Narrative Branding Fixes Company In Consumer's Mind

Advertising agencies and marketing firms have stepped back to a Stone Age technique to connect consumers with brands: storytelling. Only this go-round, and with a dash of creative genius and a splash of quantitative analysis to prove the strategy's success, Verse Group co-founders are calling it Narrative Branding.

The technique, although not new, aims to replace product positioning and help marketers build an emotional connection between the person and the brand. Most people know the one about the garage near Stanford University, where college friends Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard pursued their dream.

Now, Verse Group claims the storytelling technique has been proven to work for Coldwell Banker, Days Inn, NXP Semiconductors, and Samsung, so says Randall Ringer, who co-founded the company in 2004 with Michael Thibodeau, creator of the Microsoft MSN butterfly.

When Ringer set out to create a narrative to simplistically describe NXP Semiconductor's identity as the $6 billion Philips Semiconductor spin-off, Narrative Branding made it easier to create a successful campaign. "Typical brand positioning requires us to come up with attributes and gobbledygook about the company being the enabler of whatever," Ringer says. "You would create the company's position, and in this case, [it would be] so abstract that the no one would figure it out."



Recognizing that every compelling story requires metaphors, Verse Group created NXP Semiconductors based on a fictitious technology called "vibrant media." They presented it to chief technology officers (CTOs) at original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that would build NXP Semiconductor's technology into consumer electronics.

The CTOs told Ringer they didn't know what "vibrant media technology" meant, but they connected with the story and felt they needed to build it into their company's flat-panel, high-definition televisions, camera phones, and car sound systems to deliver consumers "better sensory experiences."

Ringer believes knowing the company's origin, rather than viewing it as a "faceless monolith," helps consumers emotionally connect to brands. And the tagline, "founded by Philips," tells consumers that the people who created the compact disc are also behind technology at NXP Semiconductor.

A report released earlier this year by the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) suggests story-based advertising is more effective than using words or phrases to position a company's brand. Companies use storytelling to shape the memories consumers record and recall. In the simplest of explanations, storytelling anchors the brand's name into memory because the consumer recreates the meaning with the advertiser from experiences they might have had, according to William Cook, senior vice president/research and standards for the ARF, New York.

Does the strategy work? Through a series of one-on-one interviews and quantitative surveys, Verse Group examines the depth of the emotional connection the consumer creates with the brand. The company isn't looking for the consumer to recite a word they repeatedly heard or read on a series of television and print ads or billboards and Web sites--but rather to connect with the brand through the company's back-story.

They are also shown many images, symbols and icons from a database of several hundred. Verse Group researchers look for an intellectual and emotional response from the visuals. "About two-thirds of the way we communicate is done visually, not verbal," Ringer says, describing on the other end of the telephone how his arms wave through the air as he talks.

It's always known that brands need to connect with consumers emotionally, but until now it's been mostly "lip service," Ringer says.

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