If Tarantino told brand stories

Just as Pulp Fiction leapt out of sequence, the once linear purchase journey now has many possible beginnings, data-driven middles but, hopefully, the same ending

Devon...“We must work out how we can tell the full story even if people are arriving at chapters in a non-consecutive order”
Devon...“We must work out how we can tell the full story even if people are arriving at chapters in a non-consecutive order”

A person’s journey to buying a product used to be a linear story. It began with the seed of brand choice being sown by a witty, sun-drenched TV ad; carried on along a predictable path paved with snappily copywritten brochureware; and concluded with a charming sales call.

Today, the seed could be sown by anything from product placement in a Hollywood blockbuster to a vlogging feature shot in a shed in Margate. Brochures have been replaced by peer-review websites, and the buyer will probably make their decision all by themselves – popping out of nowhere and ordering with a demanding tap on their mobile.

So, how do we keep telling a coherent, crafted brand story in this chaotic, non-linear world? 

One thing that has become more predictable is the starting point of the buyer’s inbound journey – it will more than likely begin, then proceed, with Google searches. Our focus, then, becomes twofold. First, we have to decide which chapters make our story a complete narrative – ie. the content required to help potential buyers choose our product. And, second, we must work out how we can tell the full story even if people are arriving at chapters in a non-consecutive order (dependent on which question they’re asking today).

An internet search is an act of curiosity, so our chapters must answer people’s questions. Which X is the most reliable? What’s the best-value Y? Is Z good quality, or does it just look nice in the pictures? The queries are different for every product – but predictable, given the right data. We then craft a narrative, infused with the brand purpose, to answer what people are looking for. We must then create user experiences through the chapters, enabling people to find their way to the appropriate part and then on to the next one that they’ve not yet seen. Gradually feeding them a complete, if non-linear, story, on their terms.

At MBA, the work we do for Sage by Heston Blumenthal embraces non-linear online storytelling like a dear friend. Strategic PR relationships with press and online titles and food blogs mean Sage is talked about where serious foodies are reading. We also ensure content is out there to answer search queries. Our outreach programmes – to vloggers, for example – mean a search for reviews is greeted by articles from many informed third-party sources. Most importantly, Sage’s YouTube channel is packed with videos presented by Sage product experts, including Heston, so people can see the appliances in action and have any lingering doubts dispelled. 

People can begin the Sage story in whichever way suits them – whether reading about Sage on a blog, following on to a review and then to its YouTube channel; or starting with a search, following the pay-per-click ad or organic link and finding content on Sage’s own website. It doesn’t matter where they begin the story, so long as we offer the next page.

We’re applying the same thinking as we prepare to launch Investec’s new Click & Invest platform. With a purposeful overarching communications strategy and baked-in personalisation from the outset, we can ensure all the content necessary to help customers choose will be waiting for them, wherever their story starts.

Pulp Fiction is a splendid example of where a full narrative is presented in non-consecutive chapters. In a similar way, we can now tell brand stories on the buyer’s terms by writing the full narrative and then being prepared for them to access it whichever way they choose. Storytelling is now at the overlap of digital content, search and user-experience, all building towards the denouement: conversion. 

If you could get anyone to write (or direct) your story, who would it be? David Sedaris for the delicate balance of self-deprecation and sarcasm.
E-book or paper? E-book. I am indebted to the Kindle iPhone app, having forgotten to take a book to jury service.
What’s your favourite storytelling medium? Streaming TV series has taken up more hours than it probably should have done.
Best storyline you’ve seen in recent years? The examination of the lives of two hunters, Superintendent Stella Gibson and the serial killer Paul Spector, in The Fall was a treat.
Favourite twist in a story? I see dead people.

by James Devon, planning director, MBA

James leads MBA’s strategy unit, which incorporates account planning, data analysis, search strategy and UX. He also contributes to the IPA’s effectiveness work including #IPASocialWorks

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