Brand Strategy Stories
Last week we looked at the elements that enable us to engage with the brand at brand story heroes
Nirvana for Marketers occurs when our brand strategies become the heroes of our ongoing brand story
Brand strategies are vital to an organization. For employees, it provides opportunity and the joy of winning, and it guides and inspires programs and initiatives. Among customers, it offers the key brand drivers of energy and visibility, as well as the opportunity for better products. For suppliers and retailers, it means increased demand and price stability.
A revitalization strategy points to a new path for a brand that may have stagnated or declined. But this new direction needs credibility, as well as support from internal and external audiences that often don’t give it easily.
A brand story can help. It can focus on the how the new approach was born. What were the trends, new consumer ‘must haves’, competitive actions or crises that led to the strategic message? What were the alternatives? Such a story can be intriguing involving and authentic.
Lou Gerstner transformed IBM when he became CEO in 1993. At the time IBM was struggling, ruled by product fiefdoms and poised to break itself up into seven different companies. To help decide, Lou solicited customer feedback by having the 50 top executives and their direct reports visit five customers each. He found that customers loved IBM but wanted to be able to buy integrated solutions from one firm.
As a result, he put an end to the breakup proposal and worked to make product and geographic silos communicate and cooperate on systems solutions under the global IBM brand. The background story would influence the firm for decades.
The first is when the new brand strategy is in progress but the end point has not been reached. The focus is thus on the future, with a roadmap for getting there. The story can clarify and motivate the new strategy and inspire employees, consumers and customers alike. The second life begins with the new plan is in place. The story then becomes a reminder of why it was needed, making the strategy clear and vivid in people’s minds. When a strategy becomes too familiar, it tends to lose influence and inspiration. The story helps keep the excitement going.
A growth story that is intriguing, involving and authentic can convince audiences that the growth will happen, that is real. It allows the brand to focus on a long-term strategy, perhaps by investing in assets that will pay off well into the future. Otherwise, short-term financial considerations can dominate a brand’s decision-making.
Consider the Amazon growth story.
The story starts with a foundation on which to build: Amazon would be the bookstore of choice, with over a million book titles to be sold at prices well below those of brick-and-mortar book retailers.
With this foundation established, Amazon had a goal: to grow at an insane rate to capture market power and economies of scale, and in areas far beyond bookselling. Note that he did not call his company books.com. It was named Amazon after the largest river inn the world because the goal was to be the largest retailer in the world, to become the everything store. Bezos talked of selling not only kayaks, but also reservations for kayak trips.
In 1996, Amazon had annual sales of just $16 million, less than 1% of those of Barnes & Noble. But Bezos had more than a goal, he had a growth story – one that he would follow for the next two decades and more. It turned out to be more successful than he imagined.
CMO Perspective – Tesla
On August 2, 2006, two years before the first Tesla car was shipped. Elon Musk presented his growth story for the company even though he was a part-timer, his day job was to run another business: SpaceX.
The core challenge was how a new electric car company could get a foothold in an auto industry with such long-established firms. His four-step growth story provides not only the answer, but also credibility and inspiration to employees, customers and investors – all groups that need to see substance as well as goals.
Musk’s memo was titled “The Secret Tesla Motors Master Plan (just between you and me)”.
- Step1: Build a high-end electric sports car (Tesla Roadstar) that performs better than existing gas-powered cars like the Porsche and has twice the energy efficiency of a Prius, and then use the proceeds to help fund the next stage.
- Step2: Build a more affordable four-door, luxury sedan (the Model S) and again use the proceeds to help fund the next stage.
- Step 3: Build an even more affordable sedan (the Model 3) that generates high-volume economies of scale.
- Step 4: During this process, provide zero emission, electric power generation options using modestly sized and priced solar panels from Musk’s SolarCity that can be employed to recharge the Tesla batteries.
News items about Tesla’s journey became part of the growth story.
The plan played out, and in July 2016 Musk added four new elements. Create solar roofs for homes integrated with battery storage. Build cars for all major market segments. Develop a self-driving capability 10 times safer than human drivers. And enable cars to be rented to others when not to use.
It seems risky to bet against the growth story of Musk.