Once Upon A Time Authenticity in Fairy Tales...

It seems everyone is claiming a new ‘storytelling’ expertise...
Brands are flocking to ‘storytellers’ for help.
Kevin Johnson, creative director at Seymourpowell It seems everyone is claiming a new ‘storytelling’ expertise, that they are the new Aesop or Archer to find the ‘inner tale’ that your brand must tell the world. Of course, we all know how compelling great stories can be. Their structures are timeless and speak to deep-rooted human truths that stir emotions. That’s why they survive down the ages and why mankind continues to tell the same stories over again. A moving story though, doesn’t need to be true to be effective. Stories exist for entertainment and escapism, but also to teach lessons and give the moral guidance we need through life. That doesn’t often happen neatly in real life, so the construction of a story becomes an airtight, predictable way to build universal understanding.
Confidential. © Seymour Powell Limited, 2010. All rights reserved.

Beginning, middle and end, a cast of traditional ‘archetypes’, challenges, tasks, gifts and wisdom, where good triumphs over evil. We love it, who wouldn’t? Hence so many brands are flocking to ‘storytellers’ for help emotionally connecting with consumers to sell more stuff. But what if the story isn’t really true behind the scenes? Isn’t that just a con? Social media makes it increasingly impossible to control public opinion once a powerful idea takes hold. In Egypt, a thirty year dictatorship was overthrown by a galvanized public in just eighteen days. An extreme example, but what can that mean for brands, and their owners, if it’s discovered they’re not all they imply? Many favourite brands are owned by multi-nationals beholden to

shareholders. In the constant drive for efficiencies many brands, as part of portfolios, are actually made of the same stuff, on the same lines, in the same bottles by the same people. In the quest for meaningful differentiation from the competition, as well as stable mates, these brands rely on their ‘stories’: equity, often plundered from bygone days of independence, before the original company was absorbed. Now post-recession, brand owners want to retain value in the brands they have ‘cost optimised’ for years, by returning to the core idea that made the brand great in the first place. Re-writing its brand equity tool ‘de jour’ and redefining the brand’s central purpose – it’s reason for being. Great stuff - If it’s cause based and truthfully activated throughout the organization, from supply chain and marketing through to usage and disposal. However, the rise of consumer awareness might raise some awkward questions: “Are you in business to make a difference, or simply make money? Who do you serve first: ‘me’ the consumer, or ‘them’ the shareholders - with me as the patsy?” If your new brand story is merely a cynical veneer, behind which you continue to go about the business of making the most money from the least effort, then surely you run/ continue the risk of being found out and thus open to another, more honest and generous player coming along and eating your lunch. Consumers who buy a believable story, then discover it isn’t what they thought, can find the disappointment crushing. Reputation is increasingly the important currency in for consumers. A paltry 50% reputation score on ebay doesn’t exactly breed trust! It can take millions of dollars over time to craft an image that people trust in, that they aspire to own a piece of, only for one piece of poor judgment to instantly ruin everything. Just ask Tiger Woods. And the moral of this story? 1. Be sure to really live the story and demonstrate real desire for the cause from start to finish, not just where it suits. 2. Have brand teams enrolled in the legacy they leave behind, not just short-term brand thrashing for the length of their assignment. 3. Create a brand guardian to be the constant conscience for the

entire brand behaviour. Incentivise them for legacy and consumer loyalty, not simply sales. 4. Activate and innovate against your cause absolutely. We’re back in the middle-ages – if the blacksmith in the village is actually crap, everyone will know very quickly!

It can take millions of dollars overtime to craft an image that people trust in...only for one piece of poor judgement to instantly ruin everything. Just ask Tiger Woods

To find out more please contact: design@seymourpowell.com

Confidential. © Seymour Powell Limited, 2010. All rights reserved.

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