Red Thread

we love story-telling

Brand storytelling is back – bigger than ever.

First time around for me was Tom Peters, the original business guru. His pitch was about corporate myth-making: the conscious creation of those symbolic stories which so effortlessly epitomise an attitude or a principle: Lou Gerstner forcing the IBM Board to abandon the PowerPoint in favour of the conversation, for example. Tom’s now making the point that the brand story is more important than the brand.

His punchy point is that stories are simply great carriers of information. Because stories provide a vehicle for both facts and meaning – an engaging, long-hand mnemonic in which to embed values, facts, personality. Tom’s not alone now. David Aaker’s there, Jim Collins, Philip Kotler, Kevin Roberts all blog the story. And many brand agencies explicitly position themselves as working on turning the brand into the story: the iconic founder’s story is a popular variation.

For businesses with a lived sense of history, brand storytelling is a given: brand heavyweights such as IBM, BMW, J&J and GE; welterweights like Virgin, The Body Shop, Burberry, Jack Daniels; and young bantams such as Innocent, EasyJet and, well, Thomas Crapper message from a continuum of brand story. Paul Polman has updated Unilever’s brand story with a fresh relevance – because brands aren’t about abstract values, they’re about values in action – stories in other words.

Brands’ ability to story-tell hinges on many variables: intrinsic business belief in the value of brand, clearly; but also the strength of heritage, and the prevailing imprint of the founder, the nature of the business journey and purpose, especially the drama of early years’ experience, the retained corporate sense of individuality (in a commoditised world) – all of these as diluted by acquisition, brand stretch, product nature, age and size, And many businesses – especially large ones – have forgotten, or lost the ability to tell their story.

For these brands in particular, what Games partnership offers is the opportunity to write their own story. An intrinsic attribute of the Games product is the fact that they start with an inspiring vision – and end with a global celebration. To a greater extent than any other major property, each Partner plays a part in making that happen. For consumer-facing brands like adidas, Coca-Cola and McDonalds, the Games are not so defining. But for predominantly B2B brands, Games’ involvement both dramatises and humanises the corporate mission.

In the words of Ron Rogowski, from UPS: ‘It’s about how you take your company story, and weave it into the Olympic story. Our story and brand platform – ‘We Love Logistics’ – is a big concept. We’ve got to bring that concept to life – what we actually do for our customers, using the London 2012 Games as a case study.’

It’s much more than a case study of course. It’s (potentially) the perfect case study – a project of national and even global relevance, with an absolute delivery deadline, and the opportunity to elect and define the scope of your own business contribution.

Deloitte’s Heather Hancock is very clear about the value of the Games story: ’LOCOG chose us because of our tools and capabilities around major programmes, complex cross-border tax regimes, organisational design, business continuity and operational readiness, testing and war-gaming – a real breadth and depth of business services. That’s the story we tell our clients. It brings alive our impact in a way that data about our staff numbers and service lines fails to do.’ Internally and externally.

Things can go wrong: IBM’s dramatic meltdown in 1992 is the apocryphal scare story, when, as the (unauthorised) story goes, 83 year old weightlifters were clean-lifting weights of over 400 kilos (or some such). But in general, partners look forward to association with a runaway success – any glitches lost in the general halo of Games delivery.

Atos uses storytelling more traditionally, with behind the scenes pre and in Games hospitality, a glowing highlight in pitch documents, but UPS advertising has taken its London 2012 story public, editorialising the herculean feat of moving and warehousing 30 million pieces of London 2012 kit in print and video.

Steven Keith, of Petro-Canada (now Suncor Energy) says it his own way: ‘The ’88 Torch Relay was a defining moment for Petro-Canada. So when you ask people about the brand, most Canadians recognise it, know we’re oil and gas – and 50 – 60% of them know that we have a connection to the Olympic Games.’ It’s become a big part of their story.