Plato and Descartes attacked the power of narrative and this cloud of disapproval has lasted for thousands of years. But in recent years the tide has turned and there has been a shift back toward telling stories in brand innovation.
Asking consumers to narrate the story of a brand like Guinness would suggest that despite a shift toward on the move products, the ritual of the pour allows Guinness to buck this trend. Also, the ritual of crumbling an Oxo cube implies that it would lose relevance if the format became more convenient, so it will be interesting to see how the recently launched Oxo tubes will fare.
A recent ethnographic study revealed that the Lyles Golden Syrup brand has a wealth of emotional meaning amongst consumers, despite no recall of any advertising. It’s a brand that has stood the test of time and connects with mums particularly, as it links to the notion of relieving the stress of being a parent and helping to maintain a work/life balance. Lyle’s brand meaning for mums is as an oracle, or font of all knowledge, with the magical ability to introduce children to their first experiences of food preparation. The memory is centred around the fun of cooking with your kids and therefore the brand enables a sensory experience, from the rich golden colour and sticky texture, to the smell of freshly baked flapjacks (and more).
Understanding the meaning of a brand can help brand innovation, particularly within the area of brand stretch. Just think about the endless possibilities for Lyles Golden Syrup! However, the arrogance of brand owners prevails with constant brand tracker monitoring, which only serves to tell marketers what marketers want to know and not the things that keep the brand relevant. Relevance is something that is constantly changing and developing, but is rooted in deep connections with the consumer. These connections are built independently, through a personal experience, creating meaning and memories.
Brands such as Marmite feel like the brand of the people and their brand stretch is linked to personal memory. An ethnographic study highlighted that Marmite plays a real role in ritual, as well as flavour combinations. The study also suggested that families see Marmite as a brand that symbolises family cohesion. It can cause powerful division in a household, bonding some family members and creating playful antagonism between others.
It is interesting to think that if brands like Smarties talked to consumers about personal meaning and memories, they would not have moved away from the round tube. This shifted the brand into a more generic emotional territory. The round tube conjured up childhood memories of the plastic lid and the letter daring your friend to pour the whole pack into their mouth the challenge of identifying flavours by colour All of these personal meanings and playful rituals have now been lost and so has the connection people had with the brand.
Storytelling allows people to see, feel and believe quickly drawing in the listener or reader. Everyone seeks a sense of connectivity and affinity, so it will benefit the innovative and consumer focused brand owners to make sure they understand their true brand stories. Feeding consumer insight and ideas into the NPD programme or of their brand or brand stretch can have real impact and will ensure that NPD does not damage strong consumer bonds.