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Most Brand Communication fails. Why?

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

Most Brand Communication fails. Why? And what can we do about it?

The majority of brand communication campaigns we see today is designed to spoon-feed some sort of “meaning” to a target audience, often in the hope of activating a fast, impulse-driven response.

Which is a futile battle, because almost all brand communication today is prettily packaged information, but not 'meaning'.

Information is NOT Meaning

Information can only TRIGGER meaning, which in turn is only possible if the brand understands the target audience’s personal narratives and identity benchmarks that filter and extract personally relevant meaning from the information conveyed.

The Importance of Narrative Sync Points in Communication

Which means brand and communication managers must create content with “Narrative Sync-Points” that latch on to a target audience’s Personal Narrative.

If a brand talks about “care”, for instance (and so many do), slickly packaged but shallow in meaning, it runs the immediate risk of being perceived as condescending and pitying (trust me, that happens to more than 75% of brands who adopt the ‘care’ theme), instead of triggering meaning that activates, for instance, a sense of care I experienced during a previous life stage and which I long to re-activate, such as the feel of protecting vulnerabilities I sustained long ago and which keep haunting me.

Which means that brand communication must be designed to activate a specific meaning that is part of the customer’s personal narrative and sense of identity.

The meaning triggered by well-informed and savvily designed communication impacts the customers mind and induces a desired behavioral reaction (such as choosing your brand over another one). Remember, though: it's the meaning that is triggerd, never the information itself.

In China, for instance, we have been observing that today almost none of the foreign brands operating there, established or new, manage to trigger meaning that impacts their Chinese consumers’ mindsets and behavior towards the brand – leading to evaporating brand equity and, in many cases, an ultimately futile struggle for survival.

What is a ‘Personal Narrative’?

It’s a person’s worldview and sense of identity. It harbors inner tensions, needs and aspirations. Personal narrative is the creator and administrator of ‘meaning’: my accumulated understanding of the meaning of (my) life, of other people in my life, of my chosen lifestyle, and, of course, the meaning attached to brands and products (or lack thereof).

Recognizing Narrative Layers

This meaning-making process is in perpetual re-editing mode that runs subtly below the surface, a process that commands huge impact on how the individual decodes and interprets all incoming information. As we pointed out in a previous article on our blog, there are three layers of personal narrative: ‘National Narrative’, ‘Cultural Narrative’and ‘Self Narrative’.

For every human being on this planet, the Self Narrative layer carries strongest weight, the Cultural Narrative defines the influential context, while the National Narrative layer fluctuates in importance; it matters more to a Chinese consumer than, let’s say, someone in Germany.

Those narrative layers work as “meaning filters” that categorize information against personalidentity benchmarks: the information gets dismissed or accepted and evaluated against those benchmarks which in turn trigger specific responses.

Decoding the Brand Audience’s Narrative Themes

The implication for insights and brand managers is that, before the creation of any communication content, the target audience’s personal narrative and sense of identity – with all its inherent tensions, needs and aspirations – must be decoded. This is only possible by using approaches designed to explore the driving themes and elements in people’s narratives and sense of identity - and predominantly narrative psychology.

When brand communication then activates meaning that is personally relevant to me, the customer, the sudden sense of a shared identity creates the promise of what is possible: the balancing of my inner tensions, helping me realize my ambitions, making me feel like the person I want to be.

And that’s when people decide to welcome your brand into their lives – and stick with it.

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