In the pre-digital age, we usually built brand through three lines of brand experience delivery:

1. advertising
2. product experience
3. customer service experience

These are still going to play a significant role in how to build a brand. But in this digital age (or as Google people will call it ‘post-digital’, as everything is digital now and we don’t even have to use the word as a qualifier anymore…) clever and advanced brands have realised that new approaches a needed as well.

When brands wanted to talk to their customers in the pre-digital age, that is exactly what they had done: talked. Advertising was like a megaphone, or a tannoy speaker: a one-way communication about a brand. What one of my former Lexus clients called the ‘glamorous monologue of advertising’. Strong storytelling was always required to break through the passive reception barrier.

But now, on the digital screen, more is required. People ignore brand ads, they block them, they don’t click on them, they don’t remember them. Just storytelling is not enough anymore.

This what I call a ‘surround-sound’ brand: the one that builds itself through various other activities that are not just storytelling. There are two of these new approaches that I think have gained a lot of traction in recent years and that clever brands are using more and more.

One is ‘storydoing’. Although the expression originates from another area of business activities (internal culture building), we can see the same philosophy spreading around in various places. Storydoing is when a brand ‘does’, not just tells its story. There are various ways to do this.

One is the company’s physical places, usually shops. ‘Destination’ shops such as Apple’s, Niketowns, Burberry’s London Regent Street store and similar are brand doing the story in practice.

The other example are brand experience activities, such as Glade’s ‘Museum of Feelings’, where a brand stages a physical space that projects various aspects of the brand. Consumers are ‘feeling’ the brand in different, ‘haptic’, physical and more active ways. The recent rise in ‘immersive’ theaters and art installations is yet another example of the trend.

The third example is actions of the companies representatives, such as Satrbuck’s baristas helping against sexual (and other) harassment of their guests, or Asos customer service emails that are becoming viral due to its tone and empathy.

Finally, ‘storydoing’ is what influencers do for the brand, or brand does itself, in the digital space. Various digital formats such as challenges, pranks, demos & tutorials are not traditional storytelling. Brands these days educate their customers, facilitate their lives by giving them tools & apps, connect them into communities & movements… This is far beyond traditional advertising.

Finally, there is also ‘storyliving’. The expression was coined by Google in a research project called ‘Humanizing VR’ and dedicated to story building in immersive spaces such as AR or VR.

In these spaces, nothing is linear like in a video on a screen. Users become part of the world that feels like a physical space (and in the case of AR IS a physical space, ours). Users can go in any direction, can stop and pay attention to any detail, which often hide many additional features inside.

Users have a feeling that they are ‘living’ the story. Given that the spaces are new to us and often strange and interesting, we feel exposed, which triggers the effect of the ‘beginners brain’: we are more open to learning and, therefore, influence.

This is why these spaces are often called ’empathy machines’, we break that ‘4th wall’ and feel ’embodiment’: like this is really happening to us. The effects could be really strong and long lasting.

Smart brands are already in it, in various ways. Ikea uses AR app to show us how their products can look like in our real rooms, Airbnb offers us ‘hosted walks’ (curated by real hosts in various locations), many brands have comprehensive educational programmes.

Branding is undergoing a real vibe shift, towards the more ‘surround-sound’ brand paradigm.

Lazar Džamić

Business School Professor of Practice