California Love: Part 1

Saturday, July 15 2017 Jeff Marshall EVP, Customer Solutions Categories:

Bringing state pride to corporate identity


Anyone who’s been to a professional sports game has some idea about what hometown devotion can look like. Humans take great pride in their places of origin, and that loyalty runs deep. The same can also be true of brands. It’s not a priority for every company, but when an organization does feel an affiliation with its city, state or country of origin it presents a really cool opportunity to tap into deeper Narratives about that place.


Several years ago, we were approached by the California Milk Advisory Board with a simple but fascinating question: what does it mean to be Californian?–at a Narrative level. The organization wanted to know what people in the state really cared about so that it could connect with those values and that identity at a core level.


The ability to participate in a Narrative that’s bigger than the typical product or industry conversation is a major opportunity for brands to stand out and create messages that resonate emotionally with their target customers. It’s a way to build loyalty in the company–not just the product–and it’s also just a perfect way to show people what the company values.


For the Milk Advisory project, we looked at the Narratives that Californians were telling about themselves. After analyzing billions of different data points to uncover the relevant beliefs and unspoken attitudes Californians had about their home state, we were able to identify nine that got the most attention. Of these, a few were negative (“Self-Absorbed California”, “Crazy California”), but far more reflected the feelings of a population desperately in love with its state’s beauty and authenticity.


The values that people most strongly associated with California included an emphasis on health and well-being, which fit well with the Milk Advisory Board’s product market, as well as a strong interest in “real people.” The marketing team at the Milk Advisory Board combined those insights with an appeal to the Californian love of nature in an advertising campaign called “Return to Real.” The campaign, which featured small farms, families at dinner and breathtaking shots of Californian landscapes, wove in multiple Narratives highlighted in our report, and was highly successful.


Celebrating shared values is a powerful way to come closer to your audience, but the path to feeling like part of the family isn’t always obvious. In the next Narrative Pulse, I’ll talk about how one business made an appeal to California Love, even without obvious overlap with the common belief systems.


When our customers work with us to figure out how to act upon the narratives through messaging, new products, content, and new strategies, this additional and familiar insight makes the recommendations that much more valuable. Some customers need to dive into the demographics of people who adhere to a highly negative narrative about them — and ultimately reach them. Other customers need to activate a target segment that has drifted to the competition or to substitutes. Using inference to understand demographic parameters enables us to think big. The smarter we get about the way people operate, the more precisely we’re able to infer demographics, and the better our understanding of the human condition.