I wrote recently about the concept of Narrative IdentityWhat it means for brands (This blog post can be accessed here.
Narrative Identity can be described as the life story we tell to give our lives meaning and purpose. We are all creators of our own myths — myths that give meaning to who we are in the world.
Every day, we work to bring together our experiences and create a life story that makes sense.
Roles Brands Play
Our Narrative Identity is built around the most meaningful brands. They help us to fix the inconsistencies in our stories. They are written into our personal narratives to help make us the characters we want in our lives’ stories.
Our stories are just like a movie. They have characters, settings, and props. We also incorporate brands in our stories in one or more of these ways.
- Characters: Brands are characters that can play supporting roles in our stories.
- Props: These can be props we use to help us move along our plotlines.
- Settings: These can be sets, stages, or backdrops against whom we perform the stories that define our identities.
In marketing research, we often ask consumers to “personify” brands, that is describe them as if they are people. This is usually easy for consumers. This is because we intuitively see brands as characters in our lives.
Over the years, I’ve gotten into the habit of sticking a Clif ® Bar into my pocket when I ski. I’m not a back country skier by any stretch. There’s little chance that I’m going to ski anywhere far from a mid-mountain restaurant.
But Clif Bar is always in my hand. Why? It’s because the Clif Bar is a character in my story. It is my partner in backcountry skiing. He is adventurous, skilled, and passionate about the mountains. I’d love to ski with someone like that. With my Clif Bar, I can.
Brands can also serve as props that allow us to tell our stories. The best brand-props can be TransformativeThey can be used in a variety of ways. They allow us access to a different part and play a slightly different part in our stories.
In the movies, the kinds of props I’m talking about are like Harry Potter’s wand, Katness’s bow and Luke’s lightsaber. For us everyday people, brands are our transformative tool.
My Gibson Les Paul guitar is one brand prop.
I believe we all have a personal myth about ourselves being cool. This is especially true as we age. (This is more myth than reality for my eyes)
My laptop background actually features a picture of my Gibson. Why did I choose this background? I’m usually the only one who sees that screen. I think it’s because I like to incorporate that guitar into my daily narrative. It allows me to tell myself each day that I’m a little younger, a little cooler than I might appear.
Brands can also be used as scenes, contexts or settings in our stories to make it easier to play certain roles.
Delta Airlines offers me some status, which allows me to board early as well as getting upgraded occasionally. Although I don’t like to admit it I enjoy the feeling of boarding first class and getting there early. Not just because it’s convenient and more comfortable, but because it reaffirms something important about my identity — that I’m important in my world, that I have status and that I’m successful.
I may try to write the same storyline when I fly Southwest Airlines — but it’s a little harder to do. The Southwest setting doesn’t fit the story I’m trying to tell myself. I have to do a little mental editing to make my identity as “Successful Entrepreneur” fit the facts when I board a Southwest flight.
Ask yourself these questions.
Is your brand a Character, Prop or Setting in your consumers’ life story? If the answer is “no,” begin to think how it could be. Think of the role your brand could play and put your brand on a path to becoming an indispensable part of your consumers’ Narrative Identity.
Let me hear your thoughts.