What’s your brand backstory?

The accelerating nature of technology and media convergence will have a resultant entropic effect relating to the perception of “brand” within and outside an organization. This premise will underpin several forthcoming blog posts. This blog post will discuss how this entropic effect affects brand storytelling.

Craft your backstory

For easily a decade 1000Watt Consulting and Matthew Ferrara & Company have been challenging real estate organizations to define and embrace their unique stories. From executive tier discussions centering on core values and culture, previous and present technology choices, to operational issues, they have helped elevate their clients and the real estate industry at large in immeasurable ways. A decade of listening to these auteurs—accompanied at times with the privilege of sharing a dais here and there with them—has been particularly instructive around the concept of “brand.”

However, it was not until recently listening to Marc Davison (of 1000Watt) and Matthew Ferrara on two separate occasions that I fully realized some of the foundational constructs underlying a “brand,” particularly its “story.” Both occassions (at the Wothshop 5 and Leading Real Estate Companies of the World conferences) focused on the core elements of storytelling and brand narratives. In particular, Davison elucidated the power of the backstory of a brand in his unveiling of the new Harry Norman Realtors web and mobile presence (soon to launch publicly). What I took away from his presentation is that the backstory of a brand functions as an anchoring element and values-driven catalyst to all facets of a brand’s expression—internally (privately) and externally (publicly). It’s the backstory of a brand that is one of the most critical components of ensuring brand consistency across the new media convergent universe.

Media convergence theory posits that:

[C]hanges in communications and information technologies reshape and change everyday life, altering patterns of creation, consumption, learning, and interpersonal interaction. New technology redefines media content and alters human interaction with social institutions such as government, education, and commerce. citation

Implicit within this definition is the concept of entropy. And as the impacts of media convergence continue to manifest (e.g., more time spent on media and devices than there is in a 24-hour day ) the potential for attenuated, particlized, and repulsive effects on brand messaging increases. Without some tethering or unifying aether, brand continuity will decrease, brand consistency will atrophy, and consumer trust of your brand will wither.

So what is this unifying aether? The backstory of your brand.

A useful definition of backstory is:

[A] history or background created for a fictional character in a motion picture or television program…similar background information about a real person or thing that promotes fuller understanding of it. citation

The latter half of this definition is the salient element for branding considerations. This element was poignantly made clear by Davison as he discussed the brand-level archetypes and triptych-like features of the new Harry Norman branding with the audience at the 2016 Leading Real Estate Companies of the World conference. While touring a branch office, he noticed a portrait of Emmaline Norman, who founded the company in 1939. Inspired, Davison began digging into the historical record and story of the company, unearthing several core values and cultural facets (artifacts?) that implicitly grounded the company from its inception. From these facets, 1000Watt created linguistic and visual narratives that described and framed the company in a new light. This revitalized linguistic and visual symmetry, interacting holistically, created the backstory for a new expression of the Harry Norman brand.

So how does this backstory ameliorate the potential negative or complicating impacts of media convergence? In its purest, elemental nature this backstory is device, medium, and platform agnostic. And this is the crux of the argument. In this elemental form, the backstory remains unaltered and unaffected by accelerating changes in media and technology. The brand backstory operates as a sustainable catalyst for consistency and continuity around your brand.

Photo credit: Very Quiet

Zero Moment of Trust

Ask almost any real estate professional what compels a client to work with them or personally refer them, and that professional will probably say something like “They trust me.” This is also backed up by research from the National Association of Realtors (see Exhibits 4-17 and 7-8, 2013 NAR Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers). But more often than not, this “trust” is predicated upon in-real-life, face-to-face interactions. The challenge, however, for modern real estate practitioners is how to imbue a sense of trust via a mobile or web presence. What is the Zero Moment of Trust for a prospective client to make the decision to contact or divulge personal information to a real estate brand or agent via a mobile or web interface? How does a professional break through the scrim of the screen to convey this sense of trust?

Zero Moment of Trust
Zero Moment of Trust

The Zero Moment of Trust concept builds upon Google’s concepts around Zero Moment of Truth (“ZMOT”). ZMOT describes how a set of search-related activities, from whatever device, informs a consumer at the point of decision regarding a product purchase. In previous years before mobile commerce was so prevalent, this search-influenced and aided decision making timeline could extend to hours and even days. However, within a mobile commerce environment–enhanced and influenced by mobile-enabled search–a consumer’s purchase decision making timeline is near instantaneous.

For example, a decade ago a consumer, sitting in front of a home computer, likely would have browsed through several websites, over several hours, as part of her decision making process. Whereas today that same consumer could be sitting in a cafe enjoying a cortado and decide to purchase a pair of shoes, use Google to conduct a search, sift through relevant search results, find a nearby boutique as well as sift through Zappos results, compare both retail outlets via their online presence and ratings, and decide to purchase via Zappos…all within the time it takes for her to finish her cortado. This latter scenario effectively captures the core concepts embodied in Google’s ZMOT argument. And similar to shopping for shoes, consumers use search to find properties for sale or rent as well as find agents with whom they may want to represent them. But it is at this point that ZMOT breaks down in real estate. For ZMOT is a great construct for how consumers make product purchasing decisions, but it is a weak construct for how clients decide to work with a professional. And it is at this moment that Zero Moment of Trust comes into play.

The client-professional relationship is centered around trust. Thus, there is a second layer of trust-based decision making activities a consumer undertakes in evaluating a professional. Further, much of this evaluation occurs within mobile and web related contexts. And for the real estate professional, whose first interaction with a client is more often than not nowadays bound to these contexts, how trustworthy he or she appears within these contexts often determines whether a prospective client will contact them. Thus, the question becomes how can a real estate professional immediately convey a sense of trust within these contexts? How can a real estate professional leverage Zero Moment of Trust? The answer to this question resides within the realms of user experience (“UX”) and user interface (“UI”) design and how to leverage mobile and web trust indicators.

According to these research reports, How do users evaluate the credibility of websites (.pdf), An overview of online trust: concepts, elements, and implications, and What instills trust? A qualitative study of phishing there are three primary mobile-web trust indicators: performance, design, and information. Performance trust indicators center around platform speed, page load times, and overall functionality. Design trust indicators center around balanced UI, ease of navigation, continuity, consistency of UX across devices, and intuitiveness. Information trust indicators center around simplicity of message, forthrightness (i.e., no trickery), usefulness, and client ratings and testimonials. These trust indicators must all sync as an integrated whole to immediately convey a sense of trust to a prospective client, which will prompt this client to do something (for example, request a showing, contact an agent for a CMA, etc). To help illustrate these concepts, following are visual examples as to how some brands outside of and within real estate are using trust indicators to impute trust to viewers:



Take-away: Balanced design and ratings directly on the booking page imply trust.

Michael Saunders & Company

Michael Saunders & Company

Take-away: The nexus between elegant design and the nuance of language (e.g., use of “Serene beaches” rather than the location of these beaches to enable a visitor to search these locations).

These brands explicitly or implicitly leverage Zero Moment of Trust principles. I encourage you to browse through the two websites mentioned above (via your desktop/laptop, tablet, and mobile phone), paying particular attention to how they use design and language to convey a sense of trust. These two brands have leveraged several trust indicators to gain and maintain marketshare and win consumer mindshare.

Designing a visual experience as a form of content marketing

A duck on a ledge says what?

happy duck

I took this photo after reading this Mashable article which discusses, in part, how “visual storytelling” is an emerging marketing trend. What’s the story behind the duck? Did I, via the duck picture, add to the narrative of this Norwegian brand? With the debut and popularity of Pinterest and Instagram, brands are rethinking their presence and how they deliver an experience based around sharable visual imagery.

In addition to discussing this marketing trend, the Mashable article delved into the overall issue of “designed experience”. The article discussed many of the benefits of incorporating “designed experience” and “web beautification” principles into app development and marketing. Yet the article offered little guidance on how to kick-start such an initiative. Luckily, I found this research which offers such guidance. Key take-aways include:

  • Understand that effective personas describe a mentality and behavior not an actual person, they are archetypes
  • Personas do not equate to market segmentation but define attitudes and behaviors and, thus, help designers in generating ideas and solutions
  • Effective personas focus on a single purpose (effective apps do so too)

Finally, the research article points out that when applying personas in the design process, product/service developers and managers should develop a task flow for a particular persona. This task flow is a critical step in the process because it defines user engagement points and an optimal sequence of steps a user may take. If designers/developers understand the optimal sequence of tasks, they can improve design elements to make it easier for users to accomplish tasks; this equates to a better experience.