Building self-brand connections: Exploring brand

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Original Article

Building self-brand connections: Exploring brand stories through a transmedia perspective Received (in revised form): 23rd January 2015

Neil Granitz is a Professor of Marketing at California State University, Fullerton. In 1999, he obtained his PhD from Arizona State University. His research interests include digital marketing, ethics and marketing education. He has published articles in several journals including the Journal of Advertising, the Journal of Business Ethics, the Journal of Business Research and the Journal of Marketing Education.

Howard Forman is an Associate Professor of Marketing at California State University, Fullerton. He earned his PhD from Temple University in 1998 and his research interests include branding, decision making, pricing and marketing education. His research can be found in Industrial Marketing Management, Journal of Product and Brand Management, Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice and Journal of Marketing Education.

ABSTRACT Consumers interpret their experiences with brands via narrative processing; thus the brand story has emerged as a major marketing construct. Transmedia storytelling occurs when the story elements are dispersed across multiple media, each making a unique contribution to the whole. As brand stories can create connections between the consumer and the brand, delivering transmedia brand stories may strengthen the bond, leading to positive attitudes, more entry points and higher purchase intent. Past research on brand stories has not addressed the types of brand stories that consumers know and desire to hear, and the media in which they prefer to find these stories. The present research answers these questions and positions the findings in the context of creating transmedia stories. Qualitative interviews revealed that consumers know and wish to hear stories about the brand’s history, product reliability, philanthropy and users’ personal stories. Other findings indicate that consumers with stronger brand connections prefer stories focused on the brand’s experiential value and will access this through interactive media. Consumers with weaker brand attachments prefer stories about the utilitarian dimensions of the brand, told through more traditional media. Practical recommendations focus on creating consumer-brand connections through different types of stories and media.

Journal of Brand Management (2015) 22, 38–59. doi:10.1057/bm.2015.1; published online 6 March 2015 Correspondence: Howard Forman, California State University, Fullerton, 800 N. State College Blvd., Fullerton, California 92834, USA E-mail: [email protected]

Keywords:

brand stories; self-brand connections; transmedia storytelling

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Building self-brand connections

I love Samsung design. I remember when they used to be the cheap brand from Korea and Sony was the best you could buy. Over the years, Sony got fat-headed and started making products that were not compatible with other products out there (like MP3 Players). Samsung integrated with Android and Google and focused more on trend-setting design. The products feel good. Apple will soon be copying Samsung. (John K., Consumer)

In recent years, the brand story has emerged as a significant marketing construct (Huang, 2010; Woodside, 2010; Digles, 2011). People interpret their exposure to and experiences with brands via narrative processing (Escalas, 2004). Thus a brand story may be created when buyers and sellers create brand narratives of varying complexity whereby experience, outcomes and meaning is ascribed to brands (Bruner, 1990; Fournier, 1998; Desai and Keller, 2002; Brown et al, 2003). Brand stories contain plots, characters and outcomes (Singh and Sonnenburg, 2012). They can build consumer awareness, comprehension, empathy, recall and meaning (Singh and Sonnenburg, 2012). They also facilitate consumer interaction by allowing consumers to integrate their own experiences into the story (Escalas, 2004). In cognitive terms, a brand story creates new nodes and links in memory, inducing greater processing, which may lead to stronger self-brand connections (Anderson, 1983; Escalas, 2004). Convergence represents a shift from medium-specific content towards content that flows across multiple channels, increased interdependence of communication systems and multiple modalities of accessing content (Jenkins, 2006). It represents a cultural shift as consumers seek out and create new information and make connections across dispersed media. Convergence makes transmedia storytelling possible. In transmedia storytelling, the same stories are not repeated in different media, but rather different elements

of the story are systematically dispersed across multiple media platforms, each making its own unique contribution to the whole (Dena, 2008). Consumers are now crossing boundaries, exhibiting greater interactivity and creating their own ‘branded’ content (O’Reilly, 2005; Thompson and Sinha, 2008; Goh et al, 2013). Additionally, consumer online brand-related activities (COBRA) such as creating or consuming social media more rapidly spread these stories (Muntinga et al, 2011). Transmedia storytelling delivers all of the benefits of storytelling, and amplifies them; it creates a more interactive consumer, one that uses more properties and is more engaged – which leads to deeper self-brand connections (Grandio and Bonaut, 2012; Sangalang et al, 2013). Up to now, transmedia storytelling researchers from diverse disciplines have focused predominately on the creative industries’ media properties, which have a story as their core product; properties such as Glee, The Matrix, Dr Who, Star Wars, Twilight, The Amanda Project and Skins. The researchers’ general line of inquiry has been to explain how the process unfolds, the structure of the narrative, how each different type of media plays a role and how consumer identities and cultures are built around stories (Jenkins, 2006; Perryman, 2008; Dena, 2009; Wood and Baughman, 2012; Hadas, 2014). Researchers have not addressed transmedia storytelling in the context of brands that have a product or service (versus story) as their core offering. From a marketing perspective, parts of this are not new. For example, marketing scholars have long recognized that individuals consume for hedonic and emotional experience (Hirschman and Holbrook, 1982; Holbrook and Hirschman, 1982), and social and cultural identity (Schouten and McAlexander, 1995; Fournier, 1998). In the marketing literature, the focus of consumer research has been limited to studying social media and

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user-generated content; how new (social) media spreads and enables users to create content which contributes to identity and, greater self-brand connections (King et al 2014; Phelps et al, 2004; Muntinga et al, 2011; LiuThompkins and Rogerson, 2012; Gensler et al, 2013; Tenderich, 2014). A transmedia perspective has not been taken. Additionally, much of the speculation about transmedia storytelling has been produced in the popular press and meaningful research has not been undertaken ( Jenkins, 2006; Grover, 2009; Carmichael, 2011; Tenderich, 2014). To summarize, research is needed to investigate if and how transmedia storytelling can apply to brands that have a product or service as their core offering (versus a story). Williams (2003) asks organizations to first conduct research to determine brand narrative opportunities. As transmedia storytelling requires different stories across different media, a starting point is to understand if consumers know brand stories, which stories they know, the types of brand stories that consumers would like to hear, and the media vehicle where they would like to hear them. Specifically, the objectives of this research are:

and recounted. Third, past researchers have called for greater understanding of how firms can stimulate brand storytelling (Gensler et al, 2013). This study gives firms a starting point on the types of stories consumers know and would like to hear. Based on the stories revealed, we also offer recommendations on how to stimulate sharing of stories. Fourth, it also opens up the dialogue on ways that consumers can be segmented by story and by media. Finally, it sets the stage for future studies on transmedia brand storytelling in the context of products and services that do not have a story as their core offering.

LITERATURE REVIEW This literature review will cover past research on brand stories, transmedia storytelling and brands and transmedia storytelling. This will lead to a discussion on how processing a brand story can create a bond between the consumer and the brand; and how transmedia brand stories magnify this opportunity.

Stories and brand stories 1. To identify the types of brand stories consumers know; 2. To identify the types of brand stories consumers would like to hear; 3. To understand if consumers desire to hear certain brand stories through different media vehicles. This research is significant for several reasons. First, it links brand storytelling to transmedia brand storytelling; it is a study that will examine the story-types that may be used to create a transmedia story, in the context of brands that do not feature a narrative as their core product. Second, it elaborates on past literature by defining different types of consumer brand stories and through which media they prefer to see them constructed

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Hopkinson and Hogarth-Scott (2001) define a story as a report of events, myth and narrative. Stories contain indices such as locations, actions, attitudes, problems and characters. (Woodside, 2010). A story has a structure that keeps it together and engages the listener (Lundqvist et al, 2013). Stories consist of goal-directed action–outcome sequences (Stein and Albro, 1997), often include a message and make a point that is valued (Shankar and Goulding, 2001). A story is useful for several reasons. First, stories convey information. Social constructivism and critical theory are based on storytelling, and research in these areas demonstrates that storytelling helps communicate subjective and objective information, such as values, culture, and

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strengths and problems with brands. Within these narratives, new meaning is generated by mapping new stories onto stored memories (Schank, 1990). Second, individuals remember people, places and events though stories (Schank, 1999); thus stories perpetuate awareness. Third, a story may come with many indices (that is, touchpoints) to the lives of listeners/viewers, creating awareness and emotional attachment in the minds of listeners (Cooper et al, 2010; Woodside, 2010). Cognitively, stories can be conceptualized through Associative Network Theory; memory is structured as an associative network containing nodes which are connected via links (Anderson, 1983; Martindale, 1991). Newer stories may activate existing nodes or create new nodes. Schank (1999) further elaborates on Associative Network Theory with the notion of scripts, which are structures that describe an appropriate sequence of events in a particular context or sequence of action. Versus random nodes, there is sequence and context stored together; less lost and greater cohesion. Thus Associative Network Theory explains how stories help individuals organize their experiences, evaluate actions and interpret outcomes (Bruner, 1990). One way that organizations convey information and consumers organize and process input regarding brands is through stories (Pennington and Hastie, 1992). McKee (2003) argues that the best way to persuade someone is through a story. Drawing from a variety of experiences over time – marketing, personal knowledge, individual experience, mass media and one another – consumers create a well-developed network of beliefs and feelings about a brand, which can be organized sequentially in story form (Desai and Keller, 2002; Martin et al, 2005; Papadatos, 2006; Huang, 2010). The more media they consume, the more nodes consumers develop, and the deeper and richer their knowledge structure about the brand,

its attributes and its benefits (Bettman and Sujan, 1987). Thus a brand story may create new nodes about the brand or activate and link pre-existing nodes. Harley-Davidson is an example of a brand story where consumers may harbor many nodes. Harley-Davidson’s story is about rule breakers who stand for what they believe in – American Freedom – and challenge conventions. This story is told through several media, including the website, the executives (who ride with consumers), employees who assemble the bikes, social media, the consumers who meet at rallies and online, the Harley-Davidson museum, bike riding courses, cross-country rides and aggressive advertising campaigns; even the gift card is touted as one ‘with attitude’. The 2004 Obama story was one about change; it told Obama’s history of overcoming adversity, through videos, speeches, radio addresses, general websites, television appearances and social media campaigns. The media reinforced Obama’s essence as being about change. Both these examples illustrate how the same story is told through different media and are examples of integrated marketing communication (IMC): the synergistic use of different media in a comprehensive plan to convey one message in overall organizational objectives (Schultz et al, 1993; Phelps et al, 1996). This will be contrasted with transmedia storytelling below.

Convergence and transmedia storytelling Convergence is ‘an umbrella term that refers to the new textual practices, branding and marketing strategies, industrial arrangements, technological synergies, and audience behaviors, enabled and propelled by the emergence of digital media’ (Kackman et al, 2010, p. 1). In the context of this article, ‘Convergence refers to the flow of media across multiple media platforms. The cooperation between multiple media

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industries and migratory behavior of media audiences who will go almost anywhere in search of the kinds of entertainment they want’ (Jenkins, 2006, p. 2). Convergence is consumer-centric and participatory, where consumers make connections among dispersed media content. Convergence is also industry-driven by corporations seeking to exploit media conglomeration. Media convergence makes transmedia storytelling possible. In transmedia storytelling, elements of a story are dispersed across multiple media, each making a different contribution to a story that is so big or complex, it cannot be told in one medium. In the past, a movie like Logan’s Run (1976) would generate a comic book and novel which reflected the movie in the story. This is not transmedia storytelling; it is adaptation because the same story is being told across different media. Transmedia storytelling evolved from consumer demand for new stories or dimensions. Cut to the Batman franchise today - different stories about Batman are being told across different mediums. The genesis is in the comic book – which in itself has spawned numerous accompanying comic titles, such as Batwoman, Batgirl and the Brave and the Bold – so different stories are being told across the same media. Different stories are also being told across different media. The highly successful Dark Knight movie franchise recounts an origin and evolution of a psychologically driven Batman. Consumers were also able to participate in the movie’s story. Prior to launch of the second movie, a campaign was developed to recruit fans to the Joker’s gang. It culminated in thousands of fans, dressed as the Joker, taking to the streets and uncovering scavenger hunt style clues. Gotham, the TV series, tells the story of James Gordon, gang lords and villains of Gotham, following the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents. Batman Year One, a DVD in animated format, tells the story of Batman’s first

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experiences in crime-fighting. The videogame, Batman, Arkham Asylum, allows players to become Batman or Catwoman and create their own original adventures. The novel, Enemies and Allies, tells of Batman’s first meeting with Superman during the Cold War. Fan fiction can be seen as an unauthorized expansion of these media franchises into new directions which reflect the reader’s desire to ‘fill in the gaps’ they have discovered in the commercially produced material (Jenkins, 2006). Online, one can find the fan-made Ashes to Ashes video, which mixes characters from Batman with those from Frank Miller’s Sin City. In general, consumers with stronger attachment to brands have participated to a greater extent in transmedia consumption (Laverie and Arnett, 2000; Harrington and Bielby, 2007). Ilhan (2011) views transmedia through several lenses. First, there is transmedia as intertextuality; this refers to connections between texts. Studying the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Kinder (1993) actually first coined the term, transmedia, as intertextuality that positions young spectators to combine genres and their iconography across movies, television, comics books, toys and video games. Fiske (1982) defines intertextuality as connections between the original work, secondary texts that make reference to the first text (ads, reviews, and so on) and tertiary texts, which focus on meaning (for example, fan forums). Second there is transmedia as extension. Transmedia offers different stories through different media– thus it offers different entry points for different users – enticing them to try media that they have previously not. For example, in an attempt to draw a younger audience to comic books, Free Comic Book Day (First Saturday in May) always coincides with the release of a major Marvel movie. Third is transmedia as process; it is systematic and coordinated. One story

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expands into more stories across different media. It is not about distributing content but building stories (Jenkins, 2006). Thus Buffy the Vampire Slayer started as a stand-alone movie which spawned a TV series which spawned comic book stories about the main and secondary characters. Fourth is transmedia as a unified narrative; there is a single driver across all texts keeping everything in harmony. This view is perpetuated by Hadas (2014) who discusses how Joss Whedon is the centerpoint for all facets of the Marvel Universe’s cinematic efforts. In summary, transmedia storytelling creates a world for the user by telling different parts of the story or different stories through varying boundary-less media (Long, 2007). It is the consumer’s choice whether to further pursue the story and even to help create it. In a brand context, transmedia storytelling is similar to IMC in that it is told across multiple media and includes interactivity. It differs from IMC and interactive IMC in that it specifically focuses on a story and it does not tell the same story across different media.

branding is in a state of re-invention, where branding tools are in the hands of companies and consumers. Branding is no longer about control – but about opening channels and directing consumers to embrace the new media. Based upon case studies, such as HBO’s True Blood and principles of transmedia storytelling, Williams (2003) urges organizations to first explore the world; this refers to researching your own brand narrative and existing brand communities to find ideas and opportunities that can be incorporated into your narrative. From there, there are three actions: Promoting participation (meaningful consumer participation), harnessing collective intelligence to deepen and evolve the brand (co-create and expand the brand’s storyworld) and generating spreadability (consumers pass along content/brand message). As the discussion above illustrates, transmedia branding has been studied by authors in the popular press (Tenderich, 2014) and through creative arts properties (Williams, 2003; Scolari, 2008) – but never through scholarly research focused on brands that do not have a story as their core product.

Branding and transmedia storytelling

Transmedia brand stories and selfbrand connections

‘The brand is a device that can produce a discourse, give it meaning, and communicate this to an audiences’ (Scolari, 2009, p. 599); brands can be complex worlds which present values that the consumer can accept or not. Focusing on creative media properties, Scolari (2009) refers to transmedia brands as heavyweight narrative brands. They are tastemakers (Arsel and Bean, 2013). Brands are pure meaning that develops as the brand grows; in the brick and mortar world, they grow through a complex network of enunciations (advertising, word-of-mouth, promotions, and so on), on the web, they grow through interactivity (Scolari, 2008). In a popular press book, Tenderich (2014) documents how

Brands can be viewed as complex stories, whereby meaning ascribed to brands is generated by narratives (Bruner, 1990; Desai and Keller, 2002; Brown et al, 2003). Realizing that consumers’ attention and involvement will be more strongly attracted in storyformed situations, marketing practitioners have used stories to communicate with consumers and induce consumer’s self-brand connections (Escalas, 2004; Papadatos, 2006; Huang, 2010; Woodside, 2010). Self-brand connections refer to when a brand contributes to a consumer’s self-related psychological needs (Escalas, 2004). This occurs when a brand satisfies psychological needs such as expressing self-identity, asserting

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one’s individuality or connecting with others – or when a brand provides symbolic benefits such as safety, superiority or connection to the past. Most brands and products offer consumers experiential and utilitarian value (Dhar and Wertenbroch, 2000). Utilitarian value refers to the functional benefits of the brand while experiential value refers to the hedonic, symbolic and emotional benefits of the brand. Experiential benefits have been associated with stronger self-brand connections (Holbrook and Hirschman, 1982; Hirschman and Holbrook, 1983; Park et al, 1991; Park and Srinivasan, 1994). Creating self-brand connections is advantageous for brands as consumers form more favorable evaluations, have a greater likelihood of purchase and greater commitment to the brand (Wallendorf and Arnould, 1988; Fournier, 1998; Escalas and Bettman, 2003; Escalas, 2004). Transmedia audience engagement strategies largely seek to elicit psychological investment (Davis, 2013). A transmedia story creates a more active viewer who interacts with more platforms. Multiple platforms create entry and touchpoints for different audience segments (Jenkins, 2006; Askwith, 2007; Long, 2007). Referencing Associative Network Theory, there is a greater opportunity for a consumer to create new nodes and activate existing nodes, placing the whole structure in a sequential order. Consumers do indeed get more connected and involved in these multiplatform stories and manifest deeper self-brand connections (Sangalang et al, 2013). Grandio and Bonaut (2012) studied consumers’ involvement with a transmedia property. They found that a multi-platform property creates a consumer who uses more properties and thus is more psychologically and socially engaged. Additionally, the different modalities allow the user to continue the story even when the brand is between stories (that is, between seasons or books), thus increasing loyalty. In some cases the

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self-identification process is so strong that the users role play as some of the characters in the story (Wood and Baughman, 2012). Diamond et al (2009) establish that powerful and emotionally resonant brands are the products of multiple narrative representations in multiple venues. To summarize, transmedia brand stories deliver on the benefits of brand stories (awareness, involvement, participation, creating empathy, conveying brand meaning) but they offer more: a multi-faceted story where consumers have more contact and are more engaged, creating stronger selfbrand connections. Research on how product and service brands can benefit from transmedia storytelling has not been undertaken.

METHODOLOGY AND SAMPLE To understand consumers’ thoughts on brand stories, this study employed qualitative research. Qualitative research that asks open-ended questions has been used effectively for exploratory research (Churchill, 1996) and is especially useful in uncovering ‘highly pragmatic, actionable insights’ (Kelley et al, 1991, p. 9). It has numerous benefits compared with quantitative studies for the type of research questions in this study (cf. Faranda and Clarke, 2004). In the context of these objectives it is useful as we need to understand the general types of stories that consumers would like to hear and their preferred media vehicles. The main mode of data collection was long semi-structured interviews (McCracken, 1988). A sample of consumers was selected and asked to provide their perceptions of brand stories that they heard and want to hear. Respondents were between the ages of 19 and 32; all Millenials, who are the heaviest demographic users of multimedia and especially newer Internet-related media, which forms a substantial part of transmedia

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storytelling (Zickuhr, 2010; Carmichael, 2011). Additionally, Millenials are most often the target of transmedia storytelling (Jenkins, 2006; Digles, 2011). This sample size of 54 is consistent with past qualitative research (Carroll et al, 2007; Smith and Krugman, 2009; Vanden Bergh and Lee, 2011). The sample was 53 per cent male and 47 per cent female. Respondents were between the ages of 19 and 32. The nature of the sample was also deemed appropriate because it is a pilot study. More specifically, they were asked to choose either a brand to which they had a high and low level of connection (Laverie and Arnett, 2000; Harrington and Bielby, 2007). ‘Connection’ was elaborated using Escala’s (2004) definition (that is, help express self, connect with others, psychological benefits). Consumers exposed to multiplatform stories do show a deeper connection (Grandio and Bonaut, 2012; Sangalang et al, 2013); thus it is a good basis of differentiation for the study. They were then asked what stories they knew about the brand, as well as what stories they would like to hear about the brand. ‘Stories’ were not defined, as we left it up to the consumer to interpret what was a story to them. They were asked to elaborate, if possible. In each case, they were also questioned about the media where they had learned the information and the media where they would like to hear and share the information. These procedures, as suggested by Glaser and Strauss (1967), are consistent with using grounded theory for conducting research focused on the interpretive process; that is, focusing on concepts and meanings created by subjects (Suddaby, 2006). According to Erickson (1986), interpretive processes are appropriate when attempting to learn more about the meanings and perspectives for particular events. In this case, we adopt a modified interpretive approach to understanding the actual storytelling. Trust and rapport are necessary if researchers are going to gain

valid and valuable ‘insights into the informant’s point of view’ (Erickson, 1986, p. 142). The researchers themselves are participants in several transmedia stories; this expertise allowed the researchers to project their empathy and understanding of the subject, creating a level of trust and a positive rapport with the respondents. Consistent with Erickson’s suggestion (1986), the researchers were careful to convey to participants that the data collection process was not evaluative, but rather an objective collection of data for future research. We continued a deliberative process collecting data until a saturation point with respect to the data was achieved (Strauss and Corbin, 2008). All interviews were transcribed and converted to text. Content analysis was then performed (open and selective coding) to group the responses into categories with common themes. The findings were analyzed according to methods described by Erickson (1986). This included evaluating the entire body of data collected and seeking out both disconfirming and confirming evidence. To ensure validity, an investigator triangulation was conducted where the independent findings of the researchers’ evaluation of the data were compared. The researchers’ conclusions were similar thus elevating our confidence of the validity of the findings.

RESULTS Overall, the present research examines if consumers – emotionally attached or not – know stories about brands, and the categories and types of stories they know. A general summary of these findings can be found in Table 1. Narrative vignettes are presented to support the conclusions identified in the present research and to provide some insight into the richness of the data collected. In terms of the types of stories that consumers know, there are two categories: Organizational and Personal.

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Table 1: Summary of stories among those emotionally attached and not emotionally attached to brand Types of stories: Category

Types of stories: Specific

Organizational

Personal experience

Would like to hear

Told by consumers emotionally attached to brands (%)

Told by consumers not emotionally attached to brands (%)

History

60.6

10

Founder

42.4

0

Product Differentiation

18.2

0

Product reliability

70

0

Personal connections

30.3

0

Giving back

36.4

30

History

30.3

0

Other consumers

30.3

0

Product reliability

0

30

Example TOMS shoes only began 6–7 years ago … to help poor people in other countries. The basic idea is that for every shoe you buy from TOMS they donate a pair of shoes to a poor person. This is the opposite of what other companies do – they usually exploit the poor. I think that they are sold now in hundreds of countries. Their company is based on what they believe in, rather than what they sell. They even sell eyewear with the same philosophy. I used to buy from Body Shop because they were one of the first companies against animal testing. Anita Roddick opened the Body Shop to support herself and her family. She had the idea for refillable bottles. I think she used bottles that are used for urine samples in labs. She wrote a book that I read in the 90s. I was mad at her when she sold out to L’Oreal. I use Office 7 – a lot. But I also feel that products that use Microsoft are poorly designed (compared with Apple) – and I travel a lot. I was super-psyched when they came out with the Surface Pro. It looked good and even the commercials were groovy. I went to try it at a Microsoft Store. It is too heavy and can’t sit on your lap. Also, the little stand at the back is ungraceful. It will be a Macbook Air for me and an iPad mini for travel. First, my brother-in-law got a BMW and bragged about how great it was to drive. Then my dad got one and also loved it. Now we all have one. It truly is the ultimate driving machine and they last so long – I’m going on 9 years on my 325 and it still is amazing drive. All I can say is that I have counted on this brand since the age of 12 and thus have been loyal to this brand for almost 11 years. If this brand were gone in the future, I would be really upset because this store defines who I am according to my sense of fashion and personality. I also count on this store for its affordable prices and wide selection of clothing styles. I want to feel good about buying a product. I want to know that the company isn’t destroying the world and may actually be helping it. I remember that I bought a Gap leather jacket and then found out that they buy their leather in India where the animals are mistreated. They’ve since changed to buying their leather from places where they are more humane to the animals. Every product I wear is from a company. I would like to know more about how the company came to be. Who started it and why. I want to hear what other people think of the product. Sometimes I go on Amazon after I’ve read a book and read what other people thought of it. I like to see if they saw things that I did not. Hearing stories about how well the product lasted is especially important when I am buying luggage. I travel non-stop and it is fun to hear what the airlines did to people’s bags and how long the bag lasted.

Building self-brand connections

Types of stories consumers know: Organizational When respondents were asked if they knew of any stories associated with their brand, 70 per cent of the respondents who were connected to their brand told stories with more than half (60.6 per cent) telling stories about the company’s or brand’s history. These historical stories covered how the brand came to be, how it grew and the changes that it had undergone. The historical stories ranged from ‘one liners’ such as one regarding Apple, ‘… started one of the first operating systems for computers called Macintosh’, or ‘Apple should have patented the MacIntosh software and not the hardware’, to much more detailed responses. For instance, when discussing Vans shoes, one respondent indicated: The company’s fame was started by Sean Penn, who played a stoner skateboarder named Spicoli in the movie Fast Times of Ridgemont High. Brothers James and Paul Van Doren opened the first Vans store in Anaheim. They manufactured and distributed their products directly to the public with no middlemen. Us skateboarders initially started using Vans because of the rubber waffle soles at the bottom of the shoes; these allowed the skaters to grip their boards better. The company went bankrupt when they started producing shoes for other sports like basketball, baseball, and football; they were too expensive to manufacture.

Another area under the organizational theme related to the brands’ founders. Some brands have founders whose name transcends the brands. The results indicated that 42.4 per cent of the respondents who were connected to their brand knew stories about the brands’ founders. Again, for Apple, one respondent commented that: … the head of the brand, Steve Jobs, was widely regarded as a genius and guru in his

field. He took the company from nothing to the highest valued brand in the world. The brand had an identity change and with Steve Jobs retaking the reigns, they concentrated on thinking different and expanded through iPods, iPhones and iPads and concentrated on the entire life of their user. I don’t know if I will continue to buy Apple products now that he is gone.

About Marvel comics … … Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko created the Fantastic Four, Avengers and Spider-Man but only Stan Lee really gets credit today. You can’t really blame him as they all signed the same company contracts and he is the only one still alive … as in any history, the survivors gets to tell the story. Besides, with all the lawsuits, his contract probably says that he can’t give them credit.

Finally, several of the stories focused on how the brand was different from others (18.2 per cent). For example, one respondent indicated, ‘I just bought a new red Ford C-MAX. It gets better gas mileage than the Prius. I’m really proud that the American car makers are being so innovative. I also looked at the Volt’. In another example regarding Starbucks, one respondent indicated: When they started to see that people liked fresh coffee they started creating space in the stores where customers could drink the coffee. They will buy coffee beans at an inflated price compared to market price to ensure that farmers are able to sustain themselves. The employees are very helpful and happy.

About Kirkland Detergent, respondent indicated:

another

Anything that you buy at Costco is superior quality. I used to buy Tide all the time. It cost more but it worked; I can tell it works by the suds it produces … Then I decided to try Kirkland. I was afraid to

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trust my expensive clothes to it – but it works better than Tide – lots of suds and way cheaper.

Thirty per cent of the sample indicated that they knew of no story associated with one of their two brands. This was the case for brands that they were not emotionally attached to. Furthermore, to the extent that they did know brand stories, the stories were one-liners, shallow, and more concrete compared with those who were connected to their brands, whose stories were deeper and more abstract. Of the10 per cent who knew of their brand’s history, a typical historical story is easily represented by one respondent who indicated that, ‘The brand has been around for 60 years’, or ‘Barnes and Noble was one of the first stores to have superstores’.

Types of stories consumers know: Personal experience stories For respondents who were connected to the brand, 30.3 per cent indicated they had personal stories related to their brands. Once again, with those connected, there was a range of stories from the one-liners to more elaborate stories. Interestingly, not only did the percentage of personal stories differ from the general brand stories they already knew, but the types of personal stories differed as well. Most of the personal stories (70 per cent) were about the respondent and his/her relationship to the brand. One respondent indicated, ‘I finally found something that works for me’. Another respondent discussed Vans: Vans has become integrated into my life. I have a different pair of shoes in different colors for each day. All of my best friends also wear Vans. I wear Vans every time I go out skating or when I ride my BMX bike. They have been my favorite shoes since grade 10th grade; they make up 90 per cent of my shoe collection. I would most definitely like to work for Vans

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sometime in my career. Vans culture and my culture share a lot of similarities.

Another respondent discussed Blackberry: Blackberry was one of the first so-called smartphones that came with Internet and functions that a normal flip phone couldn’t do. I decided on my own to purchase this product without any employee or spokesperson’s help.

Below is one more representative quote: All I can say is that I have counted on this brand since the age of 12 and thus have been loyal to this brand for almost 11 years. If this brand were gone in the future, I would be really upset because this store defines who I am according to my sense of fashion and personality. I also count on this store for its affordable prices and wide selection of clothing styles.

Another set of stories related to product reliability, where respondents were able to narrate stories about how well the product or service worked for them, held up for them when they had some type of crisis. It wasn’t until I was playing football in my favorite pair of jeans at the time that I was tackled and got grass stains on the brand new pair of jeans. I came home sad because I had ruined my jeans but my mother said that she could wash them with Tide and they would be good as new. I’ll never forget that moment that Tide made me feel better. I had just moved to Orange County and did not know my way around. On my way to a concert, I got a flat tire … I was sure I would miss the concert but called AAA and they were there in 35 minutes – faster than my boyfriend would have been.

As with other story types, there were one liner stories like, ‘My Gap hoodie has lasted three years and still looks good’, or ‘Whenever my toilet or sink are stuck up D’Verse always shows up pretty fast and fixes stuff at a fair price’.

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The remaining stories related to family or friends’ personal connections to the brands including, ‘One of my best friends recommended Cetaphil, has been using it for a long time and has no wrinkles – so I decided to give it a try’. Similar to above, a different picture emerges when examining stories from consumers who did not have a connection to brands. When questioned about their personal stories, 90 per cent of the respondents indicated that they did not have any personal story associated with the brands. The consistencies with the first two questions are twofold; the results indicate that there were more stories and the stories were more detailed for the brands to which the consumers were emotionally attached.

Where consumers learned their stories In terms of where they learned their stories, those connected learned their stories from friends and family (44 per cent), the website (39 per cent), their own brand usage (39 per cent), social media (34 per cent), news (31 per cent) and traditional ads (17 per cent). Those not connected learned their stories from friends and family (23 per cent), the brand website (20 per cent), traditional ads (19 per cent), usage of the brand (16 per cent) and social media (5 per cent). Thus those connected learned their stories from more sources with greater emphasis on social media.

Stories consumers would like to hear Next, we wanted to find out what types of stories consumers would like to hear about their brands. Respondents connected to their brand were interested in hearing three general types of stories: Brand/producer’s commitment to giving back (36.4 per cent); History (30.3 per cent); and Stories from

other customers’ experiences with the products (30.3 per cent). Typical comments are listed below: Because I participate in volunteer/charity work within the community, it would be nice to hear about how the brand gives back to the community. I would like to know about the history of the brand. I would like to hear positive stories about American Eagle; stories about how people enjoyed the clothing and how nice the quality of the clothing was. I would like to hear stories from other consumers because I think that it would be fun and interesting to see others’ experiences differed from mine.

Between those connected and those not, there was little difference in the comments regarding the desire to hear stories about giving back. Those that were not connected also wanted to hear stories about giving back (30 per cent) and product reliability (30 per cent).

Media where consumers want to hear and share their stories In order to assess consumers’ use of transmedia storytelling, it is necessary to understand where (which media) they would like to hear brand stories told and how they plan to share their stories. The results suggest that consumers with connections expect to learn of stories from the brand’s websites (61 per cent), social media (56 per cent) and news media (56 per cent). This is in contrast to consumers that did not have a connection to brands, who indicated that they wanted to hear about brand stories from more traditional marketing channels like commercials (68.7 per cent). Overall, across types of stories (that is, giving back, history, and so on) there were no differences in the media platform desired; however at the individual level, different consumers wanted to hear different stories in different media.

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DISCUSSION This exploratory research examined the types of brand stories consumers know, where they learned them, what they would like to hear and how they would like to hear them. Each of these objectives will be discussed below.

Types of stories and self-brand connections If organizations wish to tell transmedia stories, they can structure a series of stories that make consumers feel good about their brands. In these stories, the consumer (self), his/her family and friends, other consumers, company executives and founders are all characters. It may start with the history of the brand and relate that to attributes that engender the brand’s reliability. It expands the narrative with consumers’ personal histories with the brands and how the brand is making the world a better place. Alternatively, brands can choose one of these story types and creatively develop them. The first and second objective focused on the types of stories that consumers know and would like to hear. Expressed through personal and organizational themes, several of the types of stories elicited can be linked to past constructs in the literature. Consumers indicated that they know or want to hear stories about brand history. In the marketing literature, history appears recurrently in contributions to corporate identity and branding, where it is identified as one facet of company or brand identity (Melewar, 2003; Blomback and Brunninge, 2009). History is distinguished from Heritage. History is grounded in the past, while Heritage says that the past has relevant implications to the present and future. History may say that, in 1872, Levis strengthened its workwear by adding rivets. Heritage says that Levis still uses rivets to maintain strength and quality in its jeans. Heritage can provide a basis for

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differentiation and brand segmentation; a brand with heritage has a story to tell (Urde et al, 2007; Wiedmann et al, 2011). Heritage is also related to brand authenticity. Defined as the genuineness, reality or truth of something (Kennick, 1985), Beverland (2006) conceptualizes Heritage as a key component of Brand Authenticity. Heritage is a better conceptualization of the History category. By making it relevant to today, Heritage may take a story about History and endow it with stronger utilitarian value. Although stories about company founders can also be categorized under Heritage, the construct, founders, also evokes the brand personification literature – which focuses on infusing a brand with humanlike characteristics (Waitz et al, 2010). Anthropomorphizing a brand more easily enables consumers to form self-brand relationships (Fournier, 1998). In this study, subjects viewed the founders as aspirational and consumers felt a personal relationship to them. One way to execute this concept is by allowing the founder or CEO to become part of the brand’s personality. Ads featuring founders and CEOs tend to inspire positive feelings and are a signal of the degree that CEOs are committed to their product and brand. Consumers are in awe of these CEOs and are able to connect to these CEOs and the brand by buying their product (Fleck et al, 2014). While the constructs of History and Company Founder can be specific forms of product differentiation, the construct of Product Differentiation references the standard definition of being different from the competition on physical and non-physical attributes (Dickson and Ginter, 1987). In this case, it focused predominately on the physical differentiation of the brand, whether stylistic or performing better. Past researchers have studied different bases of differentiation such as price, value, imageoriented, prestige, supply chain, quality, environmental orientation, product

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leadership and customer service (Park et al, 1986; Leigh et al, 1989; Blankson and Kalafatis, 2004; Ulaga and Eggert, 2006). An alternative way to think about differentiation that encompasses many bases is categorizing benefits across hedonic and utilitarian dimensions (Voss et al, 2003). In this case, Product Differentiation referred to the more utilitarian dimensions of the brand. In relation to their personal experience stories, Product Reliability was the number one type of story that consumers knew. In the literature, product reliability refers to the average time between system failures (Dhillon, 1999) or the likelihood that a brand will be able to deliver on the product and service promises (Morgan and Hunt, 1994). Another way of thinking of brand reliability is the extent to which consumers perceive that a given brand name reduces the risk associated with the purchase of a brand (DelVecchio, 2000). Reliability perceptions can form from a single transaction or a series of transactions (Gabarino and Johnson, 1999). Because reliability focuses on the utility of the product, it may only drive shallow self-brand connections (Hess and Story, 2005). For example, those not attached to brands want to hear very utilitarian stories about product reliability. Interestingly, the types of stories that emotionally attached consumers knew were stories about product reliability – but in the context of their own and other consumers’ personal experience – thus consumers are telling marketers how to position reliability to create stronger personal connections. In the context of brand extensions, Dacin and Smith (1994) demonstrated that a perceived quality variance across products can lower the reliability of the brand and that managers must be careful to offer extensions that are of the same quality as the original. The same may be true of transmedia stories. Lower quality stories (that is, low

production value, non-creative) may affect the reliability of the core product. The stories that all consumers (emotionally and not emotionally attached) want to hear are stories about Giving Back. In the literature, this closely corresponds to the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): When an organization takes action to improve the welfare of society (Davis and Blomstrom, 1975). CSR entails proactive social responsiveness and can include community support, corporate governance, human rights, labor rights, giving back, diversity, employees support, environmental support, product safety and honest marketing practices (KLD, 2014). Using CSR strategically through stories, organizations can create stronger self-brand connections. Nan and Heo (2007) demonstrated that CSR can elicit positive attitudes, in general. Furthermore, if consumers’ attitudes are congruent with the CSR initiative of the company, this can increase consumer identification and connection with the corporation, lead to a more positive evaluation of the corporation and increase purchases (Webb and Mohr, 1998; Sen and Bhattacharya, 2001; Perez, 2009). Other benefits include improved financial performance, better product quality, and greater employee commitment and retention (Polonsky and Jevons, 2006). Already alluded to above, one way to categorize the types of stories consumers know and want to hear is to distinguish between experiential and utilitarian value. Recall that experiential value denotes that meaning is subjective; it is not about what the brand is – but what it means (Holbrook and Hirschman, 1982) – and these values emerge in the form of symbolic, sensory and affective meaning. Utilitarian value refers to product benefits and drawbacks that are rationally evaluated by consumers, such as usability, practicality and product reliability (Bettman, 1979). Respondents who are connected to brands know and

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want to hear stories about history, product reliability, giving back and others’ usage of the product. Thus they know and want to hear stories about the experiential and utilitarian value of the brand; though the recounting of more personal stories and the desire to share and hear additional consumer brand experiences, experiential value was more salient. Respondents not connected to brands wanted to hear utilitarian and experiential stories, but stories about utilitarian values, like product reliability, were more salient. This is consistent with past research showing that utilitarian value can create an attachment to the brand but experiential value is indicative of a greater attachment (Dhar and Wertenbroch, 2000; Lam et al, 2013; Zarantonello and Schmitt, 2010).

of nodes and scripts in memory – and ultimately greater self-brand connections. Because transmedia offers different entry points through different media, the ability to make connections is greater. Multiplatform offerings create consumers who use more platforms and are more engaged and connected (Grandio and Bonaut, 2012). The greater the connection, the more consumers desire interaction and the more committed they will be to preserving the relationship (Miller, 1997; Thomson et al, 2005). Thus marketers must segment their audiences and then draw them in to interactive (social) media through brand stories that expand and are generated by themselves and consumers. This is illustrated in the next section ‘Implications for practitioners’.

Implications for practitioners Media and brand connections The third objective was to understand if certain brand stories might be desired by consumers in different media. In terms of stories that they already knew, those connected learned their stories from more sources and, in particular, a greater percentage came from social media. For stories they would like to hear and tell, those connected desire a variety of media, such as websites, social media and news media. Those not connected desire to hear their stories from less interactive traditional media, such as billboards or television. Interactivity on websites creates brand connections (Yoon et al, 2008; Heinonen and Michelsson, 2010; Laroche et al, 2013) and was more effective with consumers who have lower rather than higher usage of the brand (Voorveld et al, 2013). This is where the promise of transmedia stories comes in. Transmedia stories can create psychological investment (discussed above). They magnify all the promises of brand stories, creating awareness, persuasion, indices to one’s own life, activation

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In this study, all respondents indicated that there are stories that they would like to hear. This is a starting point. Respondents elicited several multi-faceted topics: History, product, reliability, differentiation, company founders, and consumers’ personal stories about the brand. Based on the types of stories that consumers know and want to hear, marketers have a strong arsenal of narratives to apply. They must realize that telling a story is not the same as making a rational argument. In a story, the teller must arouse emotions, present a memorable narrative and connect with the audience on a deeper emotional level. A good story expresses how life changes (Woodside, 2010). In more technical terms, first person, high authenticity, clear plot and indices that touch upon the consumers’ personal experience can create stronger connections (Huang, 2010). This research also identifies several possible categories for ‘transmedia story’ segmentation (self-brand connection, types of stories desired, types of media consulted). Qualitative research has been used in past studies to

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Table 2: A segmentation framework for transmedia storytelling Consumer does not have self-brand connections

Consumer has self-brand connections

Overall objective

Create self-brand connections and intensify

Intensify self-brand connections

Stage 1 Specific stories

Utilitarian stories Product differentiation Product reliability Traditional

Experiential stories Giving back Other consumers Internet/social media

Media

Experiential stories Giving back Other consumers History Founder Personal connections Traditional

Experiential and utilitarian stories History Product differentiation Personal connections Product reliability Founder Traditional and Internet/Social Media

Stage 3 Specific stories Media

Self-created stories Personal Internet/social media

Self-created stories Personal Internet/social media

Media Stage 2 Specific stories

suggest possible categories of segmentation (Lilly and Nelson, 2003; Moroko and Uncles, 2009; Chen and Granitz, 2012). Quantitative research conducted by specific organizations could measure the presence and frequency of these segmentation variables. The presence or absence of self-brand connections is the first possible basis of segmentation. Brand stories can create self-brand connections or intensify already existing selfbrand connections (Escalas, 2004). Those connected already had stories of experiences that created the connections, and still desired more stories to create greater attachment. In several cases, consumers felt connected to a brand – but could not tell any lengthy brand stories (only one-liners). This is a missed opportunity for marketers to develop their brand consumer recommendations through stories. Experiential value is more effective in growing self-brand connections (Lam et al, 2013). Thus for this group, organizations should focus their stories on experiential topics that are known and requested by this group. In the second stage, this reinforcement should continue by building on experiential

value with stories about the founder and personal connections; however, organizations can also reactivate nodes by reminding consumers of the utilitarian benefits with stories about product differentiation and product reliability (Table 2). Consumers not connected knew very few stories. If they are in the target market and not connected, brand stories are a way to create self-brand connections. For respondents open to stories, the initial focus should be on utilitarian product benefits. Prior research focusing on the relative weight consumers attach to experiential versus utilitarian values shows that, on a product or service, consumers must first pass a minimum threshold of utilitarian value before experiential values become important (Kivetz and Simonson, 2002; Chitturi et al, 2007; Lam et al, 2013). Thus utilitarian-based stories would be the first stage and the second stage could proffer experiential stories (Table 2). Brands must entice those not connected towards interactive social media. As there are several types of stories that can convey utilitarian or experiential value,

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another basis of segmentation could be the types of stories consumers prefer. For example, for experiential value, stories about giving back and other consumer experiences with the brand would be appropriate to offer to the consumer. It should be noted that stories about these topics (giving back and other consumer experiences with the brand) can be constructed to express utilitarian or experiential value; however, in the context of this research, consumers told more experiential value stories about these topics – so the recommendations follow this. For utilitarian value, stories about (functional) product differentiation and product reliability could be offered. Consumers can also be segmented through the media type where they wish to hear these stories. Social and Internet media was favored by those connected; and with its multimedia and two-way communication capabilities, this meshes with the types of stories they are looking for (Giving back, Other user experiences). Utilitarian stories can be told through more traditional media. As these are consumers not connected to the brand, it is more likely that they will encounter this media. In creating the strongest self-brand ties, the media (Internet) and the story come together by asking consumers to tell and share their stories. Consumer participation in user-generated content (virtual communities and social media) has been shown to create greater loyalty and purchases (Thompson and Sinha, 2008; Goh et al, 2013). Amazon recently announced that it obtained the rights to properties like Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl, and will publish fan-fiction, and pay fan-authors who sell their stories (Bricken, 2013). Thus, with some guidance, organizations can steer users to tell their stories about the brand. How should stories be elicited? This is dependent upon which stories come from which storytellers. There are several ways: Through research with customers and employees, online forums and

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social media, contests, and daily interactions of organizations with customers (Gorry and Westbrook, 2011). What makes consumers share stories? Research on sharing brand knowledge across e-mail, social media and eWOM sites is very consistent: Consumers share when they perceive it enhances their reputation and because they enjoy it. Related motivations include establishing self-identity, providing others with an image of themselves, gaining assurance, and empowerment (convincing other of validity of ‘their’ brand) (Phelps et al, 2004; Muniz and Schau, 2007; Muntinga et al, 2011; Smith et al, 2012). Thus organizations must give consumers these tools through stories. For example, Chipotle ran a campaign, ‘The Scarecrow’ where a short animation introduced the viewers to a dystopian world where processed food ruled. This was to highlight Chipotle’s anti-factory nonprocessed food message. The video then sent viewers to a game where they could seamlessly continue the story. This gave viewers a simple message of ‘cool’ ‘superiority’ in terms of their fast food choices; a message that was shared millions of times. From this study, stories about the Founders, Personal Connections and Giving Back may be appropriate in meeting these needs. In an organizational context, people share when the organization rewards sharing and they have strong identification with the organization (Bock et al, 2005; Kankanhalli et al, 2005). Thus organizations can encourage sharing by rewarding users to create content on the topics identified and for sharing it. Seraj (2012) found that consumer value and sharing was derived when there was quality content, interactive environment to form social ties, entertainment value through story-telling and cultural values that help create identity. Positive messages are more likely to go viral than negative messages; however, positive or negative messages that evoked

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emotion created greater sharing than those that did not (Berger and Milkman, 2012; de Vries et al, 2012). The more experiential topics identified here (for example, Giving Back, Personal Connections) have a greater chance of invoking emotions. Finally, while the IMC concept dictates that there be cohesion of brand identity across brand communications, principles of transmedia storytelling focus on different stories across different media for one brand. Therefore, for those consumers who want transmedia stories, organizations must reconcile these two concepts to develop consistent quality stories that offer greater depth and variety within the constraints of a broad brand positioning. Implicit is trusting or allowing consumers to tell their brand stories.

Conclusion, limitations and future directions The present research begins the conversation linking brand storytelling to transmedia storytelling. It shows the types of stories consumers know and want to hear in the contexts of brands that do not have a story as their core product. It also establishes a link between the stories consumers know and want to hear and the degree of connection to the brand. Furthermore, this study provides organizations with new segmentation variables, based on story type, value (experiential or utilitarian) and the storytelling media desired by consumers. Regarding limitations, there are several. First, as this is exploratory qualitative research, it provided rich data; however, its ability to generalize to other populations is limited. Second, the study examined transmedia storytelling on a static basis; it does not address how these stories might be evolving or changing over time, calling for a longitudinal study. As this is an exploratory study, further quantitative research building on these findings would be useful. Future research

can expand the research to individuals within higher age groups; though they have a lower propensity to create online content, there may be other media where transmedia brand stories can reach them. Additionally, there may be significant differences across industries and product types, and identifying these specific differences may positively impact the efficacy of transmedia storytelling. Finally, exploring consumer reactions to transmedia brand stories among those only slightly attached to a brand versus those who have an extremely strong relational bond would be pertinent.

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