Narrative space | storytelling for brands who understand ‘Us’ – step-by-step example

By Limor Shiponi

I can’t tell you which brand we’ll be looking at but I can tell you it is an international brand who sells mainly to women of most ages. Their offer is glamorous, fantastic in a way, somewhat nostalgic. Their stuff is well recognized, the brand is strong.

Back story

So I get this phone call to come and meet the CEO who is also the creator of all the brand’s products. When I arrive and after necessary greetings and chats I’m presented with a product I’ve never seen from this brand before. The product created an immediate inner echo, a reaction.

Note down: what you sell is part of the narrative of your brand. How people react to it spontaneously is also part of the same narrative.

I asked why I was requested to come. The reply was “I don’t know this product’s story. I’ve created it, I can tell you how and why, what I think it is good for, but I’m searching my brain for the deeper story and I can’t find it.” I asked to listen to what was known. I got the story about how it happened, where the idea came from, what they thought it is good for and who they think should pay for it, who they think should use it (buyer, user).

Note down: all the background information is relevant and part of the narrative. You need to know it even if you will not use it. It creates depth for the narrative space.

I asked to know how they work, how they create. I received a guided tour through their studious, got to meet the people who do the actual work, got to observe processes, materials, equipment and atmosphere. I was exposed to the way they come up with new ideas, their present doings and future dreams, business data about the way the brand is received in different parts of the world. By the end of the tour I had a lot of ideas and information to take back home with me.

Note down: products and services don’t come from nowhere. They too have a background and a future. You want to be aware of as many details as possible and even more if their market is spread out.

Notice many characters are involved here. Characters create brands. Characters are those we create the narrative space for. It’s about people – the brand’s people, the clients, the investors, the makers, the dreamers – people.

Going to work

Back home I called The Story Telling Company’s team. We met and I told them all the story in great detail. I showed them the product (a series really) and told them the CEO was looking for it’s story. Obviously, the story was needed for marketing. Here I need to insert a little note about how we work – we talk, we tell stories that come up to each other, we converse, we never write anything down until we are sure we’ve got the story. If we can’t carry it easily, it’s not worth telling and no one else will remember it.

Note down: in the world of ‘us’ we have to consider ‘us’ – the story, the teller and the listener whom we hope will become the teller that will carry on the story elsewhere. We need to consider the story as ‘us’ too. If we will give it a difficult life, it will die. Nobody will want to tell it or use it in any way.

So eventually we came up with the understanding and the idea these products were about a theme connected to exploring deep femininity and presenting it as wonder. We came up with the image of Wunderkammer. What’s that? well, it’s worth checking but obviously if you don’t know, many others don’t either. Many creative ideas are like that since they are elicited by creative people but that’s not very workable for the common customer, is it?

Note down: Storytellers look for deep themes that occupy people since the dawn of humanity and will never seize to be “an issue”. Themes are connected to our very existence and they are rooted deeply into our being.

Themes need to materialize into something the senses can capture or else they are too wide, unclear and a good bedding for misconceptions and blabber, inaccurate. Storytelling meets the listener accurately in a way every new word focuses the picture. It will never be the same picture for everyone but it will make the listener focus on the picture he is creating in his imagination. In this case the materialization appeared in the form of feminine Wunderkammer.

Back to the CEO, this time to tell her the deep story about what she was doing. She listened closely and when I was done she went into what seemed like an inner scanning process. After a minute she started asking questions – curious and surprised. I could tell we hit the spot.

Note down: just like the spontaneous reactions to a product, spontaneous reactions by the characters of the brand to it’s stories are a necessary part of the narrative if you’re trying to go the storytelling way. If they don’t appear, you’ve missed something deeper you could find. Go and look again.

Then she suddenly realized this story could not be told. It was too personal, too deep and something customers might not be prepared for. Yet choosing a single plot seemed not plausible enough, now when it was obvious there was so much more there for so many kinds of ears.

This was where I presented the idea of narrative space:

  • We know many parts of the narrative
  • We made deep sense out of them
  • We found out the sense-making outcome echoed with the characters that created the products within that narrative
  • Looking at the other characters who already know many parts of that narrative but not all of them yet, we want to create a path of acquaintance.
  • We want to invite them in to explore without telling them what exactly (which would be a single brand-story).
  • That way we could see how they sense-make and where they settle. What they call the brand and how they tell it’s little plots to others.

Action: we created one tiny bit-of-a-plot for each product. The tiny plots were attached to the products and presented that way in the shops. Each tiny-plot felt as if we dipped the product into the narrative, let them sniff each other and brought the tiny plot out for polishing.

The outcome: intriguing mostly. It made customers stand next to the shelf and wonder. They looked a little detached as if they were in story-land although a story was never told. They wanted to read all the little pieces of paper as if they would figure out something when they’ve gone through all of them – but they couldn’t figure out ONE something. Their minds just went on and on sense-making for themselves – which is always the best story 🙂

The story about those products spread out among women of all ages. The items themselves are expensive – which turned into another part of the narrative together with “but what you get from them is priceless. It’s like trying to give a price to your secret thoughts – it’s impossible so you just settle for something reasonable.”

Note down: value pricing is relevant if the customer finds value. It’s done by them while walking through the narrative space until they figure out the one story they want to listen to – which the brand never told. But THAT’s the story, not the plots we told.

Narrative space is about throwing spotlights into a narrative and creating many incomplete plots that will create an environment for the customers to walk through. We want THEM to come up with the story that will echo with THEM and therefore will tell it willingly to others. Every time they’ll tell it they’ll adjust it to the specific telling – feeling free of any one-story obligation. The narrative will improve constantly as we (those who create the brand’s plots) can become more and more accurate about marketing messages, business decisions and anything else we can gain from listening to what’s going on in the narrative space.

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