Webster's Dictionary defines an artifact as a "characteristic product of human activity." In the world of storytelling, artifacts can tell us a lot about someone's personal history and experiences. Artifacts define us, and offer a way to map out and understand key milestones and years in our lives.
In an effort to retrace my roots and experiences, I found it interesting that most of the key phases in my life (childhood, teenage years, working world/adulthood) could be traced back to key brands and/or consumer products. A certain brand, item or place tells me a lot about what I experienced during each phase. Artifacts have the ability to bring me back to a certain place or time, where things seemed much simpler. They have the timeless ability to recreate certain feelings and/or emotions...regardless of which phase of my life I'm in at the moment.
World-class brands have the ability to move us in ways that can't be designed with a marketing plan. They become artifacts of sorts through their ability to bring back certain moments in our lives. A few have even earned their place as cultural icons that defined a certain generation.
If I could create a timeline of artifacts that have relevance in my mind even to this day, they would include:
1) The Pet Rock (characterizes the fads of the 70's)
2) Campbell's Chicken Soup (reminds me of being taken care of in my childhood - especially when sick watching TV in front of the Flinstones)
3) Milka Chocolate - My German grandmother used to always bring us Milka chocolate during her visits to Canada - it became a standard item during the entire time I was a downhill ski racer and represents a big period of joy in my life - I still buy the chocolate today
4) Fender Squire Bullet guitar - Reminds me of my early adult years living in Toronto's Beach Community (and attempts at trying to get into the music industry)
5) Roe Racing Slalom Boards (still used to this day) - Reminds me of my teenage years and high energy, carefree times where fear was not a factor!
6) Partridge Family (OK, what girl wasn't a fan of David Cassidy?) - Reminds me of the years of camping, lunches in front of the TV and after school cookies (can't believe that I actually admit to remembering the words to certain songs)
I could go on and on, but it seems clear that artifacts offer an innovative form of visual storytelling. Much more than images, each brand or item represents a specific "Act" in the story of my life. When I see, listen to or eat these items, the emotions and memories come back in vivid form even to this day.
The lesson for marketers is clear. The images brought back to one person that are generated by a certain brand are probably consistent with other people's experiences. Use this to your advantage - and you'll create (or recreate) customer loyalty that the competition will find hard to beat. Dig beneath the surface, and we'll be your customers for life.
If you were to create a timeline of your key life experiences, which brands would be on your list?