Brands need to engage through story living not just story telling

drowned_manThe marketing world has got pretty excited about the idea of brand storytelling over the last few years. More brands seem to have stories that they want to tell around their history, provenance, purpose etc.

The most compelling story I have come across recently is The Drowned Man, an immersive theatre experience by the Punch Drunk theatre group. I didn’t read this story. I didn’t hear this story. I actually found myself in this story. And, I totally got swept up in it.

In an enormous disused warehouse in west London we were asked to wear masks, and told not to speak at all during the three hour experience. We were also encouraged to ditch our friends. Consequently, we found ourselves swept up in a meta-narrative that unfolded to each of us in different snippets, scenes and sequences. It was an extraordinary experience of letting go and submitting to what ever happened next. When I regrouped with friends over dinner, we realized that each of us had experienced and participated in this story in unique ways, although we had all understood the same over-arching narrative.

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Do we need more great research, or more great thinking?


Brand and communication strategy nearly always has some type of consumer research at its heart. I am either observing it in real time with my clients (behind a one way mirror, in someone’s kitchen or via webcam), or conducting it for them.

The quality of research undoubtedly varies – from the downright robotic   (I will stick to the discussion guide at all costs) to the truly inspiring (I am committed to solving the bigger problem and will explore rich veins as they emerge).

In fact, Unilever initiated its much debated Qualitative Accreditation Program, because of the variance in qualitative researcher standards, and the consequent paucity of “new ideas and insights that serve to move the company forward.”

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