In our last post, The role of conflict in brand storytelling, we briefly touched upon the basic elements of story: character, setting, plot, conflict, resolution, and meaning. Today, we’re going to explore setting as a key aspect of brand storytelling.
In narrative, setting is the backdrop for all the action. It sets the mood and emotional temperature of the story. It provides context for the unfolding action. And, crucially, it determines what belongs inside the story and what doesn’t. For instance, a prehistoric setting wouldn’t logically include a visitation from a spaceship unless that story was The Jetsons Meet the Flintstones crossover episode (children of the 80s know what we’re talking about).
Setting determines the world that the characters inhabit. This is why step two in Truss’ brand building methodology (see: The Truss Method) is Create a World.
What we mean by world is the multi-sensory experience that you can invite customers into that supports the story they would like to live out. It’s a collection of tangible and intangible touchstones that speak to your customers’ values, pique their interests, and help them feel at home. It’s how your brand shows up in the real world.
The process of defining these touchstones is traditionally called branding. But many marketers too narrowly define branding as the creation of a logo, color palettes, and guidelines for typography, photography, and art. While these are important elements, we like to encourage our clients to take a more expansive view of branding. In traditional storytelling this is called exposition. As long as the story continues, the storyteller continues to add color, texture, detail, and context to the setting. Over time the world they create becomes so specific in the reader’s mind that it’s practically a character unto itself. Similarly, this is what the world’s most iconic brands achieve. A world so specifically “them,” that the brand is recognizable without so much as seeing a name or logo.
So how can you create this kind of a world for your brand and customers? Here are some practices and ideas to get you started:
Invest in brand guidelines.
When done well, a formal branding process gives you incredible brand clarity. But over time that sense of brand starts to get fuzzy as more people create on its behalf. This is where guidelines are helpful. Many people view them as optional, but they shouldn’t. Guidelines are how you codify what belongs inside your brand story and what doesn’t. And they’re not just for visual elements. You can determine brand guidelines for your writing and tone of voice, customer service and support, and point of purchase or retail experiences, to name a few.
Think multi-sensory and experiential.
When you are creating a world for your customer to dwell in, the sky’s the limit as far as things that can be filtered through the brand lens. A great question to ask yourself is, how would my brand show up as a pop-up store? As a launch party? As a spokesperson? As a hold message? As a website chat bot? As a swag bag? As a mobile app? As an internal staff memo? Everything you do is an opportunity to enhance the world you create for your customer and other brand stakeholders.
Keep at it.
Branding isn’t a one-and-done exercise. Strategy + time + consistency is the magic formula that produces brand meaning. When you’re tempted by trends or boredom to veer from the story you’re creating, double down on your brand. Add another layer of detail and specificity to the story. Before you know it, it’ll be a place your customer will want to call its own.