“People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy… As a man, I'm flesh and blood. I can be ignored. I can be destroyed. But as a symbol, I can be incorruptible. I can be everlasting.” – Bruce Wayne, “Batman Begins”
Bruce Wayne understands brands better than anyone. A brand is different from the sum of the people working for a company. A brand, as Wayne noted, can be everlasting.
But brands have a challenge now. This is the age of real-time content production. The focus has shifted from being iconic to posting a status update. With the demands so great for brands to keep telling new stories, how can brands keep up? After all, don’t consumers only pay attention to what’s new?
This issue came up last week during a Social Media Week panel, “Who Owns This Sh#t, Anyway?” Moderator Adam Devine brought it up after the panelists kept discussing storytelling. It seems like community managers, strategists, and brand marketers have a practically impossible task with nonstop demands to micromanage output across dozens of channels.
I fully appreciate the challenges marketers face today, but the challenge has to be put in perspective. Fortunately, the morning of the panel, I caught some of the movie “Batman Begins” on television, and I was reminded of how the fundamentals of storytelling work.
The Batman story is probably familiar. An orphan, the scion of American tycoons, becomes a vigilante, fighting the city’s most heinous criminals by dressing up in a bat costume. He is a skilled detective and fighter cooperating with the local police commissioner, but he is often derided for his unaccountability and his flying mammal alter ego.
It’s a story that first appeared in May, 1939 as a saga in Detective Comics, issue 27. Seventy-three years later, his story continues to be refreshed through comics, films, cartoons, video games, and other media. In all that time, plenty has changed, from the tone to the villains to the love affairs. Yet if you ask anyone around what the Batman story is about, most people should have very similar responses.
All enduring brands have overarching stories. Apple’s is the story of sleek, user-friendly, best-in-class consumer technologies. Coca-Cola is about a kind of happiness that’s always within arm’s reach. The Mets are about 162 games -- no more -- of overpaid underachievement. If you recognize those bands’ logos, those are probably the stories you’ll tell, because the brands have been such relentless and successful storytellers.
That means community managers don’t have to create entirely new stories at all. It’s not their job. What they have to do is constantly create new episodes and editions that fit in with the story the brand created. Community managers can team with strategists, creatives, and others to create new arcs, with subplots that go on for months and span various social channels. Those arcs can’t be independent stories, though; they have to tie in to the one that already exists.
This doesn’t make managing social marketing any easier. It does at least define some roles and guidelines as to what the socially focused team should be doing.
The most important part is learning the brand’s story. It was Bruce Wayne, the unmasked face of Batman, who acknowledged this himself in the New Earth comic series. Wayne said, “There's a lot we have to learn -- about each other and about ourselves -- before we can present ourselves to the public in any major fashion.” Learn the story well, and then tap social media to keep on telling it and to bring it to life.