Marketing Idea No. 211: The Tell-tale Brand: How brilliant storytelling creates awesome brands

The greatest trick that anyone can ever pull is convincing the world that it’s not the numbers, but the story that makes a brand.

There is no beauty in the tale that Lifebouy has successfully re-positioned itself from a male laundry soap to family health soap and in so doing increased its market share by X%. So what? Who cares? (The brand manager of course does, but who else other than him?) But when we say that Lifebouy has single-handedly changed the definition of germ in rural area by using cost effective measures to visually demonstrate to rural people how even when germs are not visible in naked eye, they are still present and in so doing created social awareness of cleanliness, then it becomes a story. Rose may look the same by any other name, but its only through a talk-worthy story that a great brand separates itself from the herd.

Storytelling is an art that unlike positioning, innovation, competitive strategy and price war, are not pronounced by a great deal in board rooms and strategy sessions. Storytelling is seemed too informal and too fluid to have any place in a brand strategy framework or marketing plan. But through adopting such a narrow view, we probably missed out the biggest trick of them all. In the era of word of mouth what is the one thing that you always feel the urge to share about? After attending a great program the night before, what is the one thing that makes you pour your heart to your colleagues? A great story. And if your brand can play the central role in that story, then you have hit the jack-pot.

Like the browsing sections of a really good book store, storytelling for brands can be exploited in different ways. On one hand is the conventional emotional storytelling through advertising like the Grameenphone’s and Banglalink’s do. They tell a story of how people’s lives have changed because of their intervention. On the other hand are extreme rags-to-riches stories like Akij group. There are some stories which are created by companies, and then there are some created by disgruntled customers or employees. There are some stories which as a brand manager you would love to hear. And then there are some, which you haunts your salesman like a really clingy Christmas ghost.

But, here we will try to dissect four different and extreme forms of storytelling. To tell this story we will travel from Coke headquarters in Atlanta to Hogwarts and go from one extreme to the other.

1. Making it bigger than what it is

When Nike hired Michael Jordan to inspire the world to “Just do it”, they created conventional storytelling at its best. You might ask what does a sneaker brand which is manufactured in the sweatshops in Indonesia has anything to do with inspiring people. But that’s precisely why brands create this larger than life persona. Sometimes a sneaker is more than just a sneaker. Sometimes, its about challenging the odds to accomplish your dreams no matter what. That’s why Mastercard talks about how somethings in life are invaluable. The job of a brand is to transform a product into a product +. The “+” here is the brand story.  

2. If you cant make a story, help someone create one for you

You might wonder that you are in charge of telling your brand story in your own sweet pace. Think again. And never ever do the mistake the Coke did.

In 2002, a regular guy called Steve Spangler gave birth to an Internet phenomenon called Diet Coke and Mentos eruption; where he showed how by mixing Diet Coke and Mentos in a coke bottle you can create eruptions. Sounds lame, but here are the facts.

“How many eruptions of coke and mentos can you make?” has become a catchword for youth of all sizes and shapes around the world. In their attempt to out-erupt the other, this became a social phenomenon and it also got an official nod from Guinness book of world records. The current world record according to Guinness is 1911 simultaneous eruptions. The story was covered by the most popular TV shows The Late Show with David Letterman, Numbers, The Simpsons, Mythbusters, Discovery Channel shows etc. and in 2007 along resulted in 10 million views of its video. Currently there are more than 800 vidoes about this circulating online with an estimated marketing value of 10 million dollars.

This is the kind of stuff that brand managers and publicists dream about at night after a particularly good party. The guys at Mentos took it in their strides, and in fact achieved great mileage out of it. But old-fashioned marketer Coca-Cola really didn’t get it. In a statement that sounds like it’s out of a 1950’s marketing text book, Coke Spokeswoman Susan McDermott said, “It’s an entertaining phenomenon. We would hope people want to drink more than try experiments with it.” First of all, who cares what they do with the coke people buy? Its money in the bank for Coke. Secondly, its free publicity. Just because you cant own it, doesnt mean you cant ride on it.

Lesson: A good story is like a bush-fire. You can create it or someone else might create it. But once created, the best thing you can do for your brand is stop controlling it and get out of its way.

3. Create memorable experiences around your brand

When people tell stories about your brand in a bragging manner; about how much of your brand they have consumed to other consumers, you know you are doing ok. Case in question: the story of unlimited pizza and Pizza Hut.

If good times begin with great pizza, when you can eat as much Pizza as you can after paying only a specified money, that’s when real good time begins.   And its good time alright, not only for the hundreds of youth who gather in Pizza Hut everyday’in Ramadan, but also for the savvy marketers in Transcom food. They are experiencing a full house everyday for the past 5 years by giving this offer. A room full off hungry young people lining up to have a go at the pizza galore. As a marketer, what more can you expect?  Well, us marketers have a lot to learn from this. 

  1. The pizza hut offer works like magic because it gives the youth to have some fun in groups. When you can come in flocks and hang around, its always a good incentive for youth to drop by.
  2. In fact, it has become a sort of a competition regarding who can eat more Pizza. If one can gulp down a sizeable number of pizza, it gives him the bragging rights. And this alone has created a sort of an urban legend. Some says that the highest number of pizza was eaten by a guy who ate 21 slices. Some say its more than that – in fact, its almost 30. Whatever the number is, such enthusiasm and mythical number crunching must be music to the ears of any marketers. And that’s another way of creating fantastic stories.

So when you combine community fun, with good food, great competition and some good old fashioned hype and urban myths – you have nailed a winning formula for years. What Pizza Hut has created has little to do with good food. Its all about the grand experience. That’s the power of storytelling for you.   If you can find a ritual like that for your brand, that’s going to go a long way to establish and integrate your brand into your target audience lifestyle. Just do an audit and find out how you can create a ritual that your customers can adopt which will not only be a fun experience for the customers but also be great for your cash register.

4. Inspire people through telling stories, not facts

A picture maybe worth a thousand words, but the value of a good corporate story in driving internal branding and fire up employees is priceless.

Gone are the days when employees used to sing along the company mission statement and feel proud of it. After all, they are just a bunch of words jumbled together to make them look like any other mission statement of any other company. Thats why leaders of modern age use the hidden power of storytelling to make the employees inspired and motivated.

Nike leaders tell their employees about their founder Bill Bowerman and how one day his curiosity drove him to pour latex in the waffle iron of his wife – which evenually gave birth to the famous Nike’s waffle-soled running shoes.

FedEx employees are told about the heroics of an employee who, in one stormy night, was delivering a package in Hawaii. A strong wind sent a package from his truck into the ocean and the employee, without a moments hesitation, jumped inot the ocean, retrieved the package and delivered it to the destination in soaking clothes.

These are just the kind of stories that provides meaning to the employees and make them fired up for a cause greated than their mundane day to day activity.

Harry Potter and the art of storytelling

No story about storytelling can ever be complete without the story of the boy wizard. Who can deny the marketing power of Harry Potter and his creator J.K. Rowling? From the magical seven book series, taking in the incredible rags to riches story of J.K. Rowling, and including some of the longest lines in front of book stores people have ever seen; this story has it all.

Harry Potter is officially the new $15 billiion man. Publishers, movie studios, theme park owners, children, young at hearts, toy marketers, packaged foods marketers – the enthusiasm and money altogether has reached an alltime high.

So how much is Harry Potter really worth?

A calculation done has provided startling results. According to the AC Nielsen research

1. Author J.K. Rowling herself is worth $1 billion

2. Harry Potter himself is now the 30th most wealthy individual in USA, even wealthier than the likes of Micheal Dell (CEO Dell) and Eric Schmidt (CEO Google)

3. Some of his grand revenue sources are – Advertising ($380 million), DVD sales ($1 billion +), packaged good licensing ($11.8 million), music ($13 million+), books ($9 billion), movies ($4.4 billion) etc.

The question that you should never ask is whether Harry Potter the greatest children’s literary achievement of our time. Probably not and its doesn’t even matter. Because what it is, is simply one of the greatest brand stories of late 20 and early 21st century.

Give me the facts and I will give approval. Tell me the numbers and you can sell things to me. But tell me a good story, and you can own me. And that makes all the difference.

Ask Nike.