How to effectively change consumer behavior through brand storytelling

How to effectively change consumer behavior through brand storytelling

A couple of months ago I wrote a post here about brand storytelling personas.

In it I lay out three persona categories all brands fall into: reinforcer, supporter and challenger. Each persona offers its own unique set of challenges and opportunities, and best “fit” depends on the individual organization, it’s targeted consumers and the industry it operates in.

I dig into the details of the reinforcer and supporter personas in my last post, but felt the challenger person—the trickiest in many ways to conquer successfully—required a post of it’s on. So voila! Here it is.

Brand Storytelling Personas: Why They Matter

First, a recap—why the heck do I care about brand personas?

Well, because everyone sees the world through a slightly different lens or filter (especially if you Instagram that world view—joking…well sort of). As a brand trying to tell stories that resonate with your target consumer, you must tell them in a way that somehow makes sense through the particular lens you consumer looks through. Otherwise that connection you aim to make through brand storytelling will fall flat.

The choice in brand storytelling persona is essentially the angle you take to engage your consumer. Do you reinforce their worldview? Do you support it? Or do you challenge it?  All can be effective depending on who you are, who you are talking to, and what you want them to do.

Challenger Brands: Organizations of Mass Disruption

Challenger brands challenge their target consumers’ world view. They ask them to question their preconceptions and behaviors and then offer a replacement. Needless to say, these are often the most difficult messages to push forward and the challenger persona only works effectively for a select group of organizations.

Fundamentally people don’t like to have their view of the world questioned or “challenged.”

This is why we choose to listen to certain news stations, read certain blogs and are friends with certain people. They reinforce our view of the world, back-up our beliefs, and keep our preconceptions orderly and intact. This is called “homophily,” which we will discuss more in a second.

Add in social media algorithms that prioritize posts and what we see our news feeds based on what we like and comment on, and you have a situation which perpetuates a false-consensus—which then reinforces the believe our view is the only view.

Dun du duaaaa…enter the challenger brand. Here to rock your world.

Brand Storytelling as a Challenger

Challenger personas are most appropriate for organizations who can use the challenge as part of their point of differentiation or are innovations which bring something very new to the market and purchase decision requires a behavior change.

A challenger persona is also be effective for a brand whose target audience prides themselves on going against the status quo or counter-culture behaviors. The challenge itself is part of their world view so engaging for them in and of itself (although the danger of basing success on a consumer like this is the tendency they’ll also abandon you for the next new big thing when it comes along….and it will).

Language must be exceptionally well targeted and the call to action must engage through an inspirational challenge messaging vs. a combative one.

Overcome The Backfire Effect

The backfire effect is the tendency for someone to feel strengthened in their beliefs (vs. question them) when they are challenged.

Facts, figures, statistics, charts, graphs, testimonials….it doesn’t matter.

People who don’t want to change their beliefs won’t.

And in fact they will be even more strengthened in the fact their worldview and opinion is the one and only right choice. This is especially true coming from a brand who is seen as an “outsider.”

And thus is a consequence of homophily, which we mentioned earlier. Homophily literally means “love of the same.” We tend to associate with those similar to us, who think in the same way we do. We trust those who appear to be part of our clan and are influenced by their choices and beliefs (both those that align with ours and those that differ).

Enter brand storytelling.

Brand storytelling gives us the ability to re-position our organization as an “insider” vs. “outsider” in the stories we tell. This is true for all the brand storytelling personas, and especially important for challengers.

People will always block out change if it comes from an outsider, they’ll consider it if it comes from someone who is part of their own tribe. This is the only way to overcome the backfire effect.

Be Part of Your Consumer’s Tribe

To avoid automatic rejection you must choose representatives, language, and outreach channels your target consumer feels comfortable with.  

Apple is a great example of successful application of this process. Starting with their Mac vs. PC campaign, they position themselves as part of the target consumer group they were trying to reach.

In addition, that persona was one that represented a trail blazer. Someone who defied convention and pushed the status quo. Messaging that aligned perfectly with their target consumer group and the behavior change they were aiming to motivate.

You might not have an Apple sized budget, but you do have the ability to do the same through brand storytelling as part of an integrated communications plan.

Tactics that will be valuable for you:

  • Influencer relations: Pay close attention to who the real influencers are for your community. These might not always be big names.

  • Community building

  • Word of Mouth Marketing

  • Ambassador programs

Understanding homophily and the backfire effect is not just important for Challenger brands. It’s necessary to consider for all organizations as you create an effective communication strategy.

What other organizations do you know who do this well?

Laura Petrolino is director or operations for Arment Dietrich, a integrated communications firm, as well as their award winning PR and communications blog Spin Sucks. Connect with her on Twitter @lkpetrolino

Photo: Typewriter via Shutterstock

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