How to Market Like Google: A Lesson in Branded Storytelling

Next time you catch yourself complaining it’s impossible for customers to feel emotionally attached to your B2B product, consider this: one of the most beloved brands in the world is primarily a search engine.

A search engine. I mean come on — how do you convince people to develop a deep personal connection with that?

Yet that’s exactly what Google has accomplished. And this video is a brilliant example of how:

The Power of Storytelling: Connecting with Buyers on an Emotional Level

That was a commercial released earlier this year for Google’s Nexus 7 tablet (yes, slightly sexier than a search engine, but as we’ll get into below, it’s really not about the product in the first place). The video is an incredible example of branded storytelling in action, and there are several reasons why it works. Sure, it’s shot/edited well and the music is great, but the big reason it “feels right” is that it’s built around a good story that taps into our emotions.

Let’s break it down:

  • The video opens by presenting a problem many of us can identify with — consider our empathy officially engaged.
  • The unlikely hero decides to face and overcome the problem — we love rooting for a good underdog.
  • The hero receives encouragement through an act of kindness — we’re reminded how rewarding and important it can be to touch other people’s lives.
  • The hero triumphs — and because we’ve accompanied him along through his journey, we feel a sense of triumph, too.

All that in under 1:30. Not bad.

But just as important as what Google fits into the short video is what it consciously chooses to leave out — gratuitous focus on features and price. Or, as author Simon Sinek puts it, the ‘what’ and the ‘how’. What Google is far more interested in reaching out and connecting to you with is the ‘why’.

Google vs. Bing

Contrast that with Microsoft’s “Bing it On” campaign. The difference is striking. The Bing ad is all about delivering a value proposition — the Bing search engine performs better. In other words, it’s all about Bing and what Bing does — not about Bing users and what it can help them do. There’s no story, just a sales pitch.

Let’s break it down using the same structure as the Google video breakdown above:

  • The video opens by presenting a problem many of us can identify with Microsoft has — most people use Google.
  • The unlikely hero spokesman from Microsoft decides to face and overcome the problem — by stopping random passers-by in the street in the hopes of tricking them.
  • The hero spokesman receives encouragement through an act of kindness several acts of mild curiosity and submission — we’re reminded how rewarding and important it can be to touch other people’s lives we hate it when people obviously selling something ask us for a minute of our time when we’re minding our own business walking down the street.
  • The hero spokesman triumphs when it’s revealed the random passers-by unwittingly chose Bing— and because we’ve accompanied him along through his journey they show a mild surprise (that’s the reaction they sense the camera crew is looking for) before they get back to whatever it was they were doing and actually care about, we feel a sense of triumph, mild surprise and move on, too.

Now, which video had a bigger impact on you?

But what if our product really is better than the competition’s? Don’t we have a right to brag about it?

Absolutely. But keep this in mind — unfortunately for Bing, by this point no one really cares whether it’s faster or more accurate. People are going to stick with Google because, a) yes, it’s the established incumbent, but also b) it just feels right.

Like Apple, Google doesn’t spend a ton of ad time and money obsessing over features and how their products stack up. Instead, they put the primary focus on the emotional connection they have with their customers, cashing in on the value and trust they’ve been building into their brand from Day 1.

But wait, I know what you’re thinking — that’s all well and good for Google and Apple, but isn’t that the kind of luxury only market leaders or big B2C players can afford?

B2C or B2B, Buying Decisions are Mostly Made with Our Gut

According to the Corporate Executive Board’s recent report, “From Promotion to Emotion” (thanks to Michael Brenner for bringing the report to my attention via his great blog post “Marketing is Personal: Emotion Beats Promotion by 2x“), effective B2B branding is more important than ever.

Among the big takeaways:

Brands that can connect with their buyers on an emotional level will see 2x more impact than B2B marketers who are still trying to sell business or functional value.”

So how can you build a greater emotional connection between buyers and your brand in 2014? By turning to storytelling. And focusing on the why behind the what.

How Can You Market Like Google? 3 Keys to Remarkable Branded Storytelling

1) Showcase the ‘Why’, Not the ‘What’

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” says Sinek. That’s such a simple concept, yet it requires a significant shift in thinking. As Brianne Carlon points out in a fantastic post at Kuno Creative, “brands continue to focus on product details rather than caring about the reasons behind the decisions people make.”

Carlon highlights another Google commercial — the company’s brilliant 2010 Super Bowl ad “Parisian Love” — as an example of a brand getting it right.

“Google knows we use the search engine to answer the big and small questions in our lives,” she explains. “The commercial showed us that solving our problems is why it exists.”

2) Make Your Customer the Hero

Demonstrate the use of your product from your customer’s personal perspective. What challenges can it help them overcome? How can it help them succeed individually, contribute to their companies, and help others? Take the opportunity to show that journey in action and put your customer in the spotlight.

Again, it’s not features that are important, it’s what they enable your customers to do and accomplish.

3) Show that You Care

Brands build an emotional connection with us not by trying to convince us to care about the things they think we should, but by showing us they care about the same things we do. A little empathy, compassion, and enthusiasm can go a long way.

Are you planning on incorporating storytelling into your marketing for 2014? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Further reading and resources

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