The Setting For Good Stories and Brands



Just like novels, the story of every successful brand has a setting. There's a specific time and a unique set of circumstances that allows the brand to become a leader in their industry. Whether that's the creation of a new market, or the dismantling of an old one. Successful brands take full advantage of the opportunities that are presented to them.

What is important about the setting isn't dates or geography, it's the events and circumstances that influence the main characters, or for the sake of our analogy, the brand. For example, on January 11, 1949, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, KDKA-TV went live as the only local on-air television station in Pittsburgh. But, the most important factor of this setting wasn't the time or place, but the fact that KDKA-TV was one of the last television stations to be given construction rights by the FCC before a four year freeze on new licenses.

The FCC had realized that in designating VHF channels for major cities, they had placed many of them too close together, and had allocated too few for nationwide coverage. The re-allocation map for new VHF stations didn't arrive until 1952, a good three and a half years after most people expected it -- a three and a half years that KDKA had all to its self. There were UHF competitors, but UHF inherently provided a lower quality signal, and had further reception quality issues to face broadcasting on the Pittsburgh plateau, not to mention it cost more. So, what KDKA-TV had wasn't just a first mover advantage, it was a government granted monopoly. Even after 1952, the FCC chose not to grant additional VHF licenses in the Pittsburgh area until 1957, giving the smaller surrounding cities opportunity to claim stations, resulting in an extension of KDKA's monopoly for another five years.

As the only VHF station in Pittsburgh for those years, KDKA brought in substantial revenue, sustaining what was, in fact, a failing network. It's changed hands, or authors if you will, but it still exists to this day as the market leader in Pittsburgh. While some of their success may be attributed to marketing efforts over the years, the setting under which the story began undoubtedly set the foundation for their success.

It's impossible to predict the future, but it is possible to analyze the setting. KDKA may have gotten lucky that they sealed an eight year monopoly, but the vision to move forward and innovate in light of their surroundings is what ultimately led to their success. Brands like BMW, Apple, and Starbucks are great storytellers, but those stories have been successful because they were told in the proper setting. They supply innovation, rather than reiteration. Thus, two buzzwords in the marketing world -- innovation and story -- collide. The quality of the story matters, but it's the setting that determines what story you should tell.


Written by Chris Allison on August 10, 2009


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Chris Allison