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On the human side of brand growth

On the human side of brand growth

Ansie Lombaard

Senior Global Innovation Director



Karlien Kriegler

Research Director, Insights Division



“As humans, story is as intricately entwined in our fibre as our need to breathe. We’re hard wired to tell stories” – Hayley Langsdorf

From a very young age, stories are how we learn, discover, and share our world with others. We are as eager to share stories as we are captivated by them. Yet, how stories are told have changed dramatically over time. Just think about the growing prevalence of YouTube bloggers, reality TV and podcasts. Through each of these platforms, people share their stories.

Now consider the astronomical rise of Facebook Messenger, WeChat, WhatsApp and TikTok. What people share on these platforms are their micro-stories –small little windows into their lives. These platforms are made to share and connect; they are made for humans who live and breathe stories as part of our DNA.

When we really want to understand people, it makes sense, then, that we also turn to their stories. Stories bring understanding, empathy, and community. Stories bring us together.

When we leverage today’s platforms for modern day storytelling, we can collect micro-stories at scale. By combining our understanding of how stories unfold with advances in artificial intelligence, it becomes possible to collect and study such stories in a way that gives us a new understanding of people. A window into their world.

We can do this by using chatbots that are designed to let people tell their stories about a category and the brands they use, leveraging the platforms they are already familiar with and where they are used to sharing their micro-stories. Such a bot would be designed to deliver a friendly, engaging, and intuitive experience, with a carefully crafted dialogue to support depth and authenticity. Yet as in any good conversation, one with a bot is about more than listening. It is just as important that we can respond intelligently to make people feel truly heard.

Using AI-triggered probing, we create an intelligent dialogue that helps us to generate deeper insight into the areas that matter to the brand, while also surfacing what really matters to the people we engage in this way. This allows us to collect micro-stories, with extraordinary richness and context, at scale. And with so much data at our fingertips, we again turn to AI, specifically text-based analytics, to help us surface the themes that emerge organically across these stories, the themes that matter most.

Based on the hundreds of micro-stories we have seen unfold in this context, we know that such stories hold the potential to bring us much closer to the human side of brand growth.

In a recent study we focused on understanding taste in the whisky category. The brand we were helping to grow lacked meaning and differentiation. It wanted us to help amplify its taste credentials in the category in a way that matters to people. But taste is a challenging dimension to understand as people often find it difficult to articulate exactly what it means to them. It is emotive, subjective, and often context-driven. To uncover actionable growth insights for this brand, we needed to gain a much closer understanding of the emotion and context associated with the whisky moment of enjoyment.

Our friendly yet edgy conversation expert, Jamie bot, asked people about their favorite brand, and why they love it so much. Taking our cues from their initial response, Jamie probed deeper into aspects of taste, unpacking what they love about taste, how their brand achieves that, and why it is important to them. Looking at these conversations together, we could unpack descriptors, context, and deeper motivations – we could hear what matters most to people in their own words. And we could identify and quantify the results to know exactly where to focus.

For example, we discovered that our client brand had the opportunity to overtly link taste, aroma, and flavor to treasured memories to help create a more meaningful differentiation.

“I like the bold smokiness up front and smooth slightly sweet after of my brand.”

“I also enjoy plenty of non-smoky whiskey. But I really enjoy the complexity it adds to the other flavors that are in there.”

“For me, my brand’s smokiness is more akin to being at a bonfire than peated grains. The very first sip I had of the stuff, and my memories were of every campfire or bonfire I’ve been at. So, I guess why I think they do it so well is because of how it instantly triggers memories when I drink it.”

Isn’t that just so incredibly vivid? You can almost taste it!

These examples clearly illustrate how much closer we get to the granularity of human experience through the micro-stories people share with us through open and exploratory chatbot conversations. The human connection we establish with people in this way helps us to generate qualitative depth at scale, which in turn allows us to create value – to uncover what we did not know, to gain a wider perspective, and to deepen our empathy with people’s real-world experiences. It gives us a window into their world.

To help grow your brand, consider the importance of really listening to people’s stories before you tell your own. Hearing stories like this brings us closer to the human side of growing brands. They give us an immersive, tangible, and relatable understanding that helps us identify the actions we need to take that will matter to people and differentiate brands. As a result, they help brands to tell their own stories in a much more powerful and authentic way to unlock lasting growth.