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5 Ways to Keep Your Brand Story Innovative

1/9/2020
— Chrissy Vaughn and Hanna Williams 

As we spend the new year recovering from brand storytelling faux pas from 2019 such as the infamous Peloton advertisement and Hallmark’s wishy-washy approach to controversy, there’s no better time than the present to look ahead to how your brand will tell its story in 2020.

Your brand’s story is your most valuable asset. It’s what helps consumers connect with you, what guides every decision you make. If something goes wrong, it’s the guiding light to lead you through a crisis. Late last year, we attended the Fast Company Innovation Festival — five days of the most innovative brand professionals talking about how they connect, drive change and tell their stories. Here are five strategies we learned that we’re taking into our own brand storytelling counsel in 2020.

 

1. GET INSPIRATION FROM OUTSIDE YOUR BUBBLE 

Joanna Coles said it best: “No true creativity comes from an open laptop.” Breaking out of your bubble and getting opinions from those who have nothing to do with your company or directly with your team can offer a refreshing perspective, but you’ve got to be willing to get up, do the work and invite these interactions into your workspace’s ecosystem. Being a creature of habit doesn’t always bring progressive change. One example: Marketing ad agency Barbarian’s Stranger in Residence program invites interesting technologists and artists to produce in their space and help teams break out of convention. The idea is to give their employees the opportunity to see how radically different thinkers solve problems and tell stories.

 

 2. QUESTION ESTABLISHED TRUTHS 

Don’t assume it has to be just because it’s always been! Everyone wants to know how to crack the innovation secret. Tapping into diversity and bringing many voices into your process can spur innovation, but there’s special promise in questioning established truths.

Going into production for “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Sony wanted to know what an animated comic book would look like. To find out, the animators had to throw away almost everything they knew about 3D animation, recreating 2D printing techniques in a three-dimensional digital space for the first time ever. The result? Sony managed to make a big-budget movie feel like an arthouse project. And this disruptive attention to detail paid off: “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” won a string of awards the following year, from an Academy Award to a BAFTA for best animated feature film. It wouldn’t have happened if Sony stuck to incremental innovation.

 

 3. EMBRACE THE POWER SHIFT

Our Brands in Motion global study has surveyed 80,000 people over three years, and we’ve yet to see a consumer expectation decrease. One theme that’s stayed consistent: the importance of finding your brand’s purpose and leading with it. But the power dynamic is shifting.

It’s not just CEOs and executives who can drive purposeful change — employees now hold the megaphone to hold employers accountable for being true to their brand and good members of society. Norman de Greve of CVS Health said that “better employee engagement” was actually the most valuable result of their decision to remove tobacco, photo-shopped images and low-SPF sunscreen from their stores. de Greve’s reflection that “mission is what you want to achieve; purpose is what you want to do for others” is a great reminder that leading with a purpose can elevate your brand’s story.

Take a look at our report on Purpose with Quartz Insights on how brands can find purpose and tell its brand story effectively.

 

4. PAIR DATA WITH PEOPLE POWER 

The power of data in any industry is enormous, and every company is tapping into it. But impact comes in how you leverage this in the context of your efforts.

Group9, the digital media company behind NowThis and Thrillist, has a back-end tool that draws insights from website user data to recommend the most engaging lengths for videos about a particular subject, the amount of graphics needed for brand recognition by channel, optimal time of day to publish and more. The tool enables editors and publishers to make meaningful decisions and target at scale. CNN likes to trust its editorial gut when it comes to its news stories, but data is still used in the traditional sense as a look-back model — to understand why a story had the results it did. CNN’s data models couldn’t have predicted that stories about Ruth Bader Ginsburg would resonate so well this year, but looking back they can find trends to use for future storytelling.

Using data can supercharge a brand’s storytelling, but it must be used responsibly. Brands in Motion revealed that only 22% of respondents said brands were absolutely being transparent with the way their data was being used. Ninety-two percent would stop using a product or service if it was using consumer data unethically. Data and its responsible use continues to be a hot topic. Discover our blog on the balance between AI-enabled convenience and data security.

 

 5. CREATE AN EXPERIENCE

While having a digital presence is great, every brand needs to develop a relationship with consumers that extends beyond the screen — definitely mentally, but sometimes also physically. Many brands are good at solving for pain (why you buy the product), but they aren’t very good at solving for boredom.

Here’s a helpful list for defining entertainment (AKA effective content) shared by Vice Media:

  1. Is it worth my time?
  2. Would I seek it out?
  3. Do I anticipate it?
  4. Would I pay for it?
  5. Will I tell people about it?
  6. Did it make me think?
  7. Has it made me feel?
  8. Did it change my perspective?

Working on an experiential activation for the cannabis tech company Weedmaps, VIRTUE, Vice Media’s creative agency, wanted to create something that would outlive a typical campaign or pop-up. They created the Museum of Weed, meticulously curating and designing interactive exhibits, art installations, historical artefacts and more. The project shed light on the ties between cannabis prohibition and racially driven policies in hopes to drive advocacy and reform efforts. VIRTUE and Weedmaps looked broader than their specific brand and took on a whole industry, colorful history and all.

One thing is clear. How you choose to tell your story needs to be true to your brand. Consumers are smarter than you think and are ready for an innovative and positive change — and if they aren’t ready, enlighten them. In 2020, brand storytelling is about innovative strategies, and it’s also about the same thing it’s always been: authenticity.

Image courtesy of Sony Entertainment