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Can the Power of Place Help You Create Better Marketing Content and Brand Storytelling?

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How does location play a role in developing great marketing content and brand storytelling?

I’ve always been captivated by the power of place. As an inveterate traveler, I often remember a place just so. The smallest details bring a location alive, and with that memory comes a swirling cloud of sensations and associations. New Orleans: the crush of people on Frenchman Street, mellow notes of jazz on the night air, a hint of jasmine, and in the distance, the sound of hooves and carriage wheels on rutted streets. Seattle: steel construction, salt air, organic markets, and the perpetual sense of an older city beneath the streets. Death Valley: vast, arid, unrelenting sun in a landscape pierced with unexpected explosions of color and moments of life.

In literature, the role of place in story has been studied for generations. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn would have been a different story in Harlem or Queens. The House of Seven Gables, a uniquely New England tale, would have taken a different turn if set in the colonial South. As brand marketers, tapping into the way that places shape our perceptions and experiences can help us create more engaging marketing content.

marketing content

Image attribution: Scott Webb

Why Is Place So Powerful?

“We are surrounded by places. We walk over and through them. We live in places, relate to others in them, die in them. Nothing we do is unplaced. How could it be otherwise? How could we fail to recognize this primal fact?” —Edward S. Casey, The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History.

In The Fate of Place, Edward Casey explores the role that the power of place has taken in the philosophy world. At five hundred pages, it’s a substantial read—but well worth the dive if you want to understand how our modern conceptions of place have evolved. Understanding how to use place as a feature in brand storytelling starts with really understanding the significance of place.

As Casey notes, “place” is an ever-present part of the way that we experience the world and how we move through it. For brand marketers, this opens up an interesting question: What part does location play in the way that consumers experience and perceive a brand? There are a number of possibilities.

  • Associating a location with a brand’s origin story
  • The role of place in how components are sourced or products created
  • The legacy of certain cities to different industries, such as Milwaukee and beer or Seattle and coffee
  • The legacy of certain areas to perceived brand values
  • The role of place in where and how a product is used
  • Place and community as part of the customer’s experience around the brand

Can Place Be a Theme?

Place can also be thematic, and it can be one of the ways that we shape brand storytelling. The Power of Storytelling conference beautifully described why place is so important: “We usually enter a story through a character that lures or invites us in, but one of the reasons we stay is because the world he/she inhabits is so vivid. In this regard, stories are not just the different and new people that we meet, but also the worlds they inhabit: their apartments, their offices, their cities, their countries.

When you think about Vermont, what comes to mind? Probably socially conscious brands like Ben & Jerry’s or Cabot. The Rocky Mountain states have a rugged and all-American feel we associate with brands like Coors. The Pacific Northwest has given birth to outdoorsy, adventurous brands like Columbia. These brand values help customers feel a connection to a brand that understands them. Leverage place and brand values to help speak to your customers and let them know that they’ve arrived at the right destination.

A snowy street in Boston

Image attribution: Alice Donovan Rouse

Practical Ways to Leverage Place in Your Storytelling

How can you, as a storyteller, put the power of place to work in your content creation?

Find The “Place Angle” In The Brand or Product Story

Brands and products often have a “place” component, whether it’s maple water that’s sourced from trees in the great northern forests of Canada or a brewery that got its start on the mean streets of Boston among the world’s toughest beer critics. If you’re seeking a “place angle” to a brand or product story, be sure to highlight the contribution of place and how that differentiates the brand. What does it mean to the customer? For example, sourcing components for food that’s organically harvested in Maine may help your audience imagine a place they vacationed as a child or support a lifestyle they believe is important. Use place and what it conveys to connect readers to a greater message.

Use Place As A Way To Introduce A New Idea

Can place help you think about the brand story in a new way? Wilfred McClay writes in Why Place Matters: Geography, Identity, and Civic Life in Modern America: “The most important element in fostering a sense of place is to teach ourselves, or let ourselves be taught, to see with fresh eyes the place where we find ourselves.” Does the fact that Ben & Jerry’s is a brand with a focus on environmental sustainability take on new meaning when it’s contextualized in the forests and mountains of Vermont? Could customers understand your brand in a new way by looking at the city where the idea originated, or learning more about the location where your products and services are produced?

Build Community Through Brand Storytelling

Another way to look at the power of place in creating marketing content is to focus on how storytelling builds community. As Wired has written, community storytelling lets participants “put in place a mechanism to capture the true story of what [is] going on—as told by those being directly affected.” The context of the Wired example was a social and cultural one, but there’s a brand storytelling application as well. Can place be used to help build a stronger community among your customers? From targeted events to user-generated content to looking at how your brand takes shape in your local landscape, think about how your community comes together in a specific location.

The power of place is an underutilized component of the storytelling toolkit. Add context and nuance to your marketing content by looking at the role your brand takes. From your origin story to user-generated content, place can add another powerful dimension to your message.

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Featured image attribution: Jonatan Pie

Liz Alton is a technology and marketing writer, and content strategist, for Fortune 500 brands and creative agencies. Her specialties include marketing, technology, B2B, big data/analytics, cloud, and mobility. She's worked with clients including Adobe, IBM, Hewlett Packard, Twitter, ADP, and Google. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and an MBA. She is currently pursuing a master’s in journalism from Harvard University.

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