I’ve had many interesting and thought-provoking conversations over the last few years as I'm speaking with potential clients. One of the subjects that seems to come up with companies that are business- as opposed to entertainment-focused, is that they are very skittish when it comes to the word “story”. “Story” (like the word “Metaverse”!) can mean so many things to so many people, and the fact is that I see story everywhere, even within the context of purely business initiatives. Here’s an example (brand details removed to protect confidentiality!):
Recently I was asked to develop a concept for an RFP from an unusual brand that called for an installation and an interactive experience during a game at a major sports stadium, with the strategic goal of educating fans about blockchain and encouraging them to engage with and purchase crypto currency.
What I knew about crypto currency, blockchain and the particular sport in question at that moment probably could have fit in a thimble! As always, I began with research and a list of questions:
Brand Guidelines: What is the brand’s look and feel? What is their core identity? How does this translate into the physical installation and what would that look like? How does the installation and potential signage feed into supporting the brand identity?
Strategy: How can we incentivize the target audience to download the brand’s app and engage with the brand? How can we retain audience interest in engaging not just at the venue, but over time? How do we build frictionless social media sharing into the experience to spread brand awareness?
Venue: Where is it? What does it look like?
User journey: How does the target audience find the installation? How do we make them feel that the venue is THE place to be? How can we engage them not just pre-game but also in game and post-game? How can we connect them to the brand at an emotional level?
The tech: How can we tie the app into the physical location? How can we gamify the experience so that the users will return to the app between games. How can we make downloading the app a completely frictionless experience?
The educational component: How do we create an experience that is both fun and educational that will resonate with our target audience? How do we make them feel that crypto currency is simple to understand and encourage them to get their feet wet? How can we make it accessible?
It’s the answer to all these questions (and more that come up along the way) that begin to weave into a story for me, and which in fact is the user experience. It led me and the team to think of 30-second episodic videos that roll out over a series of home games, videos that explain blockchain through sport analogies. It made us think of tying the information from those videos into a trivia game with swag rewards during pauses in the games themselves. We thought of QR codes on the back of all the seats in the stadium to download the brand’s app, of AR selfie filters that can be posted with a tap (a different one for each game – collect them all!). We thought of how the initial contact at the venue should be a human connection – a real person to draw you into learning about crypto currency, a facilitator who helps you download the app and create your wallet. What about in-venue incentives to download the app – perhaps a free beer from one of the brand’s partners. And a live DJ to pump up the party… and more.
I find the path of putting together the answers to each project’s individual questions challenging and exciting. I enjoy the problem-solving that comes with each client’s specific strategies and goals, with their opportunities and constraints. And yes, I enjoy weaving all these components into a story that will engage the target audience, because “story” is what speaks to us all as human beings. It allows us to connect with brands and experiences at an emotional level.
At the end of the day, “story” can be called the user journey, or the core message, or the strategic goal. It can be verbal or non-verbal. It can use tech, be hybrid, or involve user generated content.
And whether you use the word “story” or not, every consumer, guest or audience member wants the brand interaction to resonate with them specifically. The question they ask, often on a sub-conscious level, is this: How does this experience fit into my own personal story?
To answer the question in my title - use it! Story is what makes brand experiences stronger!