Chris McGuire - Guest Author
I still remember the sense of disappointment.
It was real, tangible, I could actually taste it. Those distant mornings, in the late 80s and early 90s when I’d sit down at the breakfast table to discover my parents had bought the shop’s own-brand cereal, instead of the market leader with it’s garish cartoon and eminently hummable jingle.
These days, as a parent myself, I’m fully aware that one brand of puffed rice is pretty much the same as another – the only tangible difference being price. Yet, my 9-year-old self didn’t care about money. To be honest, I don’t think I cared that much about the actual cereal that tumbled into my bowl. What so irked me was that, by avoiding the market leader (not that I would have described it as such), I felt totally excluded from the narrative that had been so perfectly crafted by the cereal company.
Why am I talking about cereal?
Because cereal shows us that being ‘good’ isn’t, frankly, good enough. Customers expect things to be good – it’s not a selling point. When you put a key in a car ignition you expect the vehicle to start. When you open a packet of crisps you expect the content to be, well, ‘crispy’. When you download a Michael Bublé album you expect enough to cheese to fill Cheddar Gorge. Doing what is expected is simply not enough to form a bond between a customer and a brand. If it had been enough then my younger self would have been thrilled with the generic supermarket brand puffs purchased by my thrifty parents.
Why is story so important?
So often we define ourselves, what it means to be us, in relation to other people and the narratives that they portray. You could call this a process of self-actualization, where we literally create ourselves in relation to the stories that we buy into, and those we don’t. This isn’t a new thing. A sense of self-definition has been happening, in relation to religious narratives and those ascribed to geographical communities, for as long as people have been communicating.
I AM ME BECAUSE I'M NOT THEM.
I'M THE TYPE OF PERSON I AM BECAUSE I BELIEVE IN THIS RELIGION.
I'M THE WAY I AM BECAUSE I'M FROM THIS PLACE.
These are all narratives, stories that give us definition. They make us feel included, understood.
Today, as many narratives fade – those of religion, class etc. – others come to the fore. We define ourselves by the choices we make, often through attaching ourselves to commercial narratives that reflect our own sense of self.
Saying: “I’m a Mac person” is to align with a story that’s almost universally understood. This person sees themselves as modern in attitude, technologically astute, not one of the crowd, a maverick. That an exceptionally large percentage of the population now ALL see themselves as mavericks is neither here nor there. These narratives don’t come about by accident, big business understands that the tale they portray often matters MORE than the product. Just like the generic cereal that so upset me as a child, it’s all about the story. Personally, I could get another (cheaper) phone that does much the same as my trusty iPhone, but like the non-brand puffed rice, it wouldn’t hold the same thrill. It’s the STORY that Apple is so adept at telling that interests me, probably more than the product. As a consumer, I want to be part of that story.
A business doesn’t have to be a huge multi-national for the cultivation of a compelling story to be important. A good narrative, one that will engage with a chosen demographic, is vital for any organization trying to show they’re not just another bowl of generic cereal.
As a consumer, I want to believe that I make good choice. Because, like it or not, these decisions reflect upon me, and how I feel about myself. I want to be interacting with brands that fit in with my own personal story.
When I choose to use a good or service their story becomes part of mine and vice versa. If two businesses offer a similar product then I’ll choose whichever gives me a story that fits in best with how I look at life, it’s as simple as that. Even if that means paying a little bit more – the cereal and iPhone both show this to be true.
*I don’t, but I imagine that you probably would.
You do. Not all tales are of knights in shining armour. Not every business is a start-up to global giant biopic movie waiting to happen. What they do all have is a narrative. They may be diamonds in the rough, but they all have a story to be crafted.
What do I mean by that?
It’s all about looking at a business, or enterprise, and bringing out the elements that are pleasing. Those parts that raise a smile and feel like a window onto how the world should be (even if it’s not). A gut feeling can be relied upon to take anyone who’s really looking to the part of the story that’s been overlooked. Something to be celebrated.
Is there a quiet genius in your backroom plodding away on innovating new product lines?
Your customers would love to hear about them.
Do you have a dedicated member of staff who’s done things the same way for generations? I’m reminded of ‘Trigger’s Broom’ in Only Fools and Horses, where the street sweeper kept the ‘same’ broom for decades – he’d replaced the head 3 times and the handle 4!
They’re a tale waiting to be told!
Do you only source your product in a certain way, known only be you, to an established philosophy? Share it with your customers!
These curated tales of brands and businesses come together to make my culture – they mean a lot to me because I have actively decided to be part of their wider narratives. When I talk to companies about drawing out the best of what they do, after an initial period of head scratching on their behalf, the stories start to flow. It’s a joyous feeling, like sitting around a campfire – telling tales in the flickering firelight. I often think it’s the type of occasion that could do with marshmallows…
…or maybe a (leading brand) bowl of cereal or two.
MEET OUR GUEST AUTHOR.
Chris McGuire is a writer who loves to explore the stories that will help businesses and organizations connect and engage with the world.