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The Difference Between Macro and Micro Narratives

When I write about brand stories, there are really two kinds of narratives to think about: the macro and the  micro. When a brand is really doing well, the narratives mirror each other and work to spread your story in both mass marketing and from consumer to consumer.

 

Macro Narratives—The Big Picture

Macro-narratives are the brand stories told in Annual Reports and shareholder meetings. These stories make up the majority of marketing messages on television and are reflected in product characteristics like packaging and price. When a brand team meets to talk about the messages they want to focus on and communicate to customers, they are talking about macro-narratives. These stories originate and are controlled by the brand team.

Micro Narratives—Where the Action Is

Micro-narratives are considerably different. Unlike the messages consumers see in television commercials, these stories reflect user experiences. Where macro-narratives are designed to appeal to large groups of customers (mass advertising), micro-narratives are personal. They come from one-on-one interactions with employees or from actual experience using a product.

Other than to make sure that the brand experience is in harmony with the brand promise made by the macro-narrative, a brand manager can’t do very much to control these personal experiences. These are the brand stories you find on facebook, twitter, and in person-to-person conversations. Today, social media has made micro-narratives far more easy to spread.

Putting the Two Together

When the Macro-narrative is reflected by the Micro-narratives shared by customers, brands tend to grow. Consumers expect and reward this kind of integrity. But when they conflict, consumers easily see the hypocrisy and abandon the brand.

Example: When your community bank advertises that they understand it’s their customers that keep them in business, they are telling a powerful macro-narrative—especially when compared to the competition which feels faceless and corporate. But when the customer’s actual experience isn’t a caring bank, but rather a corporation that charges exorbitant fees and makes it all but impossible to reach a human being, the narrative loses its power.

For a good brand story to work as well as it can, both narratives need to support each other.