How to Keep Your Brand Story Intact (Despite a Bad Apple)

May 2024
By Phillip Winterburn, Chief Strategy and Product Officer, Beam

Apple’s misstep last week, more about this later, reminded me of a recent talk given at BrandSmart in Chicago that I was fortunate to attend. It was all about stories… 


We all tell ourselves stories.  


We ruminate on events.  


We hold an inner narrative about the person we are and the person we aspire to be. Story telling is intrinsic to our humanity, from tales of mammoth hunts shared around campfires in Lascaux, France, 18,000 years ago, to the Kindle book you are reading today. 


Kristian Alomá, introduced the concept of the narrative economy, the power of story-telling on our macro economic environment, and how we can think about leveraging the same principles for building brands.


Intrigued by the concept I did some digging and came across a book, Narrative Economics, published in 2019, by nobel laureate Robert J. Schiller, Sterling Professor of Economics at Yale University, that explores the power of stories and how it’s clear they have driven many major events in history.

“In a world in which internet troll farms attempt to influence foreign elections, can we afford to ignore the power of viral stories to affect economies? In this groundbreaking book, Nobel Prize–winning economist and New York Times bestselling author Robert Shiller offers a new way to think about the economy and economic change. Using a rich array of historical examples and data, Shiller argues that studying popular stories that affect individual and collective economic behavior—what he calls “narrative economics”—has the potential to vastly improve our ability to predict, prepare for, and lessen the damage of financial crises, recessions, depressions, and other major economic events.”

It is the power of stories, shared by word of mouth, news and recently, by social media, that resonate with people and drive behavior. When stories “go viral” and are internalized by a significant portion of the population they can drive the economy beyond any economic fundamental economic drivers.  


The recent emergence of meme stocks is an excellent example of the impact at the micro level.  


These stories drive behavior often because of our innate biases that have been explored in the discipline of Behavioral Psychology. 


While there are numerous biases that we are subjected too every day, some of the more relevant ones that contribute to the narrative economic effect are:


  • Confirmation bias describes how we place undue weight on information that supports our point of view and tend to minimize or discount information that contradicts our perspective. This leads to further entrenchment and resistance to alternative ideas. 


  • Recency bias will cause many of us to over emphasize the frequency or prevalence of a situation or event just because we have recently experienced an instance of it. The bad driver that cuts you up on the way home is suddenly indicative of a widespread degradation in driving manners. 


  • Narrative bias, people’s tendency to interpret information as being part of a larger story, is another example of how our mind can play tricks on us by filling in assumptions to flesh out a narrative that is intended to help make sense of information. Often to detrimental effect. 


Of note: there are two components to a story that make them especially compelling and likely to change behavior. They are:


1. Specificity: The inclusion of specific details make a story more realistic and believable.


2. Cause/Effect: Creating a clear connection between a cause and effect reinforces the “why” behind a story which also makes it resonate more strongly to our subconscious. 


So, what does this mean for you?  


As Kristian eloquently communicated, it presents a compelling opportunity.   


If we do the required homework to develop a deep understanding of our target consumers, we can craft a product narrative that is complimentary to their personal story. 


Where brands are most successful is when the brand story naturally infuses into my personal story, amplifying how I identify myself. 


The challenge is that it must be authentic. Disingenuous attempts to create artificial brand stories have left a sad trail of embarrassing campaigns and damaged brands. Resulting in predictable revenue and company value harm. 


Another trap for organizations is when they launch a new product within an established brand and the messaging is dissonant with the previously established brand narrative and more seriously with the personal narratives of their target audience. 


A recent example of this is Apple’s launch of their updated iPads. A video intended to convey the power of the iPad in replacing a wide variety of tools (brought to life as an industrial press crushing a collection of musical instruments) was received with horror by the artists of the world, historically Apple’s most ardent supporters. 


So, ask yourself this: 


  • What are the personal stories that your target audience are telling themselves? 


  • How does your brand narrative fit into their personal stories? Do you augment their story, or do you compete for the hero role? 


Exploring the concept of a narrative economy and consider the people in your target audience, do deep psychobiographical research, understand them at a very individual human level. What are their hopes and dreams, their motivations and aspirations?


By connecting your brand narrative to your customers’ personal stories, you will establish exceptional brand loyalty and create evangelism that transcends anything your competitors are doing. 

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