This article is a chapter from Transom's E-Book 5 Things We Learned Building Brands and Websites for Wineries (PDF).
Odds are high that, despite every technological advance our species has accomplished, you work longer hours than your hunter-gatherer ancestors. Archaeologists who study contemporary hunter-gatherer societies find that they work on average 20-35 hours a week. The rest of their time is spent in community: relaxing, playing, and telling stories. One might think that our ancestors lived in very resource-rich environments, but storytelling seems to be a constant in nearly all ancient societies, and archeologists believe that it may be these stories enabled ancient humans to become the dominant species on the planet.
Early on, we (Homo Sapiens) had siblings; genetically distinct species that existed at the same time as us. The most famous of these, the Neanderthals, were stronger, heartier, and had better tool-making capabilities, and were fitter than humans in nearly every way. But Homo Sapiens told stories. These stories helped gather and motivate much larger groups, leading them to eventual dominance around the globe. Today our capacity for shared imaginative storytelling remains humankind’s greatest innovation. After all, what good is knowing how to get to the moon if you can’t motivate the people necessary to make it happen?
Humans have an innate capacity and desire for narrative, and our brains are structured to like and remember certain kinds of stories, especially ones that engage us on an emotional level, and don't get bogged down with too many facts. Our brains like myths.
If you can’t sell more or charge more simply because your name is on a product, you don’t have a brand, you’re selling a commodity.—Seth Godin
What is a Myth?
We may think of Greek gods or urban legends when we think of myths, but myths aren't necessarily false. A myth is any story that resonates with the listener in such a way that it inspires its own retelling. Myths contain themes of our deepest humanity (fear, love, hope, etc.), concentrated to increase their emotional potency. Sometimes myths are created organically, like when historical events achieve mythic significance (e.g. the Titanic), but they can also be crafted to achieve a specific end (e.g., Manifest Destiny).
How do we harness the power of myth in branding?
Good branding is effective because it generates experiences that create emotional memories. Because human decision making is highly dependent on emotions, these memories are much more likely to become the basis for action in the future. When we work with branding clients, we always try to uncover the primary point of emotional resonance in their story. While developing our strategy for the Kiona website, we knew that the themes of family, humility, and home were central to the winery’s identity, so we organized our messaging to tell the story of a family that followed a hunch, and became remarkably unpretentious caretakers of one of the worlds’ hottest AVAs. While there are many other elements that make up the whole of Kiona, we always returned to these simple, emotionally resonant themes to make sure that a visitor spending 30 seconds or 30 minutes on the site would remember the same story the next time they tasted their wine.
Transom believes that there is a niche for just about every company, and the narrower the niche the more passionate the fans. The groundswell of “natural” wines so popular with Millennials today is the product of winemakers who stayed true to their passion for alternative methods—and who are now reaping the rewards.
A brand story doesn’t necessarily have to be a narrative. Nike’s brand, for example, is based on the empowering nature of physical effort. Apple’s iconic ‘Think Different’ campaign could be boiled down to “inspired people use inspiring computers”. As long as it resonates emotionally, all a brand story needs is to be simple enough that it’s easy to remember, distinct enough that it doesn’t get confused with others, and clear enough that it communicates the essence of the company.
Importantly, your story should be true. If your company wasn’t really founded in 1914 it shouldn’t claim to be, and if it doesn’t actually care about the environment, it shouldn’t pretend to. Transom believes that there is a niche for just about every company, and the narrower the niche the more passionate the fans. The groundswell of “natural” wines so popular with Millennials today is the product of winemakers who stayed true to their passion for alternative methods—and who are now reaping the rewards.
In the end, branding is about creating the right feelings about your company. When we create true, emotionally resonant brand stories, we’re positioning our company for success by tapping into the very thing that makes us human.
- What is my company about?
- Am I able to encapsulate what makes us unique in a single sentence?
- Can any of my competitors say something similar?
- Does that sentence inspire deeply rooted emotions?