Five story-telling tips from Coca-Cola's top European marketer

When a brand commands the kind of awareness and attention that Coca-Cola does, marketers must find imaginative ways to keep winning over customers.

Javier Sanchez Lamelas: 'brands must be logical or emotional'
Javier Sanchez Lamelas: 'brands must be logical or emotional'

One of the most effective ways to boost emotional engagement for a brand is telling stories, according to Coca-Cola's EMEA marketing director, Javier Sanchez Lamelas.

Speaking at CXEdge 2015, Lamelas outlined his key tips for telling stories.

Humans are emotional and logical

Lamelas outlined a theory that humans have three brains – the instinctive, emotional and rational. The instinctive "reptilian" complex is the oldest part of the brain, responsible for primitive habits such as aggression and dominance to fight off predators.

The emotional "paleomammalian" brain comprises more complex emotions, like love or disgust,  while the rational "neomammalian complex", which is only present in mammals, enables long-term planning, analysis and self-awareness.

It’s worth noting that this "triune brain" theory is real, and was posited by American neuroscientist Paul D MacLean in the 1960s.

It has since been disproved – but according to Lamelas can still be a helpful framework for brands to determine whether they appeal to logic or emotions.

Brands must be emotional OR logical

Lamelas noted that good brands will position themselves along the emotion-logic axis. For example, Tesco associates itself with savings and variety and talks to people on those more rational terms.

He also pointed to the evolution of P&G-owned Tide, the detergent brand. The brand began with functional "Tide washes whiter" messages, but evolved to become much more emotive for the 2012 Olympic Games.

Coca-Cola, said Lamelas, also appeals to customer emotions. The brand never talks directly about refreshment, or even drinking, but happiness.

Other brands might defy their traditional placing on the emotion-logic axis. For example, a car ought to be a rational buy, but a brand like Tesla is so pricey that it has to appeal to the gut.

Find human insights

Good stories will always centre on a fundamental human truth, whatever the medium, according to Lamelas.

He said: "If you’re going to create a powerful piece of communication – a movie, piece of outdoor, or even website – you need to have insights.

"Insights are nothing else than observations about life that are self-evident in retrospect. They are the base of all good creativity."

Finding genuine, profound insights isn’t just a case of sitting down with a focus group and getting them to talk about their personal preferences and habits – because humans lie.

Lamelas said: "People don’t have a clue. There is a difference between what people say, what they think and what they do.

"If you go to a focus group and trust what people say, you’re going to end up with poor marketing. You need to get under the skin."

Solve a problem

The best way to convey a fundamental insight about a brand is to create a powerful story that will resonate.

Lamelas likens this to a form of seduction. Most people don’t fall in love with someone’s physical attributes, but rather their point of view and attitude to life. In the same way, creating a campaign that sells a product’s attributes is less interesting than one that tells a story.

He said: "Stories are the brain’s user manual, and even the rational brain likes stories. It’s much easier to get under people’s skin with a powerful story than with factual explanations."

That means thinking like a journalist or dramatist and creating a narrative arc, however simple. For Lamelas, that’s creating an appealing character who must solve a difficult problem, or else face catastrophic consequences.  

Digital storytelling is tough

The fragmentation of digital media means that it is much tougher to hold an audience’s attention through storytelling, said Lamelas. Inevitably, Facebook or YouTube’s "skip button" tends to be more appealing for a video ad, and marketers have yet to solve that problem.

Lamelas said: "The fight for the right environment is huge, and we haven’t cracked the code.

"There is a big prize for the marketer that finds the gold [method] for digital communications, storytelling and engagement."

Lamelas noted the rise of "high-impact messaging" to counteract consumers’ lack of attention – for example, Moneysupermarket’s 'Epic Strut'.

He said: "That dramatically increases the level of engagement and attention, but it does diminish the storytelling."

He noted that it may be a long time before marketers come up with an effective way to engage customers on digital, pointing to the fact that early TV ads were terrible.

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