In 2010, Kirsty Henshaw appeared on the popular TV series “Dragons Den”. She had invented a healthy alternative to ice-cream, and was looking for a £65K investment in exchange for 15% of her company.
Kirsty successfully secured dragons Peter Jones and Duncan Bannatyne as her new partners. Granted, her product is innovative. At a feature level, it’s bang-on trend by being low fat, and low calorie. It’s also free of dairy, sugar, gluten, additives, soya, cholesterol and nuts. But watch the clip and you’ll realise it’s not just Kirsty’s product that catches the interest of the multi-millionaire investors, it’s her story. This exemplifies branding through storytelling.
As part of her pitch and the subsequent dialogue that followed, Kirsty told a heart-warming tale of the inspiration behind her business. Unfolding in front of the investors eyes was the authentic, and moving account of a 24 year old single mum, juggling two part-time bar jobs, and who had been forced to move in with her own mother in order to make ends meet.
After discovering that her four-year-old son Jacob had an intolerance to dairy products and a serious nut allergy to boot, Kirsty decided to do something about it and her business was born – starting with just a little ice-cream maker from Argos in her tiny kitchen. Telecoms magnate Peter Jones immediately identified with more than just a great product. As with his investment in Levi Roots of “Reggae Reggae Sauce” fame, Peter saw an authentic story. Referencing his uber-successful previous investment he commented:
“I don’t know if you’ve come across Reggae Reggae Sauce, or Levi Roots? I was behind him and it was done with Sainsbury’s, and then we opened it out to everybody – but they really got behind it because they not only loved the product, but they saw the whole story. I think you’ve got a very similar situation here – you could be the frozen dessert version of Levi Roots”.
Humans are inherently a social species. We love to share and be connected to the things and people that are important to us – hence the wildly successful growth of Social Media platforms. We find it difficult to remember facts, statistics, features and functions, yet we all remember stories – and we go on to share the stories that move us with those we care about, without even thinking about it.
Every day, companies continue to compete based on product, price, feature, & function, asking agencies to weave marketing fairy-tales in order to persuade, cajole, and convince people into buying their wares. But when you market based on your own authentic story, a story that contains a higher belief – a belief that guides everything that you do, you build trust. Trust builds loyalty. And loyalty builds brands.
Customers and consumers want to connect with brands that allow them to portray to others how they see themselves. If your brand stands for little more than making money, then I would imagine that even if you are experiencing success right now, it’s going to be short-lived. Whether as an employee, a customer or an investor, it’s a natural human desire to be connected to something bigger than ourselves.
To see examples, you only have to look at the likes of Nokia, RIM (Blackberry) or Game – businesses that once were great, and that now are beginning to fall. Nobody cares that you are the fastest, biggest, or best anymore – and even if they do, they are fickle about it. You will be in a constant race to stay ahead. However, when you attract customers based on an authentic higher purpose, story or belief – one that allows them to demonstrate to others what they believe through connection with your brand, then you’re no longer in the product race. You’re building something special that serves a higher purpose than just making money. And who wouldn’t want to work for, invest in, or buy a product like that?
For someone that has it right, take a look at Blake Mycoskie – the inspirational entrepreneur behind the brilliant “TOMS Shoes”. In the traditional marketing model, Blake would have approached an advertising agency and asked them to create a TV, radio or print campaign that captured attention – possibly making people feel inadequate for not owning a pair of his lightweight, Argentinian-inspired footwear.
Instead, Blake shared his story. Unlike feature, function or benefit, Blake’s story is unique – it’s the one thing nobody can copy. Sure, Blake’s company wants to make money, but it wants to do good first. It has an authentic, higher purpose – for every pair of TOMS sold, the company will donate a pair to a person in need.
Blake actually didn’t have the funds to spend on a multi-million pound advertising or PR campaign, but he didn’t need to. Because the brand stood for something, and that it had an authentic story to back it up, people wanted to be associated with it. The story of the brand spread like wildfire on social media, and people wearing a pair of TOMS actively demonstrated to others their belief in what TOMS stands for.
TOMS doesn’t manipulate people into buying it’s products – people buy it’s products because they want to be connected to the cause. Most firms don’t stand for anything beyond making money, and they certainly don’t understand the power of telling an authentic story behind why their business exists – and in that instance, they make price, feature or function their only competitive differentiators.
When you stand for a higher belief, you provide something that people can connect to and feel proud of. If the only thing you are giving your employees to believe in is their paycheck, you are leaving the door wide open for them to go and work elsewhere. In the words of the brilliant Simon Sinek “people don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it”. Brands like Harley Davidson, Apple, Innocent, & TOMS are all essentially branding through storytelling and stand for something larger than themselves – they attract employees and customers that want to be part of their cause, and by doing so, they create an unbreakable, authentic bond.