Archives for posts with tag: Consumers

For various reasons, the whole narrative branding thing has popped back into my head lately. As someone who’s been intimately involved with brands, worked in feature film development, and written much fiction, it’s something I’ve thought about quite a lot, over the years.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that people tend to want to make the brand they’re working on the hero of its own story. On one level, that’s entirely reasonable. Whether you’re agency side or client side, you’re paid to become unusually obsessed with one particular brand. Because of that, it’s at the centre of your own personal narrative. It’s not surprising that you then want to put it at the centre of the stories people tell themselves about their own lives, too.

But, on another level it’s a complete nonsense. Since when has anyone who isn’t professionally involved with a brand put it at the centre of their own life? Rather, we are ourselves always the heroes of the stories we create about our own lives.

At best, brands are present in those stories as sidekicks, supporting each one of us in clearly defined ways as we go about the complex business of living. At worst, we (quite rightly) scarcely notice or remember them. What brand of washing powder had you used to wash the shirt you were wearing when you asked your beloved to marry you? Who knows? Who cares?

So, I’ve always been much more interested in personal narratives than brand narratives. And I use the term personal very deliberately. That’s because even the word consumer privileges the branded over the personal, defining an individual not by what he or she wants to achieve in life, but by what they consume; by how they interact with brands.

The best way of using narrative techniques to understand brands is to forget about brands entirely. Think about people; think about what they want to achieve in life; think about what motivates them, and what frustrates them. Understand them fully as individuals in their own right.

Only then will you be in a position to ask yourself how your particular brand – the brand that’s at the heart of your working life, that you spend your working days being professionally obsessed by – can help them, or is hindering them. And remember, when you do that, be humble. You’re not dealing with a consumer, who’s defined by brands; you’re dealing with a person, who isn’t.

Marketeers spend much time and effort making their brands unique, so they stand out from the crowd; but branding acts as camouflage as much as display.

Display is a form of disruption. By standing out from what’s around it, a brand breaks our smooth perception of the world-as-a-whole and demands that we attend to a single, very focussed part of it.

That’s not an issue when we’re deciding what to buy. Individual brands need to shout loudly to be heard in the communications cacophony that is modern commercial space.

It becomes an issue once we’ve bought a given brand, and started using it. At that point, the function of branding changes. The best way to understand how and why that is to be reductive, and think about tools.

A tool is brought and used to achieve a given end. The most effective tools are those that disappear into use. That is, they support the achievement of an end without drawing attention to themselves during that achievement.

If I’m chopping wood, I want an axe that I don’t notice that I’m using. I don’t want one that constantly draws attention to itself through (for example) being blunt, or poorly constructed, or the wrong size for the task at hand.

I only want to notice the well chopped pile of wood I end up with, not the means by which I create that pile. And then I want the pile of wood to disappear into being a fire, without being slow to light, spitting on the carpet, or creating too much smoke.

When in use, brands work in a similar way. They are never an end in themselves; none of us live to shave with Gillette Razors, or travel by British Airways.

We live to be attractive to other people, or to visit interesting places. Brands support us as we achieve these goals, disappearing into the wider actions we take to fulfil our rational or emotional drives.

This is where brands need to camouflage themselves. As well as standing out, each one  should also disappear, harmonising with a chorus rather than just shouting through a cacophony.

As branding people, that’s something that’s easy to forget. Brands aren’t just about differentiation; they’re about integration too, fitting efficiently and effectively into individual lifestyles, supporting a broader personal push towards entirely personal goals.