Good brands tell stories. Great brands help customers write their own narratives.

Humans have a fundamental drive to find meaning. We live our lives in the form of narratives. Stories allow us to organize and remember events in a coherent fashion. They give us a sense of predictability over our lives (Pennebaker & Seagal, 1999). Not only do we try to make sense of our lives by forming a narrative of them, we also organize our lives to conform to that narrative. 

Brands can play a pivotal role in constructing our social identities. A brand name may signal our identity to the world, add social meaning and help define us within our social groups and also as unique individuals. Whether we wear Gucci, Gap, or Hanes to the party and arrive by Escalade, Prius, Harley, or a Huffy bicycle - these brand choices implicitly and automatically convey our social image. Even NOT choosing a brand portrays an image.

“Consumers care about a brand story insofar as it enhances their own story.”

Brands Create Social Identity & Provide Meaning

  1. Sense-making. Customers simply want to make sense of their life experiences. Stories serve as the cohesive glue which binds together disparate information so it may be more easily remembered. Stories simplify complexity and help people extract meaning from a chaotic world.
  2. Provide Purpose. Purpose connects our present to our futures. It is the motivational force that stimulates goals, manages our behaviors and provides a sense of meaning. People want to perceive their current activities in relation to their future outcomes.
  3. Significance. When customers look back at their life decisions they want to see and feel value having lived their life.

3 Features of Successful Narratives & Meaning Making

Brands should drive individual sense-making. From the brand perspective it is all about helping consumers connect dots in their lives. Brands need to fit their stories within customers’ narratives, providing stepping stones from one purchase to the next.

  1. Remove Consumption Complexity: Remove confusion, complexity and challenge in the consumption process. Customers do not want to feel like life is putting together an IKEA table. Make the shopping experience, the communication and consumption cognitively fluent. Generally speaking, the less thinking, the better.
  2. Customer-Oriented Stories: Help consumers connect the dots between their lives and the brand and products. Stories should structure, organize and sequence the narrative trajectory of a customer. For example, brands can connect the past (nostalgia) with current product consumption to future aspirations, goals, and meaning. 
  3. Brand Synergies: A customer’s social identity is made up of multiple brand choices. For example, one may go big with Gucci clothing but grocery shop at Walmart. The point is, brands should identify and segment not only their customers but connect the dots with broader brand consumption patterns to reveal true identities and where customers cultivate meaning. 

KEY TAKEAWAY: Customers reside at the epicenter of storytelling. The extent to which a brand can help customers cultivate meaning in his/her broader life by purchasing, consuming and sharing your brand and products the stronger your storytelling will resonate.