Vyjayanthi Veeraraghavan






IT, Retail and Consumer Goods



By Vyjayanthi Veeraraghavan

I have a story to tell you…

“Once upon a time” we studied the impacts of demographic changes and the introduction of big data as part of our MBA programme. The petabytes of data available to us were plentiful and the our work at identifying trends and correlations based on evidence was a reasonable success, so much so that I fell in love with the concept of big data and even had a chance to write about it at work….That should have been my ‘happily ever after.’

Except, that in just over three years’ time, I find myself pondering over the influence of big data…not that the data is not required; it is fundamental to business operations, economies and people. Cited as the next frontier in technology and competitive advantage, the sheer velocity at which data is flowing is mind boggling. According to research firm IDC, the big data and business analytics market is likely to go past the USD $200 million mark in 2020, up from $130 million in 2016. These numbers by themselves are massive.

They do, however, have minimal influence over the common person walking across the street. As a part of our daily life and work pressures, the amount of data we ourselves generate is exponential. As of 2012, more than 2.5 exabytes (that’s a whopping 2.5 X 1018) of data was being generated by all of us – our preferences, choices, behaviours are multiplying into thousands of numbers.

But are we coming together over them?

 Only when there is a big narrative – an underlying cause, giving us a reason to unite. While the term meta-narrative was first coined by Jean Francois-Lyotard in 1979, I recently happened to read the words “big narrative” in one of the commentaries on how a compelling story is winning over hard numbers when it comes to decision making.

Story-telling or building a narrative over a common or in most cases, populist cause has never been as impactful as it is in today’s world. In just three years, we’ve seen several examples of it in Brexit, Trump’s success, demonetisation in India etc. We have also seen the manifestations of these in the growing popularity of viral feeds over social media. The world has changed at its roots, because narratives have shaped or created populist perspectives rather than hard evidence based theories.

Narratives have always existed. As toddlers and children, stories shape our minds and early understanding of the world. As teens, peer pressure takes on roots as part of a larger narrative shaping our activities, our interests and perceptions. As adults, each story heard has an impact on our day-to-day lives. Narratives form an integral part of history, language, literature, society, art and culture. They contribute significantly to our understanding of lessons from our past to improve our present and enhance our future.

The impact of a narrative on the mind is more significant than a set of numbers that may possibly be more important, but do little for our understanding. Data can be insightful, but relevant only to the sub section of people who require those specific insights. However, our mind sets as people can significantly be influenced by the decisiveness and conviction of a well-built narrative.

What’s even more interesting is that narratives are shaping collective decision-making in a world increasingly connected by social media channels. The omnipresence of channels gives a boost to spreading the narrative across boundaries of language and community.

So why is this relevant to me? After all, I’m just a specialist in Brand Experiences.

Narratives can easily be understood by a large cross section of people who can influence the rest of the “herd”. As people, it is also very easy to fold in with a larger part of the populace and avoid a potential situation of dissent. Together with a powerful narrative, this is also a win-win scenario for brands to bring together emotional storylines and build long lasting associations for consumers.

With millennial audiences already focusing on creating memories and experiences, rather than just buying products and services, building a strong narrative for a brand has become a norm, rather than just enhancing awareness levels or creating familiarity for a customer.

A winning narrative is about uniting people, be it hard hitting numbers, emotional storylines or untold, untapped tales from remote places, identifying with a common theme and appealing to a large mass of people. The underlying theme helps unify storytelling across all media, including digital and social, and helps create a unified identity for the brand.

In a hyper-connected world, a big narrative can help create unified experiences across omni-channel brand presence….and there probably lives the ‘happily ever after.’

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