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The Brand Storytelling Plot Points Canadian Retailers Need To Remember


I thought we were being good parents by limiting our kids’ screen time to the weekends, and for avoiding cable in favour of ad-free streaming services.

I was wrong.

For months now, I come downstairs every Saturday morning to find them watching a strange genre of Youtube series I had never seen before. The “shows” (if you can call them that) consist of adults who play games like Minecraft and narrate their every move, or who play with Barbie dolls and Lego action figures as though they were still kids.

“Can you please watch something with a plot?” I beg them. I find these programs kind of creepy, but they love them -- maybe because they’re like the preface in what will be some retailer’s brand story.

Companies who sell anything to consumers need to have a compelling argument about why their products and services are worth the price, of course, but they also need to paint a picture about what the buying experience will be like. And what life will be like after the purchase is complete.

Some of that story they will develop themselves, using their own marketing resources. Some will be user-generated, like my kids’ favourite shows. And still other elements of the story will be influenced by the providers who can help retailers optimize the way their story is told online, through social, mobile and all the other potential touchpoints.

The mission for retailers was captured really well in a report published last year by The Content Marketing Institute, which suggested that despite low financial barriers to entry, brand storytelling needs to go well beyond what happens in a physical store:

To attract the right consumers at the right time –and translate their initial engagement into quantifiable conversions – brands in this space need to look for ways to get more creative in their content ideation, more inventive in how they deliver that content, and more responsive to the customer’s needs and preferences throughout the content experience they provide.

The good news is that there are literally dozens of shining examples of retail brands doing this well. The CMI report summarizes many of those in the U.S., like the print magazine published by Lowe’s, the shoppable videos John Varvatos created and so on. There are also plenty of case studies in the Canadian market as well, which you can see and hear first-hand in many of the keynotes and breakout sessions at Dx3.

The challenging aspect of retail brand storytelling is that sometimes the plot twists come out of nowhere. Natural disasters, product flaws and other issues can wind up commanding far more attention than anything a marketing department creates. KFC’s recent supply chain problems come to mind, where a lack of available chicken led to restaurant closures in the U.K. In this case, however, the KFC ad that was created as a followup to the news used humour and transparency in a way that, according to many marketers I know, allowed the company to take back the story again.

Rather than assume they will always enjoy such control over the narrative, retailers may need to realize that they are actually co-authors of their brand story. Even if customers and others add their own chapters, retailers also need to be consistent in how they talk about their brand, no matter the channel in which the story is told.

The other thing to remember is that, much as they might want to believe otherwise, the retailer is never really the hero in its own brand story -- though you can work hard to ensure customers never see you as the villain.

Shane Schick tells stories that help people innovate, and to manage the change innovation brings. He is the Editor-in-Chief of B2B News Network, an Editor-At-Large withSwagger Magazine and a content marketing consultant.