Let’s pretend storytelling is a tree for a second. Worldbuilding is one of its most vital roots; without it, the tree would fall. And it isn’t just reserved for fictional pursuits, marketers can leverage brand worldbuilding, too, becoming creative architects.
What is worldbuilding?
Worldbuilding is as it sounds. It’s the process of creating a world, of fleshing it out with setting, mood, language, rules, and so on. In fiction, characters need somewhere to reside. Skies need painting. Creatures need reasons for being. Trails need to be mapped out for exploring.
Worldbuilding elevates a story, dressing it up to stand out.
Fantasy and Sci-fi are the genres most associated with rich worldbuilding because the writer has to go beyond creating a world within the one we know.
The Hobbit, Alice in Wonderland, Dune, and the Wizard of Oz are among the greats. When you think of those stories, your imagination likely conjures up flashes of treasure guarded by a fearsome dragon, a tumble through a rabbit hole, deadly desert worms, and a yellow brick road.
Years after reading these novels (or watching the movie adaptations), you’d be able to visualize these places and scenes because of the impressive and thorough worldbuilding. You might not remember the dialogue, but you’ll recall the atmosphere, which speaks volumes.
Worldbuilding is an invitation.
More than being welcomed into a new world, we are encouraged to escape our own. A sign of weak worldbuilding is a lack of focus from your audience. If your world isn’t engrossing, you’ve failed, to put it plainly. (Of course there’s room for subjectivity here.)
Worldbuilding in video games
Beyond the worldbuilding of literature, television, and film is the worldbuilding of video games. From the sprawling animated landscapes to the wealth of NPCs furthering the plot and offering information about the world, video games can be as complex and layered as a well-written book.
The popular game, Elden Ring, had its world built by Hidetaka Miyazaki (creator of Dark Souls) and George R. R. Martin (author of the fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire), so it’s no surprise that it stands as an exemplar of worldbuilding in the video game industry.
When playing, gamers get swept up in the mystery of the Elden Ring, venturing through the Lands Between to fight for power. It is as immersive as can be, the real world falling away as you fight off mythic creatures and ruthless warriors.
Worldbuilding for brands
Worldbuilding is a sharp tool at every marketer’s disposal. Brands require fleshing out, too, just in a different manner.
So how can we repurpose worldbuilding to suit branding needs?
For starters, in marketing, brand worldbuilding can create a sense of community. As discussed in our community marketing blog, Orangetheory masterfully employs worldbuilding to connect its members.
One is pulled into a group rather than a plot, and it’s just as effective.
Worlds require some level of organization. In fiction, this could be the laws governing the world, the language(s) spoken, the customs, etc. For brands, this could be the language and tone of a brand’s messaging, the etiquette when interacting with the brand (if involving a physical location), and so on.
Brand language is extremely crucial to successful brand worldbuilding. To provide customers with a consistent world, you need to have a rough brand glossary handy, full of the vocabulary that best represents the values and objectives of your brand, complete with a consistent voice.
This can go beyond how a brand speaks to a customer, so far as to shape the way in which customers verbally engage with a brand.
If you’re ordering from Starbucks, you have to switch languages, so to speak, asking for a tall instead of a small. Dairy Queen is DQ to regulars, who also know that a blizzard is a sweet soft-serve with mix-ins. At Orangetheory, you’ve got splat points. At Dunkin' Donuts—fondly referred to as Dunks or Dunkin' by many—munchkins are all the rage.
Slogans are embedded in customers’ brains so that Frosted Flakes fans can’t hear “they’re great,” without thinking of Tony the Tiger and the world of Kellogg’s.
Once a customer begins participating in the jargon of a brand, they’re locked in.
Designing your brand's world
Think of colors, patterns, and symbols as your brand’s version of a setting. You want customers to feel as if they are entering a well-developed world when they visit your website or store.
Disney is a prime example of this. Whether you’re watching a Disney movie, shopping at a Disney store, or at one of the theme parks, the essence of Disney is present. It feels like wonder, youth, hope, and magic.
A lesser known but equally developed example is Natural Life. Natural Life sells bohemian products for women and girls. It’s all about positivity, passion, and finding happiness in the little things in life, which translates seamlessly across their channels, from eblasts to Instagram.
Its content teems with bright flowers and boasts uplifting phrases, same as its products.
Natural Life even has a mini docuseries called Live Happy!, and its newsletter is called the Daily Chirp, which includes inspirational messages for its subscribers. Every bit of content is tailored to its mission and fortifies its world.
Brand worldbuilding is essential to promoting customer engagement and loyalty.
You want customers to know and love your brand and the world it invites them into. If done right, customers will act like spokespeople, spreading the word to expand the brand's community.