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

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.  

CSR: Global Food for Thought

04/25/16

Paul HillenWith the Empire State Building glowing in the background, I wondered what was on my own horizon that evening.  The cocktail party in a chic midtown hotel had just begun, the award-winning CMOs were pouring in and my curiosity was starting to peak.  Who were these people?  Sure I could read their name badges but what were their stories and more importantly, would I have time to discover them in between the chit chat?

Shortly thereafter I met Paul Hillen, CMO of what turns out to be the largest privately held company in the US, Cargill. As Paul told me about this global agricultural powerhouse, I became more and more intrigued, especially at it relates to their abundant CSR activities.  So, of course, I followed up with Paul.

These days, one expects global companies to have a reasonable amount of charitable activities and to show some level of environmental responsibility. What I didn’t expect is that in addition to things like building 75 schools in developing nations, Cargill became so well versed in Responsible Supply Chain Management that they turned this into a service they offered their clients. You’ll find that surprise and others in our comprehensive interview below.  Cheers.

Drew: What is your overall approach to corporate social responsibility?  

I am a big proponent that whether it’s philanthropic, an investment in a community or a partnership that it is all an extension of your business strategy. It’s just like branding. If branding and marketing are not an extension of the overall business strategy, then they are probably doomed. And so when approach CSR programs, I start by asking what are the things that we can do where we operate that are linked to good business? And the first answer to that has to be a direction extension of your business strategy and how CSR can continue to deliver on the expectations that our board and our shareholders have in terms of the growth of the company.

Drew: As a private company, a lot of folks are unaware of the size and scope of Cargill.  Can you talk about that a bit and how it impacts your CSR activities?

We have over 2,000 locations with operations in over 70 countries around the world. And in many of those places, we tend to be one of the top employers, thus our presence in each community is critical. The reason we’ve invested in those communities is so that we can maintain a great workforce, as well as help educate and nurture a future workforce. I was recently in Côte d’Ivoire in Africa and I visited four different village where we had built schools and helped drill wells because those are two of the biggest issues that have there–clean water so that they don’t have dysentery and educating kids so they have something beneficial to do during the day (and not become part of the child labor workforce).  We’re going to be opening our 75th school in Vietnam for similar reasons. So for us, corporate social responsibility is about improving people’s lives and doing it in a way that is directly linked to the business.

Drew: Could you talk about a specific CSR program that you feel is really representative of the kind of initiatives that work for Cargill and your constituents?

Sure. It’s built around sustainability and responsible supply chain management, which is one of our core competencies. We’ve created a tool in partnership with PwC [PricewaterhouseCoopers] called the Cargill Responsible Supply Chain Framework.  This program is unique in that it helps our customers in three ways:

  • We work with our customers to help then take costs of their supply chains identifying where they can do things more sustainably and hopefully reduce costs in the process;
  • We identify areas in which the customer is already doing things in a sustainable manner enabling them to take some credit where credit is in fact due;
  • We help them take some of the risk out of their supply chain by identifying non-sustainable practices that should be addressed.

All of these things help our customers to build their businesses in a more social responsible way and helps us as this a fee-for-service business. So we turned “responsible supply chains” into not just a nice phrase but also a service that we provide to our customers.

Drew: That’s really interesting in and of itself. How did you know that you had that expertise in the first place? I mean, how did you develop a sustainability practice such that you could actually not only educate your customers but also create a service that you could sell them?

Well, it’s a model actually that we’ve done for years. We are celebrating our 150th anniversary this year, and this has given me an opportunity to really learn a lot more about the heritage of the company, and a lot of our businesses were born this way. We take capabilities that we’re really good at, and then we say, hey, we could turn this into a business because if we’ve got this need, then so do our customers. We’ve been doing supply chains for 150 years. It started when our founder in Iowa opened a grain warehouse because it was all about helping farmers to get their grains to market in a more efficient way. Instead of everybody doing it on their own, W.W. Cargill built it. We understand most supply chains around the world because we have an ocean transportation business, we’re one of the largest users of railcars, we understand the trade flows and the flow of goods, and then we understand it more at the micro level. We understand exactly what the supply chain is. Planting a soybean all the way until it’s bottled and branded by one of our customers as an example. Or in other parts of the world, we bottle our own — we have our own consumer brands. So it really is a core competency of ours, and we are now extending that to our customers.

Drew: One of the big reasons that companies talk about CSR is because it makes employees feel better about working at the company. How do employees get involved in Cargill programs and how important is that to retention?

Yes, employee involvement is very important. First of all we give employees credit for and ask them to track all of their time regarding time, talent and treasure that they contribute to their communities. Our food scientists actually created the highly nutritious recipes for the pre-packed meals that are sent to Africa for Feed My Starving Children. One of the things that we did in conjunction with our 150th Anniversary was to involve employees in “learning journeys.” Two years ago, we did one on Brazil. In 2015, we did one in Africa and another one in China, where we get all of the different stakeholders who are interested in important issues like hunger and sustainability, and we have them live together for a week.

Drew: Has your past life at P&G had an impact on your approach to CSR?

One of the things that I think might be different with me, relative to other CMOs is that I had P&L responsibility as a business leader for seven of my fifteen years at P&G and many of my 14 years at Cargill.  I’ve only been in this current role for about four years and try very hard to avoid using the typical marketing clichés like “doing good is good business.”  My background has trained me to think of CSR in the context of other efforts making sure they are directly linked to the business strategy and the P&L.

Drew: What is Cargill’s purpose and how does this impact your CSR activity?

Our aspiration is to be the global leader in nourishing people; that’s our stated corporate purpose. So most of our CSR efforts are built around nourishing people. As an example, we have a very strong partnership with CARE, not only do we donate significant contributions to them but also our employees are heavily involved on a local level.

Drew: How does your brand purpose translate into marketing messages? 

It all extends from our purpose to be the global leader in nourishing people while translating into a more specific brand promise – helping you, the stakeholder, be more successful with Cargill than with anyone else. And it’s based on how the stakeholder defines success. Then that leads to our brand expression – Thrive.  Our commitment to helping stakeholders thrive (the highest level of success) works on many levels. For example, if you do a public-private partnership with Cargill to develop a village, to develop schools, to drill wells, to do water filtration systems, we believe that you’ll have the best chance of thriving. I chose Thrive because it works with our purpose–if you’re not well nourished, you can’t be successful and because it supports a broad range of initiatives across our many business units and countries of operation.

Drew: How do you measure the effectiveness of this program? As a truly global company, do you have a global brand health tracking in place?

From my P&G experience, I really like to conduct brand health research and when we couldn’t find an existing template, we built our own.  In the fall of 2013, right before we launched our new brand promise and brand expression, we fielded the first survey wave in 22 countries among all nine of our stakeholder groups. By the way, this was the first time ever in the history of Cargill that we’ve had a single brand promise and a single brand expression in all 196 countries where we do business.  We picked the 22 countries (now 24) because it represents about 80 percent of our business. That was our baseline and now, two years later we’re in the middle of a second wave of tracking to see if we’ve moved the needle, to see if we actually own the brand promise and to what degree against our nine stakeholder groups.  We also work with the 66 individual business units to identify their top three or four stakeholders that are critical to building their business help them with their own brand and reputation studies locally.

Drew: What’s on your to do list?

We have to now improve awareness of what we do, and why people would partner with us because in a world where you can’t hide anything, you better have nothing to hide, right? So we have to do a much better job of defining who we are because if we don’t tell our story, somebody else will, and it’s probably not going to be accurate.

Reading v. Viewing: Which is Better?

04/17/16

Let’s do a little test together.  Watch the video below which features Trish Mueller, CMO of Home Depot and Pete Krainik, founder of The CMO Club, and make note of the marketing insights you gained.  Next, please read my interview below, also with Trish Mueller. Then jot down your key takeaways.  You’ll have to trust me that both are well worth your time and in no way are redundant.

Drew: What 1385af4innovations/programs are you particular proud of?

I am proud of the seamless transition we’ve made into the digital, social and mobile world, and I am most proud of how our team continues to innovate in a “VUCA” world (volatile, unpredictable, chaotic and ambiguous!).  I enjoy the fact that here’s no map for where we’re going – we’re operating on the frontier of the new media world & we’re forging new digital roads every day.

Drew: How do you keep innovating in the shifting sands of marketing? Is this a mindset, a culture, a staffing issue?

We have built a dynamic culture of curiosity & courage, and we encourage a fast test & learn mentality across the entire team.  It is definitely a team sport, with ideas coming from team members at any level or rank.

Drew: Where do your get your inspiration? 

I am a voracious reader & I specifically pay attention to what is happening across retail marketplaces, not just in home improvement. I spend time with peers in other specialties, and I also spend time with our marketing team at every level, to see what is on their minds and to pressure test if we are missing out on opportunities that may not otherwise get in front of me.  I work very hard to be approachable, so everyone feels they can share their ideas – you never know where the next innovation may come from & you’ll never hear about it unless you dig in with the team.

Drew: How do you instill creativity across your department / organization? 

First, we nurture creativity with existing team members, we reward those who take risks to learn and we actively recruit against specific criteria to fuel the talent pipeline long term.  We look to have our staff reflect a perfect balance between subject matter expertise and new, unconventional thinking. When recruiting, we focus on “raw talent”, those who have the right mind set versus matching just to specific expertise in given functions.  This approach with staff feeds the group’s curiosity, tests our thinking and fosters a culture of “what if we tried this?” vs. the legacy of “we do it this way.”

Drew: A lot of marketers go so far as to celebrate failures as a reminder of the importance of taking risks to move forward.  Have you had any programs that didn’t work out as hoped and if so, how did you make sure the organization not only learned from the misstep but also that the folks responsible didn’t get punished?

We have a very strong communications-based culture that keeps innovation and quality work in front of everyone.  I personally recognize our team accomplishments every Friday in a formal communication that goes out to the entire marketing team.  I also recognize team members individually with thank you notes, shout outs in our monthly “All Hands” meetings, additionally we award a special quarterly innovation award.  We call it the “Big Swing” award, which recognizes a person or a team for taking a swing at exploring new ideas which helped us learn, even if the idea may not have worked out as we originally thought.  During the all marketing team presentation, we lean more on what we learned in the recognition vs. whether it failed or succeeded. 

Drew: Looking ahead to 2016, what is the single biggest challenge that you’d like to overcome? 

I’d prefer not to answer this one – I will either give away a key strategy to potential competitors or expose some weakness, not to mention opening myself up to a zillion cold calls from companies wanting to sell me new technology that supports my goals!

BLOG POST continued:  SO, if you complied with my request to watch the video and the read the interview, then first and foremost, I suspect you’ve come away with a super positive portrait of Trish Mueller.  And based on other conversations I’ve had with Trish, your perception is dead on.  Second, you probably remembered different things from each. I thought the video was particularly good at demonstrating the power of in-store home improvement classes. (By the way, that is wonderful example of “Marketing as Service” in action.)  Our interview reveals more of Trish’s management style, how she stays on top of her game and how Home Depot encourages risk taking.

So which is better? The video is beautifully produced and obviously took a lot more time to create than my interview.  The video has the advantage of sight, sound and motion.  The interview, on the other hand, goes deeper and into areas that wouldn’t have translated as well on video.  And that’s the point. Different media communicate differently. Neither is “better” in the absolute, both have their strengths. Like instruments in an orchestra, each can certainly stand alone but the combo is almost always more powerful.

 

A 150 Year-old Brand Takes a Fresh Look at Storytelling

04/6/16

I have to admit that I went into the conversation about storytelling wondering “what’s the story here?”  How could something as old as storytelling be a hot new topic in marketing.  Darren Marshall, CMO of Steinway & Sons, was kind enough to set me straight in preparation for our panel Storytelling and Branding: Does Story Trump Data (also featuring Aimee Munsell of IBM and Douwe Bergsma of Georgia Pacific) at The CMO Club Summit.  I could add a more robust preamble but that would simply get in the way of the good stories that lie ahead.

Darren MarshallDrew: So Darren, our given our panel title, does story trump data?

I think it’s the balance to be honest with you. I wish I had more data. I am glad I have a good story, but I’d love to have a little bit of both. But you know, with the lack of data, then story is where I am going.

Drew: Steinway has been around a long time. What story are you telling?

What’s interesting about Steinway is that it’s an old company that really has a pretty incredible story because you don’t think about how pianos are made, the artistic expression they bring, or the emotional connection that people have with them. And not only the beauty of what goes in, but the beauty that comes out, as well. And to realize that this level of craftsmanship happens in New York City to this day, much in the same way that it did a 100 or 150 years ago is pretty incredible, particularly in a world where disposability is the norm.

Drew: I have to say that the made in NYC part really struck home for me. Do you see storytelling as something different than you would have done as a marketer 10 years ago?

Not really, I don’t think. At the end of the day, I believe that stories are engaging. Bedtime stories are all about captivating someone’s imagination and taking them someplace else so that you can relax and calm yourself and go to sleep. That’s what any advertising or communication should be about. And whether it’s a presidential speech or whether it’s a story about a brand, there are groups of people who are buying the technical elements of products. But the real value of a brand is telling the story of that brand and where it’s come from and why it’s come from there and how it’s made and who made it. That’s the irrational piece where you can exchange value. When you think about antiques, it’s one thing to say this is an antique revolver, but to say that this was the revolver General Custer used during the Battle of Little Big Horn — that has a story that goes along with it and there’s huge value. Whether it’s true or not is a separate thing. But it takes you to that place that is new and different and imaginative.

Drew: Tell me about your target audience and how this impacts your story.

At the end of the day, we address a very small group of humanity, people who have the buying power to buy one of our instruments and who have the interest in our category. It really is a very thin group of people. So the level of engagement needs to be much deeper than broader. I need to be able to really help them understand what the brand stands for and why it’s three times more expensive than other alternatives that may look the same. The value of what we do is not necessarily seen to the naked eye. And we need to be able to tell the story of what it is, particularly for people who don’t know what Steinway does in quite the way that others do. So as an example, a concert pianist would know exactly what a Steinway does. But you or I look at the Steinway versus its next alternative and they look very similar. You’ve got to be able to bring that to life why it is different for mere mortals like you and I.

Drew: So how does the storytelling enter the picture given your target?

We’re going to be much more about depth than breadth. The media choices that we use are going to be much more focused. I spent, as you may know, a long time at The Coca-Cola Company. And if you’re buying a Coke and you’re making those sorts of decisions very, very frequently, then your level of engagement and your risk of purchase are very, very low. And you’re making those purchases very frequently and you can change your behavior quite quickly. But when you’re buying something else of great expense and lasting value, and you’re doing it once or twice in a lifetime, then there is a lot more research that is done. I’d like to say that it’s an impulse purchase and it is for some people — for a lot of people, but not for everyone.

Drew: I know that you’ve just started marketing again after a long hiatus. Have you looked at new kinds of metrics to get a more complete understanding of the impact of storytelling?

To be honest with you, ours is a very small company. It’s very entrepreneurial; it is not the world that I used to work in at Coke. There’s a lot more subjectivity. Although the process is very similar, in terms of just finding the North Star if you will or the story arc that is essential to your brand, and then bringing it to life across the various different touch points, we don’t have the resources to be able to measure the effectiveness of every message at every touch point. By the same token, it’s a much smaller organization, so we can quite easily determine whether the content is on brand or not.

Drew: So how do you decide whether to tell the story from the brand’s perspective or from that of the customer’s?

For any brand, there needs to be a framework that considers the true essence of that brand, its values, its benefits which I’d call a traditional packaged goods creative brief. It really gets to the essence of the brand, which we have done and as most other people have done as well.

And getting to that story comes not only from a couple of different vantage points, but then also gets to the different stakeholders as well. And each of those, if the brand is true to its set of values and it’s North Star, then that story will be similar but told from three different angles. So in our case, we talk about the craftsmanship of our product, the artistic expression that it empowers, and the beauty it adds to homes and lives.

We talk about those things and values from the artist’s perspective. Showing how that craftsmanship then leads to nuances not just in a physical product object, but in the music that then flows from that product, which is really the end benefit in another way.

We talk about the owner, those who may or may not be players, but those who appreciate what our brand stands for, and that same set of values, but seen from another set of eyes. And there are probably few other perspectives. But all of that content is what brought them to life. It’s the same story, but told through different lenses. It’s almost like the books of the Bible are the same story, but told from different apostles’ perspectives. And so it’s the same sort of idea.

Drew: Okay, I am a believer.

 

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