BOSTON — “The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”

That observation by poet Muriel Rukeyser in 2006 certainly resonates with marketers, as represented on several panels today at VentureBeat’s GrowthBeat Summit. The conference of marketing executives concludes its two-day run today at Boston’s Langham Hotel.

Take Belkin chief marketing officer Kieran Hannon. His company’s newest product line, home automation platform WeMo, has spun a compelling — if contradictory — story:

With WeMo technology, the company says in effect, users can liberate themselves from technology to focus on the more important things in life.

Hannon showed two marketing videos that went for the Spielberg teary moment which only a well-told story can generate.

One showed all the things you want to do — say yes to your girlfriend or hug that dog — instead of wasting time going back home when you leave the iron on or when you need to turn off the programmed sprinklers because it’s raining.

In the other video, a young woman arrives home to find a Rube Goldberg-esque lineup of automatically triggered, loving recollections — a quick video clip that plays when she approaches, a crockpot that is automatically cooking her husband’s best dish. At the end of this WeMo’d trail of emotional instances, her remote-transmitting husband appears on a monitor to wish her a happy first wedding anniversary.

Belkin CMO Kieran Hannon with moderator Nadine Dietz from VentureBeat

Above: Belkin CMO Kieran Hannon with moderator Nadine Dietz from VentureBeat

Image Credit: Virginia Sutherland/Venturebeat

Stories, built to trap emotions, can have more practical aims. Hannon noted that, beyond the early adopters, WeMo’s targeted user is now the Problem Solver. That meshes with the larger brand story in that problem-solving makes life less complex.

Which ties into the home automation platform’s tagline that you should just “WeMo that” and move on to more important things.

Stories can resonate beyond their most likely proponents. For instance, Hannon announced a new finding from the NPD Group that, for the first time, renters’ interest level in WeMo home automation is greater than that of people who actually own a home.

For Boston Red Sox senior vice president of brand and marketing development Adam Grossman, the brand story goes beyond anything as tangible as property. For his beloved franchise, it’s about one generation passing on the love of a sport to another. It drives such audience-building and goodwill-building efforts as his club’s financial donations to community causes and its creation of a playground at the ballpark for families with restless children.

Grand Prix of America chief marketing officer Michael Williams pointed to the approach embodied by the rugged video camera GoPro. It’s not about the camera, he noted; it’s about the story around the camera.

“It’s the accountant who’s a BASE jumper on weekends,” he said.


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Getting fans of your brand to become invested in your story is not only good for selling stuff. Williams noted that engaged fans will come to your defense when your brand suffers inevitable bad news.

“It’s simple” to keep the fans engaged, he said, “because it’s about the story.”

As the next generation beyond messaging, stories add emotional connections that help a brand stand out and connect in a noisy and evanescent media culture. Brand stories like Belkin’s, GoPro’s, or the Boston Red Sox’s make the difference between having customers and having fans.

But stories’ strengths — the pleasure of retelling, owning the emotions, the implicit inclusion of yourself as a potential character — have risks for marketers. Particularly in the age of social retelling, it’s easy to lose control.

That was a key theme in one of the breakout sessions. User-generated content can take the brand story to places you don’t want it to go, one participant said — including the possibility that users incorporate competitors’ imagery to tell your story.

To guard against that, another suggested, marketers have to set clear parameters for user-created content. But, most importantly, they need to make sure they have clearly told their own story.