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Marketing Inception: Frame The Narrative of Your Paid Campaigns to Waste Less and Convert More

By Steve Geick, Senior Digital Strategist, Metric Digital

Inception is one of the great marketing films of all time.

Dicaprio exemplifies his narrative prowess during the infamous workshop scene. His team is brainstorming a messaging strategy to approach their key target, a reluctant and resentful businessman poised to inherit his dying father’s company.

Leo’s initial story (above) won’t effectively reach his target. It’s far too negative and not empowering enough to influence his behavior.

Then he says:

“The subconscious motivates through emotion, not reason. We have to translate every idea into an emotional concept."

Next, the team changes the narrative to this:

“I will create something for myself. My father wants me to be my own man.”

And with that empowering story, they are able to connect to their target at the right time and place, and at the deepest possible level to influence his behavior.

Are your paid ads telling the right story? Is your brand missing out on new customers because of an inaccurately framed message?

Hopefully not. Because the last thing any ecommerce company needs is to waste expenditure on marketing efforts that don’t end up being needle movers.

Here’s how you can use “marketing inception” to build overarching campaign narratives for your paid ads:

Begin with differentiation

When Metric Digital executes strategy projects for ecommerce companies, we begin with an exhaustive audit of the business. This includes actionable analysis about the brand, the website and the competition. With that data, we drill down into the core psychology of customer personas, mapping their psychological triggers to the messaging on the website and in ads. 

In short: We build the overarching campaign narrative.

The ideal place to begin this story is by looking at what your differentiator is. The unique selling proposition. That’s still an incredibly valid place to start. In a distracted online environment, it’s never been more relevant.

You have to put yourself in the shoes of someone whose life would be improved by your product. Ask this question:

Who is the kind of person that, if they had this product, and you took it away from them, would feel some sort of pain?

This question helps us build out specifically who that person is in terms of their needs and media consumption, what kind of similar brands they're shopping with, and so on. Then we use that to build out the company’s initial audience. We help the brand match messaging to the language of this customer profile. Which helps us establish a strong starting point for the website and other marketing materials going forward.

The goal is being highly customer oriented with your messaging. Focusing less on describing your product, and more on hitting specific triggers for the customer. Not unlike Dicaprio does in the above illustration.

Join the customer’s journey

Imagine your company sells handbags to customers who want a life surrounded by authenticity, rather than mass produced products. Great. Tell them how your brand is their one stop shop for surrounding themselves with the goods that bring them joy. Paint a picture of owning those products that are authentic, handmade and unique, from an artistic source, and made with care and love. 

You are carrying the mark of an artist. 

As opposed to just buying a leather bag.

If you want to get your internal team on board with this story, it has to hit that emotional trigger. It’s satisfying to me when I share this kind of story with a client, pretending I’m Don Draper (or Leo), and the client is legitimately moved. 

Wow, that’s exactly what I needed, she thinks.

Of course, the narrative is not something we created from whole cloth, but we reformatted and summarized what she created in a way that was oriented to marketing and commerce. She’s hearing her own story in a way that’s digestible for advertising. It's exactly what she was thinking when she created this brand. We're simply mimicking what she already believes.

Set boundaries on channel options

This overarching campaign narrative gives you something to focus on, other than the immense amount of noise that's out there in the marketing world. You’re optimizing for this singular person. You're not optimizing for some imaginary customer who's on every single social network imaginable. You're limiting your scope so you can stay focused on who your customer is, what they desire, what they're looking for, what would make your website a place they frequent online, etc.

Keep in mind, that means you’re going to have a limited subset of the tools that are available out there. Forget about the hundred different marketing tools that every guru is selling. Focus on the ones that convert and let go of the rest.

Naturally, some of our clients grow concerned when they hear this.

“Twitter, but we have to be on there!”

Maybe, maybe not. 

We feel a lot of resistance and it’s understandable. Much of our job is around pushing back against the idea that every brand should be doing a high volume of marketing activity across the board, versus a high volume of activity within their lane. We can’t blame companies, especially if they’re spearheaded by a solo entrepreneur and the product is their baby and they want everyone to see it. 

But without that focus, the ad spend may as well be gambled on roulette.

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Ultimately, building an overarching campaign narrative gives your company permission to say no to all the extraneous marketing noise. It empowers you to be more focused on what's going to have the most impact for your brand. 

In short: Hitting customers in places where they actually are. Using limited resources to maximize impact of time and dollars. Turning ideas into emotions and emotions into sustainable company growth.

Marketing inception may not win your company four academy awards, but it will most certainly win plenty of new customers.

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Steve Geick Senior Digital Specialist, Metric Digital The Metric Digital Blog A Blog on All Things Digital Marketing