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The Era of Brand Storymaking

As a marketer myself, who works for a marketing company that markets itself to marketers, admittedly, it’s rather easy to get stuck in a bubble. Sometimes, I learn a considerable amount from conversations with individuals that work outside of our industry, regular consumers that can offer candid anecdotes about their brand experiences.

Recently, I was catching up with one of these, shall we say, “outsiders,” when he started telling me about a yogurt commercial he had seen. Essentially, the advertisement’s message centered on “being an individual,” and “maintaining one’s core values.” As my friend told me, the meaning of the ad really spoke to him, but neither the product nor the brand was introduced until the very end of the experience. And when it was introduced, it was slapped on without much context.

“You are unique, you are important, eat this yogurt,” was the idea. I don’t think he even remembered what the brand was, and it’s not entirely important because it’s indicative of a broader, industry-wide challenge that plagues marketing teams across all consumer industries.

How do you tie a product to a bigger societal issue or ideal?

After my conversation, I was trying to define the issue and determine what may be causing the disconnect for brands. Then, I was forwarded an article written by Mark Schaefer, an author, consultant, and the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. The article was entitled “Does corporate storytelling work? Some mega-brands say no,” and argued that many iconic brands are turning away from storytelling as a marketing device, at least from a content perspective. The article is worth a read, as Schaefer does make some compelling points, and he shares strategies for brands to more effectively create content experiences.

While his argument may be valid, I disagree with the framing of it. Connecting back to my friend’s experience, marketers are able to tell effective stories, but they are missing the mark by not connecting those stories to the brands’ true purpose (beyond selling products).

In today’s ecosystem, where consumers are demanding authenticity from brands, and expect to have a role in co-creating marketing experiences, we’ve entered a new era of storytelling. Indeed, storytelling has become storymaking.

What is the difference? It’s subtle, but Richard Parker, Managing Partner and Strategy Director at EDGE, does a good job of delineating it. “If storytelling is about understanding the kind of stories you want to tell, then unearthing those stories to support a brand, (i.e. stories that largely already exist but haven’t been told yet), then storymaking is about providing an environment in which great stories can happen – and in which those stories are so intertwined with the brand that for all intents and purposes they ARE the brand.”

At Olapic, we’ve long believed in the concept of storymaking as a way for brands to collaborate with their consumers to achieve many of their primary goals, helping them to:

  • Personalize experiences at scale
  • Maintain consistency across all relevant customer touchpoints
  • Increase both engagement and revenue amongst key audience segments

Through a storymaking strategy, marketers can identify an organic connection between the brand, the product, and the audience, which can then be distributed in a broader experience. For brands hoping to develop more authentic experiences using this methodology, here are three steps to get started:

Consider Your Product’s Origin

Often times, us marketers want to make things far more complicated than they need to be. Hence the yogurt example, above. Instead, brands should take a simple approach to creating stories and connecting them to audiences. What was the origin of the brand? Why was it founded? What connection does the product already have to a specific location or purpose?

Jambu Shoes is a good example of a brand that has taken this approach successfully, turning loyal digital audiences into content collaborators. Established in 2010, the inspiration for Jambu Shoes came from the tropical rain forests where the Jambu fruit flourishes. The brand’s shoes are modeled after the fruit’s magnificent color palette, which also complements the function of its footwear. Jambu wants to encourage its customers to reach higher, dig deeper, and explore further to achieve more in their everyday adventures. By tapping its audiences to create visual content on the brand’s behalf, Jambu has been able to uncover authentic content for over 600 unique products, empowering customers to tell and create their own stories mapping back to the brand promise.

Create a Shared Goal for Your Audience

Adding structure to your storymaking strategy will help to educate your audience on the type of experience you are trying to create. It will also help build momentum quickly as consumers aim to participate in a shared goal or challenge, possibly for a reward or featured incentive.

Pepe Jeans saw enormous traction using this tactic, launching its Powerflex Jeans with a “Get It On Challenge” where consumers were asked to take videos of themselves putting on the jeans without using their hands and share using the hashtag #GetItOnChallenge. Initially promoted with a video starring Georgia May Jagger, in collaboration with Olapic, the campaign achieved over 2 million video views, with 1,500 participants, reaching more than 33 million users across 25 countries.

Align Your Product with an Ideal

What type of lifestyle does your product enable? What are cultural or societal sentiments that fit organically into your brand promise? Marketing teams need to carefully analyze the ways in which their audiences are incorporating products into their lives and then use those insights to inform broader efforts. Earned content can help provide a window into product usage, as customers share how they are engaging with products on their social spaces.

Simple Skincare has done an excellent job of aligning itself with an organic ideal, helping consumers develop a comprehensive skincare regimen. The brand noticed its target consumers were speaking a social and visual language, which valued authenticity over branded communication. It partnered with Olapic to help increase trial rates and market share, weaving customers into the brand narrative to help share their own individual skincare programs. According to Doug Straton, Vice President, Digital, e-Commerce/Omnichannel, Data at Unilever, the strategy has paid off. “Consumers trust current users of a product more than something a brand may put forward through traditional assets…by sharing the [consumer photos] with [major retailers] more consumers are exposed to that content.”

In recent years, we’ve seen lots of brands overreach in an effort to connect their brand to a bigger, deeper purpose. Instead, successful brands are empowering their audiences and their teams to create new, meaningful experiences in an era of storymaking.


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