Does data spell the end of the big brand narrative?

Isobar's director of mobile and strategy says data can help tell thousands of individual consumer stories

Recently, it seems as if every day a new campaign launches that’s meant to appeal to niche demographics. We’ve recently seen Toyota reach out to dads, Target reach out to the LGBT community and even Barbie release a new range of racially diverse fashionista dolls. (Note: they’re all still horrifically thin!)

But reaching niches doesn’t solve the problem of how you achieve relevance for as many people as possible. In fact, it multiplies the effort you make, as on top of your "vanilla" messaging, you need continually to develop new strains for your niche demographics, which rarely can be sustained. Thus you risk ending up with a series of purely tactical executions that can feel opportunistic or disingenuous. For example, why should I suddenly feel Toyota is there for me as a dad? From one commercial?

And this is where data comes in. A knowledge of and a facility with data is an area that has barely started to influence creativity and brand narrative, yet it has profound implications for our creative future. The largest impact being that marketers may no longer have to tell just a big brand story: they can aim to help tell thousands of individual consumer stories.

We all know the importance of a strong brand narrative, and that a brand must be really clear about what it stands for and what it wants to say. But in an age where consumers are increasingly skeptical of grandiose brand claims, and quick to "swipe left" on brand content that’s not directly relevant, data offers us the chance to create and tailor the message itself, and then target directly to the right consumers through digital.

Of course, this approach depends on two key weapons in a brand’s armory. The first is a strong set of insights into how audiences navigate their brand and products based on research.

There’s no substitute for effective research if you want to be authentic and true to the feelings of your audiences. Recently we spent a lot of face time with teens from all over the country on behalf of a sportswear brand. This included high-school athletes, street-style aficionados, junior runners and more; and we focused on the way they use digital in completely different ways to navigate their path to buying sportswear — which was really mind-blowing. Putting all these insights together into experience maps shows the kind of creative storytelling you need to facilitate, much of which is dictated by the channels your audience cares about.

Your second weapon is a capability to develop truly interesting content quickly enough to develop your brand in a way that’s relevant to different segments. For example, a fashion fan views a brand very differently from an amateur athlete, and needs content that is different in many ways. Of course, generating content is never cheap, however the rise of user-generated content has helped offset some of these costs.

Most brand messages filtered by social media, word of mouth and key influencers on the web; it’s important to alter your approach to stop preaching your narrative and enable your audience to weave it into their own personal stories. Your knowledge of your audiences (and there is always more than one) is the key you have to maintaining your ability to tell stories in this new context. And by telling users’ own stories, you don’t just scale your content — you deliver authenticity to micro-communities within your base.

It’s critical to figure out how to recognize the interests of individual consumers and then reach out to them with precisely targeted content. While detailed portraits of any consumer can be built up by combining social, ecommerce, email and web analytics data into a single profile, this is rarely well executed by brands. It’s this kind of multifaceted data that might reveal, for example, that your given user likes both sports and fashion, in which case they can be served content relevant to both interests.

Finally, a brand must evolve a flexible program of outreach and CRM, yet most brands still haven’t made much headway past loosely targeted email blasts. But if you benefit from a strong brand following, it’s possible to combine highly personalized content with messaging and incentives to develop an engagement platform that feels both individual and valuable — surely the holy grail of brand building for the current me-shaped generation.

Perhaps the question we should be posing as marketers is not the traditional, "Who is our consumer, and what does she want?" It may well be, "Do we have enough stories to tell to everyone who loves us?"

Tim Dunn is director of mobile and strategy at Isobar US.

Subscribe today for just $116 a year

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to , plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a subscriber


Don’t miss your daily fix of breaking news, latest work, advice and commentary.

register free