We are thriving in the Age of the Anecdote in all aspects of living and brands are certainly no exception. A solitary piece of evidence, often cropped to suit the intentions of the user, forms a firm opinion which leads to conclusive action, whether online or offline. This can easily become a destructive force, in the era of Fake news, but certainly an integral part of consumer behaviour and thus an opportunity for brands to suitably adopt.
Earlier, our impression of brands was formed by rigid evidence or reliable hearsay and sometimes a combination of both. For brands in our usership domain, evidence would be a summation of personal experience or that of others in the know, as well as the power of persuasive communication. Their ability to deliver over time leads to reputation, once again based on the proven power of performance. Reliable hearsay was often a function of popular culture or the ability to conjure a legend, valid especially for the great American brands which initially charmed the grey markets and subsequently dominated the bona-fide channels. Even today, the launch of a Starbucks in an Indian city leads to impressive cues, a new-age extension of the awestruck admiration for Levi’s and Coke in the 1970s.
Today, however the anecdote, the hybrid combination of evidence and hearsay is ruling the waves in every aspect of living, powered by modern and social media. As mentioned earlier, it can easily be a negative agent but when channelised properly, it can equally be a valuable new tool for branding programs. What must be recognised quickly is the pattern of customer behaviour that is rapidly emerging, the single anecdote commanding credibility that had to be rigorously earned in the past. Most fundamental is a provocative visual, or ideally audio-visual, that confirms the occurrence of an event as the digital native is trained to see for herself. The perception of authenticity is very vital, identifiable symbols and logos as well as ideally the endorsement or presence of a recognisable person. Finally, the occurrence itself must be sufficiently sensational, laced with drama and throbbing with emotion, commonness will not be noticed.
The above adequately confirms that the anecdote can be an exciting and scalable tool for brands, when the rules of engagement are sufficiently fine-tuned for this purpose. Currently brands, as strategy, still operate in evidence mode, even the so-called viral campaigns essentially providing proof of a specific paid activity. Anecdotes, however, must be viewed as a coincidental and spontaneous infusion of the brand to solve a problem or infuse an additional dose of happiness, which are then recorded in a seemingly unplanned fashion for greater patronage, adding lovability and credibility in equal dosage to the value proposition. It is different from paid PR or in-entertainment placement as they are designated forums for such infusion, customers conditioned to consider this as advertising. In the following paragraph, a few samples of how brands can build anecdotes to further their worth.
A group of trekkers stuck in a landslide rescued digestively by Maggi Noodles, whose nutrition and quality stayed intact during the most trying conditions. Maruti Suzuki Ertiga, easily convertible to a makeshift ambulance bed, reaching an accident victim to the hospital not just on time but also in a stable condition. Guests arriving in the wee hours due to flight delays suitably refreshed by hot spicy tea from Chaayos, open 24 hours at Galleria Market, saving the prestige of the hostess. Microsoft Cortana able to locate the address of the nearest toy shop in an unfamiliar area, delighting both parent and child. The Domino’s Pizza Delivery man delighted to help a stranded cat find its home while every other e-commerce last-mile person latches on to a similar idea. Surprise can be a valuable tool with brands playing roles that are reasonably unfamiliar, thus building story-worthiness. Facebook connecting a senior citizen to a long-lost ancestral home or school-buddy by accidental observation while surfing.
To each of the above, if a celebrity is involved on real-time basis, its potency will increase further, purely in terms of impact. Brands can thus consider Anecdote Ambassadorship on a spot and not long-term endorsement principle. Apart from deliberately building situations, brands must consider appointing Anecdote Vigilantes, people constantly on the watch for juicy situations that can be amplified. Every time a flight is delayed for fog, a packet of chips features as part of the airline’s remission package, the brand can easily take spontaneous advantage. In either case, the quality of reporting is vital, a first-person or eye-witness account making the anecdote awesome, the production values closer to sting reporting than manicured coverage. The measurability of the anecdote is quite simply done, as per available metrics of Digital Marketing.
When rendered with intelligent spontaneity, the anecdote can become a potent warhead in the engagement armoury of every brand, thriving largely for its popular culture antecedents. Currently under the scanner for its prolific track record in spreading falsehood, a robust second-life as a brand agent can resurrect its stature considerably.
(Shivaji Dasgupta is the Founder of INEXGRO Brand Advisory and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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