Brands that are keen to achieve genuine customer engagement have been urged to find out "what makes them tick".

According to Graham Bednash, consumer marketing director in Europe, the Middle East and Africa for Google, there is no "magic bullet" for engaging with audiences.

Instead, he believes it is vital to gain "deep insights" into the people they are trying to bring on board, so they genuinely understand their tastes, preferences and priorities.

This, he stated, can put brands in a position where they are able to develop ideas and content that "captures their imagination and interest".

The frontrunners

Speaking to Marketing Week, Mr Bednash noted that the growth of digital platforms over the last few years has opened up lots of new opportunities for companies to engage with consumers in interesting ways.

"We're at an exciting time where the opportunity to experiment has never been greater," he said.

Mr Bednash was speaking after Aesop and OnePoll carried out a study to identify which brands come out on top when it comes to telling stories.

More than 2,000 people in the UK were asked to measure how they rate in several categories, such as credibility, purpose, memorability and brand personality.

Apple, Cadbury and McDonald's came out on top, with IKEA, Walkers and Coca-Cola following close behind. Virgin Media, YouTube, Macmillan Cancer Support and the Red Cross made up the rest of the top ten.

This is an interesting cross-section of organisations and demonstrates that groups in a wide variety of sectors can successfully engage with their audience, from tech firms and fast food outlets to charities and social media platforms.

While each of these names was measured in accordance with various criteria, Aesop has speculated that the sheer ubiquity of some could partly explain why they are ranked so highly.

"There are normal laws of brand physics at play here, in that if you are not communicating, you are going to start dropping because you are not salient and top of mind," said Ed Woodcock, head of narrative at Aesop.

“Some brands stay high in the rankings because of legacy imprints, but that needs to be topped up, and perhaps those brands that have dropped down haven’t been communicating in a way that has been enough to counteract the decay.” 

However, he stressed that simply communicating with people on a regular basis is not enough on its own, as organisations must also put across a clear narrative when they are telling brand stories.

Trendspotting and storytelling

Mr Woodcock argued that adopting a narrative approach helps to ensure all the different platforms are coordinated and convey a coherent and consistent message.

He went on to point out that brand storytelling is important because of the "oral effect of social media".

This, he said, means that chatter on sites such as Facebook and Twitter is analogous to stories being told at the pub or around the campfire, albeit on a massive scale involving millions of people.

"It's that function of social media and the predominance of it in our lives that makes storytelling more relevant than it was in the broadcast era," Mr Woodcock observed.

He added that Apple's success in the rankings is partly because the perception of it as an innovative brand has become ingrained in people's minds. Cadbury, meanwhile, was commended for embracing pioneering methods of engaging with customers and for ensuring its campaigns are associated with joyous moments in people's lives.

Understanding the thought processes and behaviour of customers can put organisations in a good position to come up with engagement strategies that really resonate and have a positive impact on their target audiences.

This means they must go beyond simply gathering large quantities of data on their audience, and make sure they have a system in place that allows them to identify trends and patterns.

By using CRM software to garner meaningful insights from their data, they can work to ensure they are able to consistently engage with their audiences in a relevant and timely way.

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