Stories can be perceived as bundled emotions, released over a controlled time period to create memorable experiences that will drive a marketing program. The key to crafting engaging tales begins with an understanding of the customer’s initial emotional state and the emotional state the brand hopes to create.

“What is the vision of your goal?” asked Allegra Burnette, a Forrester principal analyst, in her presentation at Forrester CX2007, in New York City last month. 

The process begins with a “logline, basically an elevator pitch that outlines the purpose or hook of the story you are trying to tell. Begin by defining: who is the protagonist (hero/heroine)? What is the goal?  Who or what is the antagonist? And what is at stake…what is the emotional resonance?” These are the pieces that comprise a working logline.

To begin, Burnette defines the cast of characters, including the character of the storytelling company or brand. The key is to view the brand as if it were a person; what would its personality be like? Consider its defining characteristics as well as the personalities of competitors and customers.

Next, define the goals: what is at stake?  What are the customers’ emotional needs and goals? What problems is the brand trying to solve? What is the value proposition and offering? These key elements will drive the developing narrative.

Learning from Nemo and Sephora

As an example, Burnette noted the motion picture, “Finding Nemo,” whose logline is an over-protective clownfish who must leave the safety of his reef, brave the open ocean, and rescue his missing son held captive in a dentist’s aquarium, and this drives the unfolding narrative.

To parse the logline – the clownfish is the protagonist.  The stake is his life itself, as he must leave the safety of his protective home environment. The antagonist is the dentist who has the little clownfish in his aquarium. The goal, obviously, is to rescue his captive son. Such an outline guides the process of storytelling without determining specific actions, yet it contains the emotional range of the story in one statement.

With the logline developed, start to define the storyline. The way Pixar defines it is that once upon a time (sets the context — time and place), everyday life is just so (defines the stake) until one day something unexpected happens, which sets the stakes and begins the pursuit of the goal. Ultimately, a solution is found.

The cosmetics retailer Sephora provided another example of placing a storyline, or logline, in the context of the consumer experience. Sephora’s logline: To make teenage girls of all ages feel beautiful and empowered. Sephora eliminates intimidation, and offers a sense of control and playfulness.

“In thinking about stories as emotions over time you must consider the overall emotional journey from initial state to the desired emotional state.” -Allegra Burnette

In this brand story, the protagonist is Sephora, whose focus is its primary customer – teenage girls of all ages, because the ‘girl’ lives on in all women. Here the antagonist is not a person, but the intimidating environment of the typical cosmetic section in department stores. The goal is to make the customer feel beautiful and empowered by creating a welcoming environment that fosters a sense of fun and playful exploration.  The story is all about being given the freedom to experiment, to try new products in a welcoming environment until, at last, she has developed a confident sense of self. This retail scenario has positioned Sephora as a go-to resource for teen girls to play with new looks or get a boost when feeling down.

The story arc moves from a negative set of emotions to a positive emotional state. “Once you have the storyline, you can begin to fold out some of the specific emotions. Rather than say we’re going only for positive emotions, with that structure you can begin to hone in on specific emotional goals,” said Burnette. “In thinking about stories as emotions over time you must consider the overall emotional journey from initial state to the desired emotional state.”

The Sephora story experience is a combination of physical (store layout); in-person (friendly, knowledgeable staff), and digital (i.e., a color matching tool) elements that together create the brand experience. For instance, a “playful” attitude is supported by the display of numerous products samplers and free birthday product packs.

Getting it Right

How do you know if you are getting it right? Emotion is a tricky topic to grapple with but research can assist. Forrester has used facial coding, non-conscious techniques, interviews, and other methods to understand how designing for emotion works. The indicators include: psychological changes (what is the person thinking and feeling?), motivation (high or low), and physical changes (expressions and body language). And, finally, how emotions work together over time with post conditions to change perceptions of and behavior toward the brand. In other words, how the story arc has changed the customer experience to the benefit of the brand.

So how do marketers implement these learning across the customer journey? At the end of the day, it’s all about memory. If the brand experience has created a memorable customer journey positive behavior will follow, just as children at play will mimic their favorite movie heroes.  In sum, savvy marketers will understand that successful brands must become their customers’ heroes.