling us these stories, our attachment is strengthened through emotion and our trust is increased by experience.
To sum it all up, successful branding campaigns should absolutely be based on solid research, clearly defined goals, strategic media placement and killer creative, but in the end, a compelling story, when told well, just might be the most powerful tool of all.