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Brand Narrative and Shopper Values

Stories have always been important to brands. The story a brand tells about itself is central to its identity, its marketing and reflects how the brand operates. More than an annual sale or store layout, the narrative a brand tells about itself helps it communicate with shoppers on a deeper level. The story has real meaning and power.

But brands aren’t in the driver’s seat anymore. To shoppers, the stories they tell about themselves matter most, and the brands they choose to include in their lives are supporting characters in that story. In our book, we dive into what shoppers are saying about the role their values and personal narratives play in purchase decisions. We explore how that dynamic differs between generations, and how the information-hungry shopper isn’t going to be satisfied with shallow brand stories – they want action that matters.

Shoppers view their purchases as reflective of their personality

Our research found that 76% of shoppers say they want to be as informed as possible before making a purchase. They want that information to help them evaluate the product and make comparisons, but also to be sure that the story behind the product matches the story they want to tell about themselves. They want confidence that the decision they’re about to make aligns with their outlook and values.

We also found that 62% of all shoppers view the products they buy as a reflection of their personality. For these shoppers, purchase decisions have become intensely personal. The product or brand with the values and identity that most closely match the shopper is the one that will win.

Imagine what it means for your marketing that three out of every five people who buy a product that your brand sells view that product as an extension of themselves. The story you tell goes from focusing on the product’s function to its place in the world and how it helps its users fully express themselves.

This is a new trend, and it’s growing

Shoppers have not always thought this way – it’s a relatively new phenomenon. When we cut the data by generation, it’s clear that younger people are much more likely to tie purchases to their personality 68% among Gen Z and Millennials, while just 43% of Boomers agree. As more of Gen Z comes of age and gains purchasing power, the share of overall shoppers who think this way will likely rise.

The trend doesn’t stop there. We also asked shoppers which issues matter to them the most, and whether or not it would be a significant point of concern or an absolute deal-breaker if they found that a product or brand didn’t align with their feelings about a particular issue. If buying the brand or product indicated that they take a social or political stance that’s contrary to their feelings, would they still buy?

Younger shoppers are more likely to say no. Across every issue we raised, from environmental impact and transparent business practices to supporting gender, racial and sexual equality, and supporting the local economy, Gen Z and Millennial shoppers are consistently more likely than older generations to want a brand to align with their worldview. They’re even more likely to care about whether or not a brand or company treats its employees well or tries to make a positive difference in the world. It’s Google’s former “Don’t be evil” motto taken to heart in how the younger generations do their shopping. We won’t know how Generation Alpha approaches the issue for a few years, but all signs point to this personalization of the narrative becoming the status quo. So even if your brand caters to an older demographic, the shoppers who will age into your target audience will bring these attitudes with them.

Using narrative to connect with shoppers

In the era of “Shopper Promiscuity”, a phrase we use to describe the decline of brand loyalty, brands have the opportunity to pivot by aligning their narrative and identity with those of their target shoppers. Communicating that narrative effectively and in a compelling way will place your products at the center of a shopper’s self and let them tell their story through their purchases in ways that feel authentic to them. And, most importantly, brands need to back up that narrative with action to make it true.

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