Using the Power of Imagination to Connect with Consumers

“Ultimately, the only way to create real profit is to attract the emotional rather than the rational customer by appealing to their feelings and imagination.” – Dr. Martyn Newman, London-based doctor, consulting psychologist and expert in emotional intelligence and leadership; author of “Emotional Capitalists – The New Leaders”

As design consultants who work within the disciplines of package design and licensing program design for consumer product and entertainment brands, we understand this. We know that consumers mostly purchase for emotional reasons and then rationalize their decisions afterward.

Telling the brand story while inspiring consumers to engage their own imaginations

Toy and entertainment brands specialize in creating universes filled with a tapestry of rich details. These fantasies fuel imaginations, creating dedicated fans of all ages. Many consumer product brands would be wise to take a page from what they’ve done. Some have, of course. Harley Davidson. Jack Daniels. Martha Stewart. Ralph Lauren. Levi Strauss. Hallmark. Ben & Jerry’s. Nike. Lululemon. Under Armour. The NFL. All of these brands are master storytellers that trigger the imaginations of millions and encourage them to add their own stories and fantasies to their brand sagas. That’s where their magic truly lies.

Many marketers consider the power of these brands to be aspirational. These are brands that have staked out strong personalities, eliciting an emotional response from a selective audience. Each of them engages in a specific, unique manner. I would go further than that. As Dr. Newman points out in his quote, these are successful brands because they enable consumers to engage their own imaginations. Their brand stories are eagerly adopted by fans whose own stories become intertwined with them. Their fans live a lifestyle that these brands inspire.

Given this, consumer product brands that tap into consumers’ imaginations, or that offer fantasy and escape from reality, could pack more emotional punch that appeals to consumers’ aspirations, sense of humor and nostalgia. The strategy: to create a brand backstory that fans are invited to join, and then encouraging them to create a community around it and to share with each other, as well. There is immense power in that.

Why storytelling is so powerful

“Stories are the most powerful delivery tool for information, more powerful and enduring than any other art form.” – Nancy Duarte, CEO and design principal at Duarte Design

Visual branding assets and verbal brand communication can present the brand story in an exciting manner to spark the imagination of each consumer that it draws in so that they can shape the brand in a manner that is highly personal to each. As Nancy Duarte points out, the imaginative brand presents itself with a sense not of “what is” but endless possibilities of “what could be” which grabs and holds our attention. It tantalizes us because “what could be” is up to us and our own imagination and vision. It makes us willing to push boundaries and step into exciting new worlds that we help to create.

A well-told brand story has a singular point of view and unfolds gradually, but it doesn’t fill in all of the blanks. There’s always a sense of mystery in there; unknowns that draw us in. A compelling story is like a puzzle; the pieces are there but we must put them together ourselves. As Andrew Stanton, film director, producer and screenplay writer at Pixar confirmed at the TED conference in 2012: “I first started really understanding this storytelling device when I was writing with Bob Peterson on ‘Finding Nemo.’ And we would call this the unifying theory of two plus two. Make the audience put things together. Don’t give them four; give them two plus two. The elements you provide and the order you place them in is crucial to whether you succeed or fail at engaging the audience.”

We put ourselves into the story and we become part of it. It’s deeply connecting because it elicits a powerful emotional response. This concept is great within the realm of marketing because consumer product brands can seize our attention and become leaders in spite of the fact that every category is burgeoning with an impossible number of competitors, most of which are or will become commodities.

KIND: a brand with imagination in its DNA

How could a snack bar brand leverage imagination as its core? And how could that help it to avoid the dreaded “commodity” tag?

KIND is unique. It’s a wholesome, good-tasting snack but it’s also a brand with a social core – to make the world a kinder place by doing good and by inspiring consumers to do good – while unabashedly being in business to make a profit. At KIND, the word is “And.” It refers to “And what else can KIND do? And how can we inspire our brand fans to do random acts of kindness?”

Many brands aspire to doing good things. Others slap on the badge of philanthropy because it creates a positive image, but founder Daniel Lubetsky has dedicated his life to helping people to build bridges. He began his career selling a sun-dried tomato spread made collaboratively by Arabs and Jews in the war-torn Middle East. His vision of building a company with a good product that does good things for people was realized when KIND was launched in 2004. The brand started a community and a movement from its inception; taking the lead in donating to worthy causes on a monthly basis, then inspiring its fans to committing their own acts of kindness.

In April 2015, the company blog announced: “The numbers are in and the kind acts are counted. We did the math and, together with the KIND community, we have performed, facilitated and celebrated 1,000,000 kind acts. When KIND first got started in 2004 one of our goals was to inspire kindness through acts big and small. And 11 years later, we’re more committed than ever before. We are constantly in awe of the stories we hear about how kindness, in all its shapes and forms, impacts people’s lives.”

This is a brand that makes fans of consumers; actually, rabid brand adherents. This is a brand that dares us to imagine what could be. This is a brand that tells its story and invites us all to join our own stories to it. It’s so deep, compelling and meaningful that it resonates on an entirely higher level than most brands will ever do. I would submit that this is what consumers are hungry for now.

So go ahead: inspire.

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