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To Succeed As An Experience Business, Find The Heart Of Your Story

Let’s face it: The world of advertising and marketing used to be much simpler. How we talked to our target markets was clearer: Customers came to us, and we simply focused on developing the right messaging. Now, the landscape has changed dramatically. We’re all trying to find the best way to reach the viewers where they are. Marketing ROI has become a vague target, where measurement and calls to action are murky, at best.

Welcome to the future of the experience business.

I sit viewing this from a unique position. Half of my career has been spent on the in-house brand side, launching and growing brands and product lines. The other half has been on the vendor side, in a creative studio, with advertising agencies and movie studios as our main clients. This has provided me with a front-row seat to the evolution, and growing confusion, in our world.

What I’ve seen is that, with the emergence of so many new modes of communication and channels, our brand and product stories have become splintered. Early efforts to treat these interactive platforms as any other advertisement have devolved into brands simply reacting to the resulting conversations. Where the channels of communication were once tools, they are now essentially driving the narrative. Brands are struggling to use these channels both effectively and in unison to achieve maximum results and truly succeed at this digital transformation.

My experience on the internal brand team at Bedrock Manufacturing—the company behind brands such as Shinola and Filson—has helped me gain a much clearer perspective on how to best harness all of a brand’s avenues. We took a decidedly nontraditional approach to launching and evolving brands, considering the usual communication tools to be oversaturated and underperforming. So we went to work to find the best way to communicate who we were to the right people.

Cause-related brands were the first to truly harness these methods. They had a story to tell that had meaning and impact, and nontraditional media was the only place they could afford to communicate. At Bedrock, we learned a great deal from studying this methodology. Always at the core was a compelling story that engaged people.

The new solution for a new paradigm begins with an understanding that it’s not just about the channels. It’s about rethinking the very core of what we’re feeding into those channels. The bite-sized morsels of magazine ads, billboards, and 30-second TV spots are no longer enough and don’t really apply in the new digital world. The consumer is looking for a compelling narrative—a story that grabs and holds their attention. As a result, what becomes critical is developing a narrative that’s robust enough to fuel all forms of communication. We’re not talking about ad campaigns here; we’re talking about being able to communicate who we are in a way that will resonate deeply with the viewer, creating a lasting impression and relationship with the brand.

We must learn to think about our brands not just as a collection of logos, colors, fonts, messages, products, and ads, but as engaging stories that connect with viewers in the same manner as does a good book or movie. We have to find a way to communicate the heart of our brands. Once we have that heart, we can then plan the strategic rollout of an integrated brand narrative, in which each channel supports and confirms the other. Always at the forefront is reinforcing the central brand narrative.

The problem is, not all agencies truly understand this or even know how to create a brand narrative. Those that do can’t necessarily create a strategic rollout that minimizes costs while maximizing reach. We see so much money wasted by using a variety of vendors that aren’t communicating with each other and often have their own agendas. As a result, the same assets are created over and over again, as project-by-project solutions are implemented, creating expensive and disjointed executions.

Experience tells me that brands, first, need to get a firm grasp on their own stories. This is not an easy task, so, as brands seek solutions, it’s important they look for vendor partners that think in terms of narratives, and not just ads. It’s also important to find partners that will fiercely protect this story, and not just look for quick ways to exploit it on social media. And, finally, brands need to look for partners that can build the world that flows from the story—a world that is efficient, integrated, effective, and built for the long term. In other words, brands need to find partners who will care about their story as much, if not more, than they do. 

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