RENEGADE THINKING from the Founder/CEO of Renegade AND the author of "The CMO’s Periodic Table: A Renegade’s Guide to Marketing."

Element 65: The Undeniably Power of PR

06/13/16

An apology is in order. Probably not the only one that you’ll see from me on this blog but certainly one that is a long overdue.  This one goes out to the thousands of public relations professionals, particularly the ones who almost always find a way to plant the seed that becomes a story, who uncover the news when others just see a plain old brief, who instinctually know a potential buzz machine from the proverbial blind alley.  To these fine folk who helped drive the success of many of Renegade’s classic guerrilla marketing successes (BankCab anyone?), I officially apologize for omitting Public Relations as an Element in my book, The CMO’s Periodic Table: A Renegade’s Guide to Marketing.

Please note that this was not a conscious omission but rather a statistical anomaly.  In retrospect, it seems impossible that PR wouldn’t become front and center in one of the over 150 interviews with senior marketers I conducted prior to finishing the book.  To make amends, not that any of you are all that upset or not used to receding from the marketing spotlight, I am thrilled to present part 1 of my interview with Caralene Robinson, CMO at Vh1. A recipient of last year’s CMO Award for Creativity, Caralene was kind enough to share her thoughts on the importance of PR and how that aspect of marketing is so critical to the success of VH1 programming.

Caralene robinsonDrew: Last year you won The CMO Club’s creativity award. Can you talk about a program you’ve done at VH1 that you’re particularly proud of?

The sheer volume of projects times rate of change demands constant innovation. So there are many programs I quite proud of. For example, the launch of our original scripted movie, Crazy Sexy Cool: The TLC Story. TLC was cultural phenomenon that came to life in the most authentic way. It was an incredible multifaceted campaign. The film and the campaign were used as momentum to launch a new TLC album. Epic Records saw the opportunity, decided to release an album simultaneously, and this collaboration amplified the impact. In general marketing has changed so much. When I first started, there was no such thing as social media and print was the big thing. The dynamics of the marketing mix have completely changed. I am particularly proud of campaigns where we effectively partner with Press, which I see as a critical part of the marketing mix. I have a great consumer marketing team that constantly looks for activations designed to get people talking in a very unbiased way.

Drew: Is there another example you’d like to share?

Dating Naked is a great example. For Season 1, we released a viral video that generated more than 2 million views. What we spent on that is nominal compared to the views. So creating adjacent content that captures the pop culture zeitgeist and gets people talking is huge. For Season 2, we created an outdoor board in Hollywood that was essentially peel-off stickers. Consumers could walk up and peel for prizes, eventually revealing the two nude leads of the show. I like the stuff that gets people talking.

Drew: My book The CMO’s Periodic Table covers 64 elements of marketing but there is one element that I know I haven’t really covered very well, and that’s PR. Could you talk a little bit more about the role that PR plays in your business, and how you make sure that your marketing is buzz-worthy and press-worthy?

Since the beginning of my career I’ve always considered Press part of the marketing mix. We can’t survive without our amazing Press team, which reports directly to our President, Chris McCarthy. Press is equally as important as paid media, social and on-air. So there is never an instance where we’re not walking hands-in-hand with the press team, regardless of where it lives in the organization. Extending the overall strategy via press not only on the consumer side, but also the trade side as well is crucial.

When you’re evaluating a potential marketing campaign, do you compare them based on how much press one might get over the other?

Well, I think we all do that. We look at a number of factors and prioritize launches. In terms of press, some shows are stickier than others. But that’s why our press team is really good at what they do. They figure out the starting point and ask the right questions – what do I have to work with? They look at everything–the actual concept of the show, the talent, our marketing plans, etc. Then they figure out how to create excitement.

Drew: It’s got to be easier to get press for VH1 than it would be for Coke. Are there some lessons that you think that someone outside the entertainment space could draw from your experience at the VH1 in terms of getting press coverage?

I’ve had projects where it’s easy to get press, and I’ve had projects where it’s difficult to get press. It really depends. I’ve marketed carbonated beverages, dish liquid, and cell phones. I’ve gone from selling tangible products to intangible content. It varies on a project-by-project basis. In terms of press as a crucial part of the overall marketing mix, I think it’s important to customize pitches to verticals. Our VH1 press team is extremely good at this. What you pitch to a Fast Company is different than what you might pitch to Billboard, and different than what you might pitch to The Wendy Williams Show. And I don’t always feel like the brand needs to lead the story. It could be a pitch to the New York Times about adult millennials, for example. And if we’re just referenced in the article, that works for me too. Because that means we’re perceived as being culturally connected or culturally cognizant.

Speaking of Content: The Economist

05/27/16

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If you’re a reader of The Economist, chances are you’re looking forward to the long weekend, not just for the barbecues and beer but also for the opportunity to read this week’s issue from cover to cover and maybe even finish previous editions.  Your devotion to this pub, one of the few news magazines that has weathered the digital tsunami, is grounded in a shared appreciation for insightful commentary from a very clear and consistent point-of-view.  A point-of-view that just about all news can be interpreted through an economic lens expressed via language that is sharp, sassy and to my ear, singularly British.

For content marketers, the lesson here should be obvious.  Without a distinctive brand voice, your content will drown in the 30 trillion pages of content Google indexed last year!  One way to overcome this challenge is to partner with a brand that already has a unique voice and a devoted audience.  To understand how that works, I talked to Jeff Pundyk VP of Global Integrated Content Solutions at The Economist a few months back. I’m confident you’ll find this interview worth reading before you fire up your next content program. [For more sizzling insights, join Jeff and me at the upcoming Corporate Social Media Summit in NYC June 20-21st.]

Drew: This may seem like a weird question for a content creation company, but do you have a content strategy for marketing The Economist beyond publishing a magazine and ezine? 

Our content strategy is simple and basically unchanged since the publication was founded in 1843 — serve the reader first. That’s true whether we’re doing print, film, digital, social, our aps or VR. That may sound obvious, but these days it’s not. Today as the media landscape morphs and as more and more alternatives to media companies emerge — and as the lines between content and marketing blur — readers don’t know who to trust.  We build trust and credibility by putting our readers’ interests above our own, by being fully transparent about our commercial relationships, by having a deep understanding of who our audience is and how to serve them uniquely.

Drew:  Years ago I used to attend lots of Economist events and they were always excellent. Many times these were centered around a new research study which today would be touted under the content marketing umbrella.   Do you still do a lot of events & studies and are these integrated into your overall content creation strategy?

Yes, we do many events and we continue to create sponsored content for our clients.  As the traditional advertising business declines, both of these are important services we can provide for our clients.   Happily, our readers are very open to the proposition of connecting to our clients through original content — whether that be an event, digital media, or an old-school report — because we have earned their trust and do not violate it.

Drew: With seemingly every brand thinking they need to be in the content creation business, where does that leave a long-time quality content creator like The Economist?

It’s never been a better time to be a company that makes quality content for a quality, global audience.  Given all the companies creating content, the question is how do you rise about the noise.  Our answer is by creating high-quality work that connects with our audience in ways that nobody else can match.

Drew: I read recently that Meredith made a deal with Georgia Pacific to create a lot of that brand’s content.  Are you looking at similar arrangements with marketers?

Yes, we have many clients for whom we create content, and have being doing so for a long time.  Some are traditional research programs like you remember and others are more innovative digital projects.  Our most well known is probably the program we do with GE, called Look ahead.  It’s a three-year program.  We create content for this program every day.  The content is not about GE but is about topics that GE is associated with — Transportation, Health, Advanced Manufacturing and Energy.  It is sponsored content created by a dedicated team of journalists who are separate from Economist journalists.  See it here: http://gelookahead.economist.com/

Drew: As a publisher, you know only to well how costly it is to create really high quality content and then build an audience for that content.  Do brands really have a chance at getting this done right?

It doesn’t have to be expensive to get started and to start learning what works for you and for your audience.  There’s lots of ways to do small, smart experiments that will inform your bigger decisions.  Frankly, there is no alternative.  The people you are trying to reach  have clearly moved beyond the old school marketing-communications tactics.  If you don’t find new ways to engage, they will  get what they need somewhere else.  There’s no shortage of choices.

Drew: What are the most common mistakes you are seeing brands make in the area of content marketing?

 There’s a few simple questions anybody creating content should be able to answer:

  • Who are you trying to reach?
  • What are you trying to get them to do?
  • How will you reach them?
  • What can you tell them that is distinctive, relevent to them and credible coming from you?
  • What does success look like?

Before you start pumping out content, take the time to answer them.

Stop the Presses: TV Still Works

05/16/16

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 8.51.08 AMThe presenter spoke with a certainty of a televangelist offering a laundry list of directives to his flock. “Times have changed” he intoned and “marketers must change with it.”  “You can’t control the conversation, you have to discover the context, not try to dictate it,” he shouted. “Context is more important than content” was followed by “You are competing for attention against everything.”  Heads in the audience were nodding dutifully while I started reaching for my Buzzword Bingo playing card just in case he had more. And he did. But then he said two things that made me laugh out loud, “Only Bozos buy eyeballs” which was followed by “You don’t want to be at the airport when your ship comes in!”  Evidently, “TV is dead” and “we’re never going back.”

I laughed because it reminded me of the “Bring Out Your Dead” scene in Monty Python and the Hold Grail when an old man protests “I’m not dead yet” and John Cleese replies, “Oh yes you are, don’t be such a baby.”  Truth be told, TV spending at $42B in 2015 still represented 42% of all ad dollars. Yes, digital spending especially mobile is rapidly gaining ground but it is lunacy to suggest that TV should be thrown on the trash heap when many brands are still deploying it effectively.  Which brings me to my interview below with Tad Kittredge, who at the time was the Associate Director of Global Marketing at Burt’s Bees.

Tad KittredgeNow about to become the Director of Marketing for Clorox’s Brita juggernaut, Tad was once a strategic planner at Renegade, and one of the brightest minds to pass through our doors. He left Renegade to go to business school and has been rising through the ranks at Clorox ever since.  Read our interview below and you’ll see why.  Placing a big bet on TV for Burt’s Bees, Tad and his team saw sales triple, not just at brick and mortar stores but also online. Of course, it wasn’t just about the media, he also made sure the strategy was sound and the execution fresh. Although Tad is no evangelist, he certainly offers an inspiring yet clear-eyed perspective on real-world problem solving.

Drew: Can you give me a little bit of background on the challenge you faced with Burt’s Bees prior to your recent campaign?  

Burt’s Bees has been pioneering natural personal care for over 30 years. Our Original Beeswax Lip Balm with peppermint oil is the #1 selling sku in the category and has really become synonymous with the brand. The flip side of being a trusted icon to millions of passionate consumers, however, is that you can appear old and boring to the next generation and that’s a dangerous place to find your brand. A disruptive, new competitor entered our category and quickly attracted younger consumers. We suddenly started losing households and market share for the first time in our history. We realized that this was the wake-up call we needed to redefine our brand’s future.

Drew: You and I talked about making sure you identify the right problem before you go about solving it. For example, you mentioned that “increasing sales” is not the right starting point.  Can you talk a little bit about the process (how, why) you and your team went through to make sure you were focused on the right challenge?

A great strategy or idea always starts with asking the right question. In a world where there is so much data at our fingertips and a demand for immediate answers, I find inspiration in a quote from Albert Einstein: “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” Design thinking has some great tools for properly defining the problem. One of my favorites is repeatedly asking “Why?” or “How?” to ensure we’ve struck the right balance in defining a problem that it’s specific enough to focus a team but ambiguous enough to allow in creativity. In our case we had to translate “Why are we losing market share?” into “How can we drive more impulse purchases with younger consumers?”. We then found a simple insight, most consumer only know our peppermint flavored balm, that led us to our strategy and campaign idea of “Uncap Flavor”

Drew: We also talked about how product development and marketing should be in lock step.  Can you describe how product development for your lip balm line was an essential prerequisite for the new campaign?

Marketing begins and ends with the product. You can spend as much money as you want on an ad campaign but your core product or service is what the consumer builds his or her relationship around. We took the insights behind our marketing strategy and instead of just applying them to our marketing campaign, we looked at how to infuse them into our products, our packaging and even where and how we distributed our products in store and online. This led us to develop new lip balm flavors, a different naming architecture on packaging and a new sales strategy. They might be old school, but with the growth of social media, it’s even more important to ensure that you get your “4 Ps” right before driving talk and relevance online.

Drew: So now you have a new line of lip balms and this being 2015, one might assume that you put all of your marketing dollars into digital, right?  But you didn’t.  Can you talk about your media mix for this campaign?  

Again, it goes back to asking the right question and ensuring you are answering the question versus chasing a solution. Beware the marketer who starts the conversation with “We need a new digital campaign” or “We need to be on Snapchat”- you’ve already missed the most important part of that decision process. In our case the media objective became how to drive rapid awareness of our flavor variety with a seasonal product. As sexy as social media is, TV is still the best hammer to hit that nail so we started building our toolbox around it.  Of course we supported it with a full marketing mix but that became our big bet.

Drew: Wasn’t that a risky bet putting so much emphasis on TV?  Was there any evidence that TV would work or was it more a leap of faith?  

Risk is an often misunderstood concept. As any good investor knows, risk and return are often correlated. So when your growth aspirations change you need to ensure that your acceptance of risk is adequate to support those. In our case, we looked at our potential options and identified the smartest bets to best address our problem and hit our growth goals. TV was simply the smartest bet to make.

Drew: If this hadn’t worked, it might have had a negative impact on your career at least in the short term.  What emboldened you to take this risk?

There are three approaches I’ve found helpful for addressing risk. The first is to really asses the risk of doing nothing. All too often we assume the status quo looks like today, when in reality competitors will keep pushing and consumer preferences will keep shifting so the do nothing scenario is really negative or often an accelerated negative option. I call this the burning platform. Sometimes you need to look down and see your feet on fire to make jumping look a little less scary.

Second is to define a “no regrets bet”. I like to think of business choices in terms of an investment strategy. If you can make enough safe choices that act like bonds for your business, that frees you up to make a bigger bet on a risky stock. Start by identifying how much loss your business can afford to absorb in pursuit of a new growth vector and that’s probably a good starting budget.

Lastly and most importantly is to win the battle before it’s fought. Marketers need to get out of their bubble and partner with their sales counterparts to leverage bold marketing choices and secure incremental displays, distribution and merchandising programs. Meeting with a retailer and saying, “We are turning on TV for the first time in our 30 year history. How can we help you disproportionately win over those consumers in your store?” is a really compelling conversation that leads to better integration across online and offline, in-store and out-of-store execution. Ultimately that kind of Marketing-Sales collaboration helped us put a lot of incremental revenue on the board before the first ad ever aired.

Drew:  How did it all work out?  Did sales meet or exceed expectations? Did the TV impact both online and offline sales?  

We’ve been thrilled with the success of our integrated program. We’ve seen our sales growth triple in the year following the launch and Burt’s Bees is again the fastest growing lip balm in the US. Interestingly we saw our biggest lift happen online despite the heavy investment in TV. Seeing more than triple digit growth in those online channels was a very nice surprise.

Drew: Looking back on this campaign, what are the key lessons you’d share with your fellow marketers?  

First of all, a good marketing idea can become a great one when it’s integrated across all consumer touchpoints. That means looking at how to influence the product, the package, the retailer and then the marketing campaign, all behind a common, consumer-driven insight. Second, the biggest risk is often the risk of doing nothing. So don’t be afraid to swing for the fences when the right pitch comes at you. And lastly, an insatiable curiosity is a marketer’s greatest asset. Never stop asking that extra question which can unlock the answer for the team.

Storytelling is Not a Walk in the Park

05/9/16

You could say that the three of us were walking to the park, but in truth Pinky was merely along for the ride. Sitting tall in his new chariot, our Frenchie sniffed in the sights as if his ‘hood had been transformed. Hands, those most desired instruments of affection, were suddenly at cheek level, drawn in by his come hither gaze. Few were immune to his entreaties especially his fellow geriatrics who enjoyed comparing heart meds though one contrarian vigorously recommended homeopathic hawthorne with a touch of cayenne. Inured to all but attention, King Pinky was bemused. Thus began our new normal.

I offer this window into our Sunday sojourn as a reminder that a change in perspective, even one forced upon you, can open your eyes to new opportunities. Storytelling, as explained by Douwe Bergsma, Georgia Pacific’s CMO, is indeed a different way of looking at marketing communications, one that requires new processes, metrics and staff. In this last part of our interview you will find some of the fascinating details that often separate a good story from a great one concluding with three secrets to success should you want to embark on a storytelling adventure of your own.

Drew: Are your KPIs different than you would have had in a pre-storytelling era?

Douwe: On a high level, I don’t think so. We still look at brand awareness and key brand attributes and the impact it has on penetration, loyalty and ultimately our profit. We just noticed that the way we were approaching it, we were not optimally achieving our KPI. We still want to see how Brawny does with the idea of toughness and gentleness. We still want to know if our core consumers- our key target segments- still appreciate Brawny in a way that they are receiving the right value for their money, compared to their alternatives. At the highest level, it didn’t change. At the lower level, it did, because before we were single-mindedly measuring the impact of a 30-second ad on this metric. Now we look at the combined impact recognizing that at the end of the day, it’s still about driving conversion from intent to purchase.

Drew: Do marketers need to be more patient with storytelling?

Douwe: Good question, I haven’t thought about that. In the development, yes. It takes longer for a fully integrated story to develop because design plays a key role. One of the things we’ve learned is that a story needs to be holistic including the design of the brand packaging as well as the design of the products inside. One example of this is the way the Brawny giant comes to life on our packaging. And packaging, in our industry, has a longer lead-time. So in order to do it right and holistically, it takes longer to prepare and develop. In actuality, I don’t think the level of patience is different from what we used to do.

Drew: Let’s get specific. What’s your leading example of storytelling?

Douwe:  Brawny is the only brand where we have completely overhauled our packaging as well as our other touch points. We’ve developed our story frame work– the conflict is really between tough and gentle. And then the fundamental human truth is about protecting yourself and those you love.  This requires you to be understanding and open to what life throws at you, but also have the tenacity, toughness, and strength to tackle any challenge. We were inspired by a quote from Roosevelt: “speak softly and carry a big stick, you will go far.” We translated that into a campaign, featuring the Brawny giant. How do you tackle and handle life’s challenges? By staying strong while continuing to be gentle as these challenges come at you. We showcase The Brawny® Man with the larger-than-life look he had in the 1970s — so there’s kind of a double meaning here  — in our campaign, which represents kind of a gentle giant, which is gentleness and strength in there.

Drew: Tell me more about your partnership with AOL.

Douwe: With AOL, we were able to develop and sponsor content that helped tell our various brand stories. For example, in Brawny®’s Everyday Giants series, we featured Khali Sweeney, who started the Downtown Boxing Gym in Detroit, which basically became an afterschool academic support program, where he gives kids free boxing lessons after they finished their homework. The program was for inner city kids in Detroit and every student who went through his program that’s been going on for several years now, there’s a 100 percent graduation rate and 80 percent went to college.

Drew: In a programmatic real-time world, how do you adjust to storytelling or does that play any kind of role in all of this?

Douwe: Programmatic is more into where and when and what frequency; it’s less about the content. And our storytelling predominantly focuses on the content of our communication, which closely relates to our media placement. So programmatic has not really impacted the story we’re telling, more when and where we telling it. And obviously, it allows us to find those people that are in our target audience. It allows us to find our specific audience better and faster than we normally do.

Drew: What are some of the pitfalls to be avoided?

Douwe: First and foremost, it’s very tempting to just focus on the storytelling. You first need to really focus on the story framework. Because our whole industry is so used to drafting a brief to develop an ad. Draft a brief; write a Tweet. But before you do the brief, you actually need to know your story’s framework. It’s like sending an improv artist on stage who doesn’t know what a story framework is.

Second, with storytelling there is not a single linear pass to it. You need to be very agile and experimental and embrace the mistakes and the failures you have along the way and have a very experimental mindset. You need to do a lot of trial and error and go down specific pathways to figure out what’s going to work for the brand or what doesn’t.

And last but not least, we’ve learned that you also need to make sure that you recruit and cherish the few storytellers in the building who have the passion and the talent to develop story frameworks. I discovered that there are quite a few people that have that innate balance at companies like Coca-Cola. In fact, Shari Neumann, who leads all our storytelling here at Georgia-Pacific is a former Coca-Cola person.

Storytelling: Chapter 2 with Douwe Bergsma

05/2/16

IMG_2774In truth, I tend to get obsessed with topics of interest.  Since my first conversation on storytelling a few weeks back with Douwe Bergsma, CMO of George Pacific, I have now read (via audio) two books, ordered three more and am in the middle of listening to a Great Course on the subject.

Just in case you want to dive in with me, here’s the list I’ve devoured thus far, all of which I can recommend to anyone in marketing:

  • “Story-Selling: How To Sell Without Selling” by Nick Nanton & JW Dicks
  • “All Marketers are Liars” by Seth Godin
  • “The Art of Storytelling: From Parents to Professionals” by Professor Hannah B. Harvey

What you won’t find in any of these resources, is how an emphasis on storytelling could impact client-agency relationships, hiring practices and advertising measurement.  For that, you’ll have to read part 2 of my delightfully informative interview with Douwe below.

Drew: Tell me a bit about how the agencies fit into this process.

Douwe: When we develop story frameworks, our design and advertising agencies are included, but not leading it. Our story framework experts at Character lead all the work at this phase. Then you brief your agencies on the story framework (the bottom of the iceberg) and ask them to come back with the tip – the storytelling — that everyone will see. They come back with the big idea and the campaign gets extended to all the marketing roles.

Drew: This sounds very different that most agency / client processes.

Douwe: Yes, it is different from what we used to do. We now have a major step between the our typical brand equity work and the design- and campaign development, which we call the story framework. And that leads to the stories you’ve recently seen. The conflicts on Angel Soft are pretty clear because it is our selling theme: “Be soft. Be Strong”. We are bringing it to life in terms of the struggles that parents have. In order to be a good parent, you have to be strong and yet you also have to be soft. We highlight that story through the most challenging parent relationships like a stepfather raising a stepdaughter. We take it to the extreme in terms of parenting challenges, and show how people have to be soft and strong in their context. This allows for a higher emotional connection than just promoting our toilet paper as being the right balance of softness and strength at a better value than the next best alternative.

Drew: How did this impact your agency relationships?

Douwe: We made the decision to expand our agency roster because some agencies are good at advertising, and some are good at storytelling. In our point of view, storytelling is a broader and a longer-term approach than advertising. Let me give you an example: If I give you five pages of a book and I say, hey, what do you think of it, you’d probably say, I don’t know, I read five pages. In traditional advertising, every page could feel like the same, with a benefit, a reason to believe and bringing some brand personality to life. With story telling you are expected to experience different chapters of the book to understand and appreciate the brand more and more over time, resulting in a stronger engagement and relationship.

Drew: Have you had to train your staff, your product managers or the people responsible for advertising development to think more about how to judge stories?

Douwe: Yes. There are multiple layers from an organizational growth perspective. But first and foremost, there was a challenge to convince people that this would be an improved alternative approach to communication. So that was one. The second was then when people were kind of like, “I am willing to give this a shot.” We basically took almost everybody in the organization through a three-day story immersion, called Character Camp, where they have former movie writers, TV writers, cartoon writers, improv artists, and standup comedians explain the power of story, how story writing and storytelling works, what the story framework is and then literally help us practice it. Then we have what we call a Brand Summit with all our brand builders, including agencies, and there was a whole training process to get there, and a hands-on coaching. On top of that, we assigned Shari Neumann to be in charge of all our content development. She’s not called our Chief Storytelling Officer, but that is basically her role.

Drew:   That’s interesting. So you have to tell the story one chapter at a time?

Douwe: If you believe in true storytelling, what you do on Google or Facebook and what you do on network TV help deliver ‘chapters’ of the story. For example, we initiated partnerships with AOL and Meredith that combined with the things we put on our product page on Amazon complimented each other to tell the whole story. It’s only when you’re exposed to multiple touch points that you start to understand the value and the deeper meaning of the story. While ideally each individual communication by itself might be effective, it not as effective as the whole thing would be.

Drew: This must be tricky to orchestrate. Do you still evaluate the performance of the individual ads via things like copy testing?  

Douwe: One of the key challenges we ran into is that we had to completely reconsider our qualification approach. Because we would qualify a 30-second ad in the past via testing and attribute some value to the ad. Today, however, you need to understand, for example, on-line search with Google, as well as the social media activities on Facebook, the partnership videos we developed with AOL and Amazon’s product pages. Then there’s eCommerce, the in-store experience and our package design. To fully appreciate the value of the brand and the meaning a brand could have in a consumer’s life, we have to consider all of these elements as part of the story. That was a big, big paradigm shift. Without this shift, we would not be able to turn storytelling into a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

 

What’s the Story with Storytelling? Just ask CMO Douwe Bergsma.

04/27/16

Douwe BergsmaIt was one of those rare Los Angeles days — smog free, blue skies and the air was crisp.  A perfect set up for what I hoped would be a perfect pitch.  We were sitting in a diner right across the street from the bank headquarters in Pasadena and we were the opposite of stressed out.  Like well-prepared boxers, we were ready, really ready. We were confident in our strategic sharpness and that we had the big idea.  We even had most of the critical tactical details worked out to deliver a successful launch campaign. So when we walked over to the bank about 15 minutes before the appointed hour, witnesses might have seen a slight swagger in our step. Little did we know that our swagger was about to be shattered.

Entering the bank, we enlightened the dowdy receptionist that we had arrived and to our alert our future client of our presence. The first hint of trouble came in the form of a slightly raised eyebrow followed by a hesitant call upstairs. She then, as nicely as she could muster, told us that our contacts weren’t there.  For maybe the 2nd time in my career, I went ashen.  Where were they?  What had gone wrong?  Had we flown to California for nothing?  A cellphone call revealed the truth — they were waiting for us in West LA. You see, we were pitching a new debit card from OneWest bank in partnership with Magic Johnson enterprises and when our bank contact said “headquarters” he meant Magic’s headquarters. This was a forty-minute drive on a good day and we had maybe 14 minutes.  ­

Running to the car with one of my associates, it was me against every driver in LaLaLand.  Dodging, weaving, and topping 90 MPH often, Dale Earnhardt had nothing on me that day.  With the pedal to the medal, my heart and my mind were racing as well. Was our biggest pitch of the year about to crash and burn?  Could we recover from such a seemingly careless misstep? Meanwhile, we heard from the rest of the team that they had been stopped by the police for making an illegal u-turn and that we should start without them. Are you kidding me? Start with 2 of our 5 presenters? So we sped ahead, arrived in record time, set up our laptop, tried to hide the sweat on our brows and waited for Magic Johnson to enter the room.

SO at this point in my story, hopefully you are wondering whether or not we got the business? Or maybe you are thinking what kind of idiot doesn’t check the location of the meeting? Or you’re wondering what Magic Johnson is like in person? Or you’re asking yourself what’s the purpose of Drew’s story? And let me answer the last question first. My goal was to get your attention through a bit of storytelling, to share a conflict, in this case, three conflicts, man versus nature (the traffic), man versus man (the pitch) and man versus himself (the fear) and then to leave you hanging — at least for now. Because among the biggest insights gleaned from my extensive interview with George Pacific CMO Douwe Bergsma is that not every brand story needs to be resolved in a nice little bow.  There’s a lot more to this story so please read on.

Drew: Recently Georgia-Pacific’s advertising campaigns received some attention, including Co.Create’s most creative ads, Ad Age’s Creativity 50, the Cojones Award and the CMO Club’s award for Creativity & Storytelling. Was the storytelling approach the driver behind the new work?

Douwe: It is driven by vision and strategy changes and by many people at Georgia-Pacific and our partners. Our new storytelling approach was one of the major strategic changes.

Drew: Can you give me some background on how you’re approaching storytelling at Georgia-Pacific?

Douwe: We’ve partnered with David Altschul, Jim Hardison and their team at Character and adopted storytelling as a strategic framework. It is not about storytelling as in a different way of labeling or describing advertising. It’s more of a fundamental approach to how to view your communication efforts across all touch points. We approach our brand communication as if we are writing a movie or a country song or doing improv theater. You do that by starting with the story framework.   If you visualize an iceberg, the storytelling part is the part that’s above water and the story framework is the larger part that’s underneath the water.

Drew: That’s very different from what I’ve been hearing about storytelling. Tell me more about the framework.

Douwe: You’ve got to identify key elements that are important for your total story. It is the part that the author will know but that the audience wouldn’t, but it’s implied. So for example, within the story framework, we first and foremost determine the fundamental human truth for our brand. It’s very similar to what others call brand purpose, brand assets, and brand values, but we call it the fundamental human truth.

Drew: So how is this different than purpose-driving marketing?

Douwe: For us, purpose or essence is a key element of the framework but it is where a lot of other consultants and companies would stop. In the past, I have done both, the purpose-driven approach and the story-telling framework, and could clearly see the difference, side by side. The big element that you need to understand for any story is what conflict is inherently the story’s framework. And like any storyteller would tell you, the conflict is the motor of any story. If the conflict stops, the story stops. It is the element that continues to propel the story forward and drive the intrigue and engagement of your audience.

Drew: Seems like this is very different from my packaged goods days during which we created a problem that the product could easily solve?

Douwe: True. Most marketers through the decades are focused on avoiding and/or solving conflicts.

Working on different brands, whether it was shampoo, snacks or paper plates, we typically identified a solution to make any problem go away…and so did the story. The next thing you know, you need to start all over again. Instead of embracing a conflict, many brands say, “we need to avoid them because we don’t like conflicts.”

Drew: Okay, I’m ready to embrace conflicts but give me an example of what you mean?

Douwe: We basically seek out what is the key conflict in our brands. For example, the Brawny conflict is between being tough and being gentle. And, in an ideal world, the conflicts are two positives, like safety and freedom. You want both, but sometimes, they clash.

After the classic man versus nature, the next level of conflict is man against man, but the in best stories the main characters are going through an internal conflict and for example become more brave and take more risk as the story progresses. We try to seek those same elements for our brands along with five other key characteristics of a story. And then our experts at Character write the story framework book.

NOTE: The rest of this really enlightening interview will be posted in the next 2 days. There we dive into how storytelling changed agency relationships, staffing and a whole lot more. Oh and yes, we did get the Magic Card business. But that’s a story for another day.  

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