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From Storytelling to Story-making: Using Brand Experience to Create Brand Advocates

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Chris Cavanaugh
Chris Cavanaugh

Executive Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer

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Live experiences are an essential tool to amplify and solidify a mass one-to-one marketing journey

In today’s era of skepticism, word-of-mouth and authenticity have become more powerful than ever for building trust. In fact, more than 80% of Americans today still seek recommendations when making a purchase.

This need for authenticity has led to an interesting evolution in the way brands tell their stories. Instead of just crafting a narrative and releasing it into the wild, brands are building on authentic stories that people share with each other, and allowing consumers to help craft the story. It’s a unique added layer of branding that is not only giving people ownership of the stories brands tell, it’s letting them become story-makers themselves.

But where does a brand begin? The journey from storytelling to story-making starts with digital and moves into live brand experiences. 

Storytelling with precision

In the age of ad-blocking, people are increasingly finding ways to shut out marketing content in their digital spaces. Obviously, storytelling is pretty difficult to do if your audience is shutting you out at every turn. Enter mass one-to-one marketing, which alleviates the issue of messaging consumers at the wrong place and time. Big data has given us the power and flexibility to tell our story where consumers want it, how they want it, and when they need it (such as the point of purchase), so that one-to-one communication builds trust on their terms. 

By using tools such as Google’s in-market audience, marketers can track user behavior and recognize key points of a consumer’s journey based on the content they’re engaging with. For example, a car dealership can increase its reach among users who have already searched for “SUVs with best gas mileage” and “spacious SUVs.” Mass one-to-one marketing builds a brand’s story digitally, and patiently, and allows consumer trust to take root organically and naturally.

However, all the precision in the world means nothing if the brand’s purpose is not consistent and clear throughout the storytelling journey. Without a purpose that aligns with our audience’s, we lack the authenticity we need to keep the narrative going. 

Mass personalization puts the customer at the center of the story, and by providing more relevant experiences for them, we also invite them to be a part of it.

The value of brand purpose

Digital media isn’t the only thing provoking a new level of distrust from the consumers; brands are also facing more scrutiny than ever. Modern consumers are quick to call out a company that says one thing and does another, and they vote with their money. A Gallup study found that consumers gave almost twice as much “wallet share” to brands where product and purpose were aligned. And according to the North America Consumer Trends 2018 study by Mintel, nearly two in five Americans say that bad publicity like recent recalls or scandals would make them consider another car brand. Taking your storytelling lightly in this climate will not win you points or consumers.

This is why it’s so important for brands to have a purpose that is not only aligned with the values of target audiences, but is also delivered in an authentic way. Personalization has changed the way brands can tell their stories and the way we conduct our relationships with our customers. Mass personalization puts the customer at the center of the story, and by providing more relevant experiences for them, we also invite them to be a part of it. We provide a trustworthy channel for the dissemination of our brand’s story and its purpose.

The emotional currency is confidence in the brand, and that leads us closer to creating brand advocates. Where mass one-to-one marketing fosters individual relationships with customers through storytelling, brand experience takes that a step further. It gives us the chance to create immersive, authentic and personalized interactions in a live, face-to-face environment. Brand experiences give us a chance to seamlessly segue between our audience’s digital and physical lives, and start to foster a community.

Storytelling is evolving

If we’ve won the trust of our audience, and our personalized communications have segued into a physical brand experience, that’s where true engagement happens. “For me, the way to reach consumers and engage them is through experiences,” says Rajamannar, CMO of Mastercard. “And that’s what we’re actually finding. It is hugely beneficial for us to engage consumers, make them our brand ambassadors, and that we call story-making.”

A live brand experience isn’t just a chance to tell a story — it’s a chance to create a story world. They allow us to create an environment where we can immerse our most important audiences in a multi-dimensional brand experience, one that has true purpose. Face-to-face interactions build authenticity and trust, and enable story-makers to spread a brand’s story. It’s no longer marketing messages, arriving through a channel. It’s person-to-person interaction, using all five senses.

Great brand experiences hand the story over to the attendees and let them put their own unique stamp on it. In turn, we can share their story-making vision through our channels. Take Capital’s “Monster Mashup” with Vodafone; REI’s “Opt Outside” brand story for Black Friday; UPS’s “Wishes Delivered” campaign; or #caughtonnestcam. These are narratives that spilled outside of the brand experience and gained new traction. Driven by the brand’s authenticity and purpose, the consumers felt an ownership of the story, and spread it into the world adding their own unique spin.

When your messaging is seeded into your audience in an organic, natural way, people don’t feel marketed to. They feel included. And that’s where your brand story takes on a life of its own. 

{Watch this next: Tapping Into Storytelling}


What you need to know to stay ahead of the ever-changing experiential marketing curve.

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