The brand and the culture you build are inextricably linked to the experience you deliver to your end consumer. That experience can be unbelievably positive. But it can also be catastrophically negative. The good news is that you have control over how that narrative unfolds. All you have to do is start with the end of the story in mind and build the brand and culture that will bring about the result you want.
When Avengers: End Game hit theaters in April 2019, it brought an end to Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and concluded the most extraordinary, interconnected run in the history of the movies. Think of any cinematic touchstone in your lifetime. From a financial standpoint, from a technological standpoint or from a branding standpoint, there’s never been anything quite like the 22-film tapestry that comprised the MCU. Ironically, the only things even to come close in their breadth, quality of production, and number of rabid fans are Game of Thrones and Star Wars, which also concluded their runs in 2019.
There’s no better way to describe the MCU, Game of Thrones and Star Wars than by calling them phenomena. And while it would be easy to characterize all three series as geeky fantasy, the truth is they didn’t get where they are just because of the Comic-Con crowd. They flourished because they captured the rest of us, making those who wouldn’t ordinarily pay attention sit up and take notice. How? By picturing their ultimate end game experience and then building the brands that could deliver it.
Their box office and ratings were astounding, and there’s not a brand on the planet that wouldn’t love to have the success and fan loyalty these franchises command. But consider this: In 1975, George Lucas’s claim to fame was a love letter to the ’50s called American Graffiti. In 2007, the MCU only existed in comic books. In 2010, A Game of Thrones was a single book in the fantasy section of the bookstore. Once upon a time, these behemoths were all challenger brands. But they started with the end in mind and a vision for what they wanted to be and what they wanted to deliver to the consumer.
That’s not to say all the details were planned out because, clearly, they weren’t. But each of these franchises knew the customer experience they wanted to deliver and then built their brands accordingly. All three took different and circuitous routes to success. But if you look closely, you can see they all leaned hard into five tenets of challenger branding that ultimately set them apart from everything else that looked or felt remotely like them.
These tenets aren’t tied to fantasy or science fiction or even filmmaking. They’re five challenger brand pillars that can serve any brand well. All it takes is having the forethought, courage and discipline to see them through.
Start With Great Storytelling
With the media you have at your fingertips, there’s never been a better time to tell broad, fantastic, integrated stories. And yet, for most brands, story is an afterthought. Or worse, a never thought. If you truly want to connect with your customers, tell great stories in smart, touching, funny, dramatic, engaging ways. That goes for the brand itself and, if you’re a marketer, for the advertising you create. Engaging storytelling is the most ancient and effective method we have to connect people. Tell your story well and people will notice. They’ll connect. And most importantly, they’ll remember.
Think Ahead and Plan Accordingly
Whether it’s due to timing, budget or lack of imagination, most brands shy away from broad, coordinated campaigns and production, opting instead to produce single spots — or, at best, limited campaigns that rarely build on each other. Like compound interest in financing, great ideas that advance an intriguing narrative are far more lucrative than ones that are simply one and done. Think in interactive campaigns rather than spots and your impact could be exponential.
Remember That Love Makes The Brand Go Around
Literally millions of people know about the Marvel Universe, Game of Thrones, and Star Wars who’ve never seen a single episode or film. Why? Because those brands have intersected all of our lives in numerous and unexpected places. In part, that’s due to smart licensing and brand crossover (have you had the Game of Thrones Oreos?) But the bigger reason is that, early on, fans connected with these franchises because of story, character, production and humor. Lovers of these brands felt a sense of community, took ownership and became a PR machine 100 million strong. Brand lovers become loyalists, and loyalists become evangelists. Give your customers authentic reasons to love you and they will. Then they’ll tell everybody they know how much.
Make an Emotional Connection
Is it harder to evoke emotion in a 30-second TV commercial, a magazine print ad, or a brand website than a two-hour movie? Sure. But for too many brands, that’s become an excuse to stop trying. Tapping into genuine emotion is what binds us together as human beings. In truth, it might be the only thing. When we experience the world in a way that makes us feel — happy, sad, amused or heartbroken — that experience chemically implants the experience in our brain. That’s why we can all remember exactly where we were the morning of 9/11 or how we felt the moment our children were born. Brands that evoke emotion have the same power.
Anchor The Brand in Real Life Experiences
By definition, fantasy is anything but real. As much as we might want, none of us can fly or ride a dragon or wield a lightsaber apart from in our imaginations. But that’s why we watch. We love seeing those things on screen. They’re fun and amazing and all part of our temporary departure from the real world. But they’re also only half of the equation. The reason Marvel, Game of Thrones, and Star Wars are what they are is because, at their core, they’re grounded in humanity. They’re steeped in real life experience, and because of that, we see ourselves in them.
Smart branding works the same way. Great creativity grounded in real life experience — love, hate, life, death, argument, resolution, thoughtfulness, care, loneliness, redemption — helps people connect the dots. It grounds your brand in something familiar, and it holds up a mirror that allows people to see themselves. Like running into a good friend, people pay attention to what they recognize. They stop, focus and trade their most precious commodity — time — for a moment of connection. Start with the end of the story in mind to create genuine brand loyalty.short url: