Your Customer is the Hero

Back in the early 1950s, the tobacco industry had started to focus on the development and promotion of filtered cigarettes. This was mainly in response to scientific data that proved smoking was indeed harmful to human health. One brand in particular – Marlboro, started to be sold with filters. The knock-on effect was that Marlboro began to be viewed as a cigarette for women, much to the dismay of the brand’s owner Philip Morris.

Motivated by making Marlboro more universally appealing, Philip Morris tasked its advertising agency Leo Burnett to create a new image. An image that would reinvent Marlboro for a wider market.

brand storytelling examplesEnter the Marlboro Man; still to this day dubbed as one of the most iconic and successful advertising campaigns of all time. Looking at the results, it’s no surprise why. This rugged, masculine cowboy, boosted sales for Philip Morris from $5bn to $20bn – a whopping 300%, inside of just two years.

Whilst its competitors were focusing on selling detail, bombarding the public with complex jargon and scientific claims surrounding the filter, Philip Morris and Leo Burnett took an entirely different approach. They sold a story. They created an iconic figure that resonated with millions of men worldwide. Men who saw the ads, saw themselves. By smoking Marlboro, they were the Marlboro Man.

Brags, boasts and bravado

Most marketing unfortunately isn’t this clever, which is why so many messages from brands go unnoticed every single day. They spend millions attempting to get our attention, and then end up scratching their heads when nobody actually pays them any. They blow all of their budget telling us how amazing their company, product or service is, but forget to leave any room for us.

You don’t have to look very far to see examples. Take a look at this recent advertisement from Hertz, and compare it to the Marlboro Man. The Marlboro campaign was created in 1955. This Hertz one in 2012. You’d have thought brands and agencies would have studied what made the Marlboro Man successful.

Hertz, nor its agency clearly hasn’t. The entire page is full of bravado. They want us to know how absolutely amazing they are – they don’t give two hoots about us. Ever been to a networking event and had to endure the pain of listening to some self-righteous schmuck bleat on about themselves non-stop? This is the advertising equivalent. And guess what? Our reaction is the same. You don’t care about us, therefore we don’t care about you.

Celebrate your customer, not yourself

Brand storytelling is a hot buzzword right now. Everybody’s interested in it, but so few really get it. To the surprise of many, it’s actually been around for decades – just look at iconic campaigns such as the Marlboro man. It’s concept is actually very simple; stories are captivating, memorable and inspiring. They aren’t about facts, figures and statistics. They allow us to forget the mundane and transport us to a place where our imagination can run wild.

We can see ourselves in stories. We identify with lead characters. Therefore the art of brand storytelling is not to boast how amazing you are, but to tell a story that puts your customer at the heart. It makes them the hero, not you.

There is a reason that Nike is one of the world’s best loved and most valuable brands. They are masters at the art of brand storytelling. They use it at the heart of every piece of communication. Their website, their TV ads, their stores and even their YouTube videos put us, their customer at the centre of the message. Nike doesn’t boast about how amazing they are, they celebrate how amazing we are.

 

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  • Grant Smith

    Hi Mark, another good post, the challenge for smaller companies is to find a route to take their story to market, in small steps with a tight budget, if you crack that then the world is your oyster.

    • http://www.marksampson.com/ Mark Sampson

      Thanks Grant, glad you enjoyed and appreciate you commenting.

      You raise a very good point. The great news for smaller companies is the ability to get their story heard is now easier than ever.

      The Marlboro Man launched in the “broadcast era” – when the brands with the biggest budgets were the ones who got the biggest exposure. This is no longer – thanks to the evolution and power of social media, smaller companies now have just as much opportunity to get their story heard as the big boys.

      Once a brand understands it’s purpose, the story it wants to tell & how it’s customer features in that story, it can use all the social channels from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Blogging etc to tell that story, reaching audience sizes that would have been impossible in the broadcast era.

      The key is consistency. It’s not about sharing one story in one shot – no one blog post, Facebook update, or tweet could ever contain a brand’s entire story. It’s about using these platforms to tell bits and pieces, allowing your story to unfold over time – ensuring at every step, that your customer is seen as the hero. It’s about giving your audience a unified story that they can embrace as their own.

      As an example take a look at the story of TOMS Shoes. This purpose-driven brand not only makes its customers hero’s of its story with every purchase of its product, but more importantly shares the impact the brand is having on millions of children through its website, Tweets and YouTube videos.

  • http://www.marksampson.com/ Mark Sampson

    Thanks Grant, glad you enjoyed and appreciate you commenting.

    You raise a very good point. The great news for smaller companies is the ability to get their story heard is now easier than ever. The Marlboro Man launched in the “broadcast era” – when the brands with the biggest budgets were the ones who got the biggest exposure. This is no longer – thanks to the evolution and power of social media, smaller companies now have just as much opportunity to get their story heard as the big boys.Once a brand understands it’s purpose, the story it wants to tell & how it’s customer features in that story, it can use all the social channels from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Blogging etc to tell that story, reaching audience sizes that would have been impossible in the broadcast era.The key is consistency. It’s not about sharing one story in one shot – no one blog post, Facebook update, or tweet could ever contain a brand’s entire story. It’s about using these platforms to tell bits and pieces, allowing your story to unfold over time – ensuring at every step, that your customer is seen as the hero. It’s about giving your audience a unified story that they can embrace as their own.

    As an example take a look at the story of TOMS Shoes. This purpose-driven brand not only makes its customers hero’s of its story with every purchase of its product, but more importantly shares the impact the brand is having on millions of children through its website, Tweets and YouTube videos.

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