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June 12, 2009

The Brand Story Web Marketing Process

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If websites have one overarching goal it is to create confidence in whatever the website is promoting and who’s promoting it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a product, a service, a sales campaign, or an idea, if the presentation is not minimally credible or optimally motivational, then it fails as a means of marketing communication.

Communicate to the Subconscious Mind

Branding is often thought of as a marketing strategy reserved for major consumer product companies, but the fact is all businesses are brands that are either cultivated so they blossom, or let go-to-seed like a garden full of weeds.

Marketing neophytes often think of branding only in terms of some physical manifestation, like a logo, but a brand is the full complement of residual impressions resulting from all the experiences associated with a product, service or company. And today, the online experience is a vital venue for creating those experiences.

By using video, the marketer has the opportunity to tap into the audiences’ subconscious mind, the buried remnants of both remembered and forgotten experiences; the kind of experiences that form attitudes, prejudices, and preferences that inform our decisions, most importantly our buying decisions.

Where Businesses Go Wrong

Where businesses go wrong is settling for only the obvious, the logical, and the rational. Brands are formed in the subconscious, so if your marketing communication doesn’t reach the subconscious mind then it is not establishing or enhancing the brand in any meaningful effective long-term way.

What video does, when done right, is communicate on both the obvious and subconscious levels, making it the ideal Web-communication vehicle for creating a powerful brand experience, but only if you understand how to use the presentation and performance elements available.

Considering how powerful a tool Web-video can be, it amazes me how so many normally intelligent business people can opt for second-rate presentations. The do-it-yourself and user-generated efforts compete for the booby prize with the mindless corporate drivel – they all miss the point: a persuasive motivating presentation must communicate on multiple levels.

How To Deliver A Brand Story

We like to refer to developing, delivering, enhancing, and managing a Web-based brand, as The Brand Story Process. By thinking of your brand in terms of a story rather than just some graphical image, or nebulous mission statement, you avoid many of the pitfalls associated with ineffective branding.

A story, any story, has certain fundamental elements:

  1. A storyline, plot or arc that moves the audience from skeptical Web-surfers to loyal customers;
  2. A hero, who vicariously represents the audience and their dilemma in satisfying their subconscious needs or desires;
  3. A villain, who represents the problems, obstacles, or challenges that confront the audience in satisfying those subconscious needs;
  4. An agent of change that represents your company’s ability to resolve the dilemma by providing a solution to satisfying those needs;
  5. And a format that structures the presentation in a series of procedural or serial video episodes, that establishes and enhances the brand image, all while delivering literal and subliminal benefits.

Storyline – The Arc of Transformation

At the heart of your brand story is your marketing message and that message must invoke change: a transformation from dissatisfaction to satisfaction, and not just a presentation of features and benefits.

Your brand storyline puts what you offer into context, and illustrates the achievable results through onscreen surrogates acting out the audience’s hidden agendas. A competitor can always cut your price or add new features, but neither tactic can overcome brand loyalty based on satisfying subconscious emotional needs.

Hero As Brand Messenger

It’s not just the message; it’s the messenger. There is no substitute for the human being. No avatar, cartoon character, or computer-generated equivalent will provide the subtlety and nuance required to communicate on the verbal, visible, and subconscious levels.

The one caveat is that real people can be ‘too real’ for their own good. We rarely recommend using company executives in front of the camera because the camera picks up all kinds of signals that the unpracticed performer is not aware of, resulting in an impression often contrary to the intended message. An uptight senior executive, no matter how well meaning, delivering a reassuring message to the public over some product liability problem can actually hurt the company’s rehabilitation efforts if that onscreen presenter is deemed untrustworthy or deceptive.

He’ll Always Be Tricky Dick

There are many examples of this sort of marketing faux pas, with Richard Nixon’s 1960 television debate with John Kennedy being one of the most famous. On the radio many people thought Nixon, the veteran campaigner, won the debate, but under the penetrating scrutiny of the television camera, Nixon’s true self came through. It was not just the five o’clock shadow; it was his buried true-self delivering a negative impression to the audience’s subconscious mind. The negative Nixon brand was established forever, one that never fully recovered.

A Brand Should Never Get Old, Ill, or Fat

Even positive reaction to a real personality can turn out to be negative. Take the example of Steve Jobs. His keynote addresses are treated like rock star performances, but when not available to perform for whatever reason, rumors start, and even major corporations like Apple feel the effect.

What you really want to create is a brand character, a spokesperson that can be managed, cultivated, and grown into a long-term brand representative, one who can deliver your marketing message and brand story in consistent, effective, and controlled campaigns.

Every Brand Story Needs A Villain

When we speak of the brand villain we are not necessarily referring to another character although that can certainly be one way of illustrating the issue at hand. As an alternative, situations or scenarios can be used to represent the problem or dilemma.

Psychological issues are most often not so cut-and-dried as to be presented by the black-hat villain and white-hat hero. Engaging heroes are often tainted or damaged in a way the audience can relate to, and effective villains are not so much evil as they are representative of an alternative agenda.

Take for example the recent commercial campaign for ‘Oatmeal Crisps’ that is currently running in the Canadian market. The series of spots features a father who is trying to protect his favorite cereal from being consumed by his teenage son in one commercial, and by his elderly father in another. This extremely clever campaign digs deep into the emotional resentments and psychological issues involved in the family dynamic, but it does it in a humorous, lighthearted manner, where the audience can relate to the situation, and accept the underlying message. Here’s a case of protagonist and antagonist, a more sophisticated approach to the hero-villain relationship.

You Are The Agent of Change

By adopting the Brand Story approach to marketing, you need to accept the notion that your brand is an agent of change. All stories are about change: transformation from one state (dissatisfaction) to another (satisfaction). You construct your brand story based on the idea that your brand will transform the audience somehow.

Take the ‘Multi Grain Cheerios’ commercial featuring a husband and wife discussing the ingredients listed on the cereal box: while the overt message is buy this product because it tastes good, the underlying message is that it helps control your weight thus making you more attractive to your spouse, not a subject that any sensitive spouse would suggest. The cereal is presented as the agent of change: overweight and unattractive, to slim and beautiful, while at the same time removing the stigma of dieting by providing the taste excuse to justify the purchase.

This commercial like the previously mentioned ‘Oatmeal Crisps’ commercial creates a conflict that delivers multiple messages through the familiar husband-wife scenario; one that is familiar to anyone who has ever dared suggest their significant other should lose some weight.

Are You “Law and Order” or “Prison Break”?

Format: Procedural or Serial

The two most commonly used presentation formats are Procedural, think “Law and Order”, or Serial, think “Prison Break”. Procedurals follow a strict formula that continuously replays the basic story arc with the context of each episode emphasizing the consistent attitudes, perspective, and point-of-view of the franchise or brand. On the other hand, Serials move the plot along from episode to episode keeping the audience in suspense as to what is going to happen next and whether the brand hero will win the day.

One of the best Serial advertising campaigns every implemented was the Nescafe Gold Blend coffee campaign that ran from 1987-1992. You can watch the whole campaign from beginning to end on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=igi9u6X4y-s).

One of my favorite Procedural style campaigns is the recent Kleenex (Let It Out) campaign that was brilliantly executed. It played upon the audience’s emotions, memories, and experiences, while associating those deep-seated feelings with their brand of facial tissue that is normally regarded and sold as a strictly commoditized product.

Doing Something, Isn’t Necessarily Doing It Well

Far from being restrictive, these formats provide familiar structure within which the company can establish and enhance their brand, but failure to grasp the underlying emotional element inherent in your offering will lead to failure. A current Canadian advertiser tried to copy the Kleenex format without understanding what made the Kleenex campaign effective; they copied the physical presentation but without any emotional subtext, relying totally on a cost-to-performance benefit, and the result is a second rate effort rather than an effectively clever slipstreamed homage.

It’s About People, By People, For People

Unlike television advertising that is restricted to only those that can afford it, the Web is available to all. The problem is easy and affordable access to the tools and venues to deliver your brand story does not mean that you are telling it effectively. Marketing communication is not about research, technology, or statistics; it’s about people and the underlying emotional needs your brand satisfies – therein lies the basis upon which you build your brand story.


Jerry Bader is Senior Partner at MRPwebmedia, a website design firm that specializes in Web-audio and Web-video. Ask about our Summer Video Campaign Special. Visit http://www.mrpwebmedia.com/ads, http://www.136words.com, and http://www.sonicpersonality.com. Contact at info@mrpwebmedia.com or telephone (905) 764-1246.

4 Responses to “The Brand Story Web Marketing Process

    Hey, nice post, really well written. You should write more about this. I’ll definitely be subscribing.

    avatar Youtube marketing says:

    Web marketing process is one of the most successful method of increasing the traffic to our site

    I have been working very hard at cultivating a “branded” presence online and found this article has served to expand what I already new. Thanks it was a good compliment to the article I recently wrote They Brand Cows, But Have You Branded Your Blog Yet?” – yours was different yet expanded the topic for me even more.

    avatar Björn says:

    I’ve got to tell ya, this really is what I would call a good blog. I read it few times a week, and I always stumble across good content. Don’t you dare stop blogging! Haha.

    Try SEO for getting more traffic to your website.

    Anyway, don’t let me waste your time. All I wanted to say was keep up the good work! I’ve subscribed to your channel on YouTube AND your RSS-feed for the blog.

    Big hugs all the way from Sweden!

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