On March 18th 2011, Charlottee Todd sold a dress she’d made whilst at college for £78,000. It had cost her thirty quid in fabric and by most peoples view was not the next big thing in design. But the dress had a story. It was the one that Kate Middleton wore – the one that caught the eye of the future king.
That story probably added 100,000% to the value of that product, and demonstrated once again that people don’t buy products they buy stories.
But if that’s the case how do major brand owners create the stories that people want to buy? I remember my first job at J Walter Thompson back in the early eighties. We’d just created Mr Kipling, that country parish priest, and producer of exceedingly good cakes, as a front for a product manufactured in Hull. Later that decade I was working with Courage on Hofmeister, a German lager that had never been further south than Reading. It is possible to create a brand story, or enhance one that is already there. But over the years consumers have become more savvy and cynical, and brand owners should now tread with care.
Another way of looking at this is the idea that a brand is the sum of a million stories – the stories of every interaction that customers make with the product and service you sell. The sum of these stories creates the promise that the brand offers – not the one that the marketing team has dreamt up, but the real one. The one that exists in the consumers’ minds. The one that determines whether they buy the product or not. In the past these stories have had less power, but now of course there are many mechanisms that can connect them: Trip Advisor, Amazon, Chat rooms, Twitter and Blogs galore.
So how do you get tens or even hundreds of thousands of employees to deliver consistently great, brand differentiating stories every day, through every interaction with the customer? The challenge is enormous, and the consequences critical. Most business start with process and rules. However these are highly limiting. Often the stories that matter are the ones where things have gone wrong, or the customer has an unusual challenge. Almost by definition, these situations sit beyond the process. What's more if you just run a business by rules, you disempower people, force them to focus their energy on compliance and create demotivation and inefficiency. The alternative is to build a winning culture based on shared beliefs about the way we do things around here. With people that are really connected to what the brand is trying to achieve, and feel empowered to create their own story.