How to shape the perfect brand story

What do Whittaker’s, The Warehouse and Air New Zealand have in common?

Other than being three iconic New Zealand brands, each has a penchant for story telling that engages their audience, generating a feeling of belonging amongst their audience and ‘turning spectators into supporters’.

Advertising as a tactic in and of itself is practically dead. Ads can’t be relied on, and studies have shown that people (Gen Z in particular) skip ads as much as possible, and that 74% of Netflix subscribers would rather cancel their subscription than watch an ad.

Luckily, traditional advertising isn’t the only way a brand can get in front of consumers. Marketers now have a multitude of channels and opportunities to use storytelling to engage their audience – and smart marketers are taking full advantage.

Countering claims that our attention span is waning, Maria Ryan-Young, Senior Manager Content, Strategy and Creative Services for Air New Zealand, argued that our attention span is actually getting better: “Consumers have the ability and desire to watch content that is important to them.”  But we’re also better at focusing that attention on things that bring us value:

The task for marketers then is to understand what it is about their brand that adds value to their customer lives, and how they can tell that story in an engaging way.


Don’t shout louder, shout smarter

I remember, well before Nigella came along as brand ambassador, Whittaker’s used to do these fantastic ‘Good honest chocolate’ ads to promote their peanut slabs. Even back then they understood the appeal of humour, and how their dedication to quality and honesty can work in their favour.

Caitlin Attenburrow, Brand Manager from Whittaker’s, confessed that Whittaker’s can’t compete on spend, so they have to compete on great creative, and came up with five pillars on which their marketing and story-telling would be based:

Inform, Motivate, Entertain, Salivation, and Chocolate craft. 

They five pillars then inform how they tell the stories of what makes their chocolate unique in their marketing – their creative flavour combinations, their dedication to sourcing the best possible ingredients from all over the world - which creates a truly decadent product - all the while being committed to maintaining a focus on quality. Just as they have since Whittaker’s was founded back in 1896.

They’re not telling us we should be trying their latest chocolate flavours (they let Nigella do that for them), but by taking us on the journey of how their chocolate is made, and evoking that feeling of decadence – we definitely want to.

Make love, not war 

One of my favourite quotes from the morning came from Jonathan Waecker, CMO of The Warehouse Group. He said that ‘with the power of story telling you move you from the war of marketing, to the seduction of marketing.’

Blatantly competing with rival brands by shouting louder, cutting prices or exulting the virtues of your ‘superior’ product doesn’t win you loyal customers. Rather, you want to reel them in with a story that engages them and evokes emotion. Brands who have invested in story telling have thrived and survived – even through recessions, showing that a compelling enough story is what sets you apart, and builds customer loyalty.

Ultimately, people won’t remember what you said, or what you did, but they will remember how you made them feel.


Stop talking about yourself

Finally, as much as we like to think that our brand sits at the centre of the universe we have to remember to not talk about ourselves too much. Rather, our stories need to show how we fit into our customer’s needs, and how our products enhance the customer’s journey. 

It’s also important to note that brave brands stop interrupting what consumers are interested in, and start being what they’re interested in. I can’t be the only one who’s gone onto YouTube to watch the latest Air New Zealand safety video, and not because I have a burning desire to learn more about in-flight safety.

As Maria reminded us, customers crave authenticity, they want brands to have a conscious. And the only way that we can communicate this with them is through telling our customers not what we do, but why we do it.

Qrious Brainy Breakfast Poll

For our poll we wanted to know what types of brand stories made New Zealanders more likely to align with a particular brand.

A third said that the story of ‘doing social good’ was important to them, followed by a quarter who said that it was ‘the small start-up taking on the Goliaths’. When you think about some of New Zealand’s most successful brands you can see that they embody these stories, Eat My Lunch and their dedication to giving back or Weta Workshop who took on Hollywood with their award-winning special effects.

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Interestingly, the two brands that got the most votes for ‘favourite brand’ in our follow up question - Whittaker’s and Air New Zealand - seem to embody elements of all four brand stories. It would seem then that brands that want to be successful will have to try to not just hit one of the story types, but multiple, in the brand stories they tell.

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