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Make your audience the hero to drive change

Driven by a firm belief that the things we do and buy should give us pleasure and not guilt, Daianna Karaian founded Thoughtful, a lifestyle magazine and brand consultancy connecting people who care about the way they live and the things they make.

Building on our exploration of innocent last week, Daianna talks us through some great examples of brands that are ‘saving the world’ by making the audience the hero in their stories.

Shoppers are increasingly turning to brands that help change things for the better, favouring challengers that seamlessly combine commercial aims with an authentic social mission. As storytellers and creators of customer value, marketers and creatives play a critical role in getting that balance right.

In 2003, a small and relatively unknown upstart faced a challenge: how to get more people’s attention and sell more smoothies. Being ambitious, it gave itself another challenge on top of that: how to make a real difference in people’s lives.

So the company spent time talking to people who already drank its smoothies, getting to know them, what they liked and what they needed. It realised knitting was becoming cool, and learned that there are lots of elderly people who could use some extra warmth in winter.

Soon enough, some of its fans started knitting tiny hats for its smoothie bottles, and other fans started benefitting from the boost in sales of the cute beanied drinks. Twelve years, 5 million hats and £1.7 million in donations to Age UK later, innocent’s “Big Knit” campaign has become an annual staple of British culture.

innocent knows how to weave a good yarn. It has fashioned itself as a great storyteller because it knows that stories are important for driving change - whether it’s making a whole generation loyal to your brand or getting people to behave in a way that improves their lives and the world around them.

But even more than that, the company knows you can’t drive change at scale, or in a way that sticks, without a deep understanding and respect for your audience. This focus on the customer shouldn’t be news to marketers, but too often brand owners and their partners seem to forget it, especially when it comes to doing good. Here’s how to keep your audience centre stage.

Know who they are

First, get to know your audience - really know them. Go beyond demographics like average age, income and media habits to find out what makes them tick. What gets them excited? What worries them? What do they talk to others about? Why and how do they use your brand, and what do they love about it already?

Alt text tag Waitrose Fresh Herbs
Wood Pencil / Writing for Design / 2008
Agency Lewis Moberly / Client Waitrose

Retailer Waitrose appreciates there’s more to its audience than the stereotype of middle aged and middle class; it knows its shoppers love to cook. So everything it does, from its private-label products to its cooking schools, is about helping shoppers triumph in the kitchen. That’s why, when championing the British farmers who supply much of its fresh produce, it feels less like a tacked-on CSR initiative and more like a consistent part of its brand story: food grown by people who care, in places nearby, makes for fresher, tastier meals.

Convey what they get

Having understood their needs and wants, be clear and uncompromising about how your audience will benefit. This isn’t the same as talking about your newest feature or worthiest initiative; it’s about figuring out what’s really in it for them. What will your audience get out of buying your brand or participating in your campaign?

Method is a household cleaning brand for people who appreciate not just a clean house, but also clean design, a clean environment and a clean bill of health. Clean freaks, you might say; or as Method more kindly puts it, “people against dirty”. Its detergents and surface cleaners are non-toxic and biodegradable, come packaged in sleek recycled and recyclable packaging and, most importantly, they work. Everything the brand does tells a story about cleanliness, the key customer benefit.

Make them the hero

Finally, make your audience the hero in your story. Knowing who they are and what benefit you can offer provides the basic elements to build your story. What’s the challenge they’re facing? That’s your plot. How does your brand help them overcome that challenge? That’s your resolution.

Alt text tag

A decade after it started putting hats on smoothies, innocent decided to advertise the fact that 10% of its profits go to charity. But rather than talk about itself, it cast the hapless victim of a Christmas party as the main character, looking for a drink that would help him feel better the morning after the night before. By choosing innocent he sets in motion a “chain of good” that helps him, and the world around him, feel better.

Sugru, a moldable glue, goes even further. The brand demonstrates its ability to fix and improve things mainly by showing off all the ingenious ways its community of fans uses it. Its website and social media channels are filled with amateur photographs of its colourful goop crudely stuck to all manner of objects. Despite its small size, the company is growing a global audience, and leading a worldwide movement to mend things rather than throw them out and buy new.

Many a brand has tried, and failed, to engage people by talking about how great it is - how it beats the competition or how it’s improving people’s lives halfway around the world. Like the bore at a dinner party, they’ve forgotten how to tell a story that will charm and influence others. For your audience to care about you - or even to care about saving the world with you - you have to show you care about them first.

Two Minute Task

  • Think of an example of a brand that successfully builds ‘saving the world’ into their brand story. Share the brand in the comments, along with exploring:
  • Who are their audience?
  • How are they making them hero?

This article is from the free online course:

Storytelling in Advertising

D&AD

Course highlights Get a taste of this course before you join:

  • Storytelling: everything and nothing has changed
    Storytelling: everything and nothing has changed
    video

    Al MacCuish reflects on the art of storytelling, from cave painting to writing and film. Has anything really changed? How is story relevant today?

  • A career in stories
    A career in stories
    video

    Spanning both the small and big screen, Sir Alan Parker reflects on his career in storytelling, from how he became a director to borrowing references.

  • The seven story archetypes
    The seven story archetypes
    article

    Can all stories be defined by archetypes? Here, we outline Christopher Brooker's theory of the seven basic plots.

  • Harnessing the power of brand storytelling
    Harnessing the power of brand storytelling
    video

    Al MacCuish looks at how the seven plot types can be applied to brands. How can a narrative help communicate what a brand wants to say about the world

  • Know your audience: simplify your message
    Know your audience: simplify your message
    video

    Jon Kallus, Creative Director at Grey London, believes that truth is the key to communicating quickly and effectively with your audience.