Product storytelling and fish finger sandwiches

I’m a big fan of storytelling. I think it’s essential these days that companies and brands dig out the really interesting stories about their business, products and services. Most companies have interesting stories about how they were created, where inspiration for the products came from, the background of the founders…all of which can and should be used in communications. But in the nitty-gritty of product marketing, companies too often fall back on product attributes and their perceived benefits, which can equally often fail to establish any emotional connection with consumers.

Moving from attribute to emotion isn’t always easy, but it’s easier than you might think. A handy technique is ‘laddering’: a product being placed at the bottom of the ladder and each rung moving from an attribute of that product towards basic human emotional needs.

An example: if you were a mug manufacturer, you could easily market the product based simply on the fact that it was a nicely designed mug, which is something people need. However, through laddering, you could think about a key attribute of a mug as a handy holder of hot liquids. For a British audience, that liquid might be tea. Tea’s more than a drink to the British. It’s about comfort, home, family, security, keeping calm in a crisis. So really, mugs play a really central part in something that’s incredibly important emotionally to the British. When you start thinking about mugs in that context, your marketing can become much more interesting.

I cooked fish fingers for my kids last night. I do it quite often, because they love them. I love them too, but I hardly ever eat them. I’m not exactly sure why…some combination of a perception of them being kids’ food, not a proper meal, a bit processed and therefore slightly unhealthy…who knows? But I figured that if I made fish fingers, I’d want to get more adults eating them more often.

The attributes of a fish finger are pretty straightforward. There’s fish, and there are breadcrumbs. But, like tea, fish fingers attach themselves to some fundamental stuff: children, family, home, childhood memories, comfort. So I actually think there are plenty of ways that you could market fish fingers to adults. But then it also struck me that the fish finger story is much more compelling when told in combination with other complimentary products, like white bread, butter and tomato ketchup. So why don’t the producers of these products come together and tell the most compelling story possible? The advantages in terms of marketing effectiveness could be significant but it could also be much more cost-effective for each of the companies involved.

Co-marketing isn’t a new thing. But how often do brands manage to create a better story together, rather than try to tell their own story alongside other companies telling theirs?

The other thing that happens when you create a story which captures people’s imagination is that they want to get involved. My half-arsed fish finger sandwich, umm, ‘treatment’ above could easily spark consumer involvement through sharing of guilty secrets or favourite comfort foods (not quite This Is Why You’re Fat but you get the picture…in fact, while thinking about this, I found the Kingsmill Confessions site, which is quite neat).

So, when thinking about the stories you could tell about your own products, why not think about the better stories you might be able to tell alongside other people’s?

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