The “Brand Narrative” Pyramid

March 10, 2015

I’m a strong proponent of the brand narrative concept. I believe that any and every brand has a narrative behind it, to it and about it. The narrative behind a brand is all about the internal relevancy. How is this brand important to the company? The narrative to a brand is the external context. What’s the WiifM aspect for consumers, investors, clients, etc? And the narrative about the brand is the engagement with said external audiences, which then return to the company.

It’s a circular progression of communications. Or, as I envision it, a four-part triangle.

The lower left triangle represents Relevancy, while the lower right represents Engagement and the upper triangle represents Context. The inner triangle is a melding of the three, which when combined form an engaging Brand Narrative.

Building narrative through Relevancy: Find the connections between internal and external audiences
Building a narrative should start from within. I find Google to be a great example of this. I equate their philosophy with relevancy. One of their ten facts they focus on is: Focus on the user and all else will follow. The “user” includes employees. By building an engaging workspace internally, that mindset follows into their various products and services.

Their philosophy is built off 10 facts, which builds their framework to remain relevant to their employees and their users. Encouraging creativity, teamwork, and responsibility builds for a brand narrative that many can associate with. It’s probably why Google is now synonymous with searching for anything online. And I know that the concepts of creativity and teamwork show in their Google+ and Hangouts services, which I use on a weekly basis.

There’s also a plethora of stories out there, of how they encourage employees to balance work and play, to allow for creative time, to offer up ideas and watch as they’re tested out and implemented.

Building narrative through Context: Create connections between external audiences and society
I’ve found Apple’s brand narrative focuses on both form and function. Their current iOS slogan, “Every bit as powerful as it looks.” is a good example of a balance between form and function. I connect with Apple’s slogan — I see my apple products (Two MacBook Pros and an iPod nano) as streamlined, efficient and focused on creative endeavors. In those respects, their products are powerful and do everything I need it to do.

Microsoft’s Windows has always been about functionality to me. Due to the wide array of hardware it’s run on, functionality is a key factor in ensuring that the system runs smoothly across a wide variety of hardware set-ups. That said, when doing some digging, there are no clear examples of slogans, mottos, tag lines, or messages focused specifically on the operating system — with the exception of a recent push towards Windows 10 rather than 8.1 or 7. (I started with 3.1, skipping every other generation of OS and am currently holding onto 7)

I am however up for migrating to Windows 10, because their narrative does have me intrigued as to the changes and upgrades available since Windows 7 was released. And their logic behind the move from 8.1 to 10 makes sense to me.

(I can’t speak towards other OS developers as I’ve barely dabbled with Ubuntu, and have minimal experience with other Linux builds, or Android’s OS.)

Building narrative through Engagement: Connect with society and tie back into internal audiences
When it comes to Brand Narratives being built up by their audiences and expanded in engaging ways, I go straight to the gaming industry. They’re one of the clearest examples I know of how powerful brand narratives grow.

Not everyone pays attention to game developer brands. Most are at least familiar with the big names: EA, Activision Blizzard, Bungie, Ubisoft, Valve. There’s plenty of smaller ones just as active in the industry, and they all have one thing in common: Their audiences. For simplicity, let’s focus on two main groups: Let’s Players and Gamers. Let’s Players are the gamers recording their gameplay and engaging with the developers, generally encouraging the purchasing and playing of the games they record. Gamers are any consumer who plays games; simple as that.

There are communities like Rooster Teeth, the Yogscast, The Game Grumps, and individuals like Markiplier, Jessie Cox and Total Biscuit who are known for their discussions about game developers and dialogues with their viewers. They take a game developer’s brand narrative and product, build around it, and discuss with the general public to further the brand’s visibility. I can count a couple dozen games where I’ve purchased and played primarily because of the names above.

Relevance, context and engagement are all subjective; there is no one right method or tactic for building a powerful brand narrative. It really is customized for each company. I really do believe that actively incorporating all three aspects into your brand will make a difference.

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