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Marketing in 2015: Not for the Faint of Heart

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Ever feel like no matter how many blog posts you read, tweets you scan or white papers you download (that you intended to read) - you still feel like you can’t keep up with the changing marketing landscape? You aren’t crazy. Marketing technology expert Scott Brinker charted an astounding 1,876 marketing technology vendors in 43 categories this year* – nearly twice as many as last year!

In this complex story-distribution world, your prospect gets hit with about 3,000 marketing messages a day, says Seth Godin. Your brand story has to stand out in that craziness. But it takes risk to do something different than the rest of the market: it’s not for the faint of heart.

One Plus One Equals Dynamite

Humans still lean in to a compelling story to see what happens next. A powerful story can break through that growing clutter, but to reach the right prospects in the right place, it takes data-driven insights, too.

Some companies are great at storytelling but suck at the science of marketing. Others analyze out the wazoo but can’t tell a decent story. But if you can put science and storytelling together, you’ve got liquid dynamite. Here’s why.

ADD Times 1000x

Your brand has an average of 8 seconds to capture a prospect’s attention, according to the SAP Business Innovation blog. And consumers have never been more empowered about how they engage with brands or faced with as many choices. Consumers are in the driver’s seat, not the other way around.

Crank out loads of content on every possible channel and risk diluting your brand - or becoming irrelevant altogether. Instead, create interest for your brand, through online and offline influencers and media. Hang out where your customers are and solve problems they care about (hint: they don’t care about your new features, products or services, they care about how you help make their lives better).

The good news? Marketers have never been more empowered. We can deliver compelling messages with pinpoint accuracy, with tools like HubSpot CRM letting you personalize content based on country, device, even entry channel. Keep up on developments at Search Engine Land, Google Inside Search blog or Moz’s Whiteboard Friday. And watch Google, which recently began rolling out its “Mobilegeddon” algorithm update.

Great Stories Gather Their Own Followers – Instead of Media Bills

With all this marketing science to back us up, why is a great story still so important?

New brands have to pay to get their story distributed: think paid media. But a powerful story attracts prospects and customers directly to your brand – so you pay decreasing amounts for story distribution as time goes on and your brand creates followers. With a stand-out story, you can realistically aim toward establishing your own direct marketing channels. This is real brand clout.

“Word of mouth will always follow a great product or service. If your product is garbage, no amount of advertising and marketing will save it in the long run.”

– Johnny Earle, 10 Personal Tips On How to Succeed

Marketing science only interrogates rational behavior. But it’s actually our split-second gut reactions that motivate us to click in, engage or buy. According to brain science, says author Dan Hill, “We have gut reactions in three seconds or less....and our emotional reaction to a stimulus resounds more loudly in our brain than does our rational response, triggering action.”

“There can be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of rational analysis.”

Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

The lion’s share of a brand’s equity is a set of deeply- held beliefs. The logo is just what’s above the waterline. It’s the same with customers: most of what’s going on is below the waterline: beliefs, memories and emotions.

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“95% of consumers' thinking occurs in their unconscious mind; much thinking surfaces through metaphors; memories are more malleable than we thought.”

“Indeed, memory and imagination together create what we know and think.“

– Gerald Zaltman, How Customers Think

Don’t allow science alone to dull the intuitive power of your brand story – or to make it sound like everyone else. Your brand’s power lies in its uniqueness. Take on its voice and belief system like an actor: you have to feel it before you can give the experience to someone else or imagine how your brand should act.

Science + Story = Experience

Your story isn’t just what you say. It’s about real-world and online brand experiences. Now we can create individual experiences with custom content: your website can now get smarter every time a customer returns, based on their previous interactions.

Your story may include new technology to give your customers a more relevant, streamlined experience. Think Apple Store employees using iPhones to navigate multiple processes, including payment. Or the Apple Store app that lets you make an appointment to talk to an expert or buy from home, then pick up in-store, bypassing crowds.

The Magic Lies in the Tension between Science and Storytelling

It used to be that products were the brand. But with the proliferation of lookalike brands, Lee Clow, chairman and global director of TBWA/Worldwide says, “The brand is the product.” You buy into a brand’s belief system.

“A brand is the sum total of all the emotions, thoughts, images, history, possibilities, and gossip that exist in the marketplace about a certain company.”

Luke Sullivan, Hey Whipple, Squeeze This

As businesses battle for prospects’ and customers’ attention, brands are the last, most valuable currency. To create followers who ardently spread your brand’s story, you must intimately live and know your brand’s deeply-held values, then create experiences that align with them.

Starbucks created an integrated experience of their story and their science. Starbucks’ story is about being nurturing. They do that, both electronically with their app and physically in their store, making my day easier, fun, and, yes, caffeine-filled. It’s a streamlined, integrated experience that confirms my belief and alignment with the brand – and feeds their customer understanding. For about $5 a crack. Brilliant.

Warning: human interactions with a Starbucks barista still trumps everything. Your products, services and people can either align with or destroy your brand’s story.

There’s a need for an interdisciplinary approach. For example, neurological research revealed that people don’t think (in) linear, hierarchical ways... they don’t experience a cake by sampling a sequence of raw ingredients. They experience fully baked cakes. That insight changed how companies engaged consumers.

– Gerald Zaltman, How Customers Think

The Bottom Line

Striking the right fusion of marketing science and storytelling is as intricately challenging as assembling the thousands of complex parts of a Ferrari – so that it looks incredible and accelerates powerfully. Without marketing science, your amazing story – or even the most powerful story on earth – never gets seen by anyone who cares about it. With science but a weak story, you get lots of passive eyeballs on something that won’t make anyone lean forward.

Both are common scenarios. There’s an inherent tension between the two. But when everyone on your brand, from scientists to storytellers, work within that tension, they can accomplish things both beautiful and profound.

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