Brand Story Heroes

Last week we looked at the story elements that restore brand reputation

This week we move from restoration to the heroes that enable us to engage with the brand.

Ownable brand stories have a hero or a set of heroes. To consider possible candidates, consider various hero types. The goal is to find ones that are intriguing, authentic and involving: will advance the message of the brand, organization or business strategy; and will inspire employees and motivate customers.

In essence there are 4 main types of brand heroes:

This list could easily grow by dozens. But these 4 provide starting points in the search of powerful stories. These story types are not distinct; they overlap. Further, most brand stories have two or more embedded in them.

Customer heroes can be effective because they lack a self-serving message that “my brand (or offering) is better than yours,” and their stories are often closely linked to the organisation’s values or the brand’s value proposition. Further, there is a growing consensus that customer experiences and associated stories are becoming more important in brand building and marketing.

LinkedIn has a series of professionally created, one minute stories built around the idea of leveraging the power of LinkedIn to advance a career path. Customer stories can be observed, or customers can be motivated to reveal them. LinkedIn offers members the opportunity to tell their own success stories, and the most compelling receive a professional video treatment.

Content can become a story hero via programs or promotional events that are unrelated or only tangentially connected to a product or service.

MasterCard has long built brand enhancement and visibility with its ‘priceless’ concept. It shows how people can value experiences and family connections more than things. The challenge was to inject energy into this long-running campaign by creating stories that intrigue and gain involvement.

Employees can be a source of a strong and memorable brand story because they are on the front lines. And other employees can emphasise with the story and the relevant issues it raises., the online shoe store, has a set of signature stories built around its 10 core values, one of which is to “wow” customer service. One story involves a Zappos call-centre employee who, in the wee hours of the morning, received a call from a customer who could not find a pizza store that was still open. Instead of gently turning away the customer, the employee found a list of nearby pizza stores that were open all night.

An organisation’s founder can be a powerful source of brand stories because the core values and value propositions are often apparent at the firm’s origins. A founder story is often the breakthrough for gaining external and internal credit for a higher purpose.

The Patagonia founder story gos back to around 1970, when Yvon Choinard, an avid rock climber who ran a climbing equipment firm had a guiding inspiration: He wanted to make rock-climbing as clean as possible – meaning that climbers should depart the rock wall without leaving behind pitons or damage from hammers. His firm would offer the design and production innovation necessary for new, environmentally friendly products. As Chouinard moved into cloting with Patagonia, his priorities stayed the same. They are reflected in the current mission statement, which says the firm will “use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

Brand stories have two sources. They can be based on your own brand or can be borrowed. We have looked at 4 types of ‘owned’ stories. For a CMO Perspective on the borrowed story Peter Guber and his team used at Columbia Pictures please read on….

CMO Perspective – Columbia Pictures

In the early 1990’s, Peter Guber became CEO of Columbia Pictures Entertainment, which had just been acquired by Sony. He tells how he needed to re-energise Columbia, which in addition to its moviemaking business included global television operations and theatres. He describes a firm that had been in disarray with revenues in free fall, discouraged employees and a bunch of disparate units lacking a unified vision and spread out over the country – and now it had a foreign owner. There was a need to reframe the situation, and the story of Lawrence of Arabia did just that (a film produced by Columbia).

In this tale of an unlikely alliance of Arab tribes working together with an outsider to overcome enormous odds, Guber found a signature story. He offered that Columbia could also pull together under its new owner – by uniting a disparate group of businesses into a single force – and make the impossible possible. He started by telling the story during an annual Christmas event at the company and presented executives with framed copies of a photograph of a robed Peter O’Toole.

The story clicked and “Aqaba” became a rallying cry. It changed the mind-set of the organization, led to a revitalized employee base, created a unified organization directed from a single location, supported an innovation growth strategy and prompted a name change to Sony Pictures Entertainment. Many years later, those pictures of O’Toole are still in the offices.

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