Brand Stories that Work, Gerry Lantz — Part One

Brand_story_gerry_lantz_2Gerry Lantz describes himself as a "creative guy in a business suit." After 27 years in marketing, advertising and communications, he has created STORIES THAT WORK®,a series of narrative-based tools, that help executives and corporations communicate more memorably and persuasively.

The goal of STORIES THAT WORK® is to cut through the same-old, same-old business blah-blah and boilerplate. Using these tools, Gerry helps others create his favorite stories: how to grow business and the people in it. Gerry is a long time friend, someone I admire and respect. As I've been focusing on the power of storytelling in marketing, I wanted to share with you his thoughts on brand stories that work.

Valeria Maltoni: Why is narrative so important for brands?

Gerry Lantz: Narrative has been important to brands since brands were invented. It’s nothing new. It all began with positioning. What niche, what place will this brand occupy in consumers’ minds? That’s the fundamental question of marketing. And the story marketers tell about the brand is essential to its positioning.

Now over time, if the brand positioning is delivered to consumers by their experience with the product, then a relationship starts to build based on trusting the product or service to perform as promised. The brand actually begins to play a role in consumers’ lives. An amazing thing happens with brands over time, the product values transform into brand values—what is delivered goes from being pure features and benefits to emotional satisfaction. Real alliances, friendships get built. It’s MY brand consumers begin to feel.

Imagine, for example, if Hershey Bars were taken off the shelf tomorrow, as Coca-Cola did to Coke in 1984. People would write to their congressman, form protest groups, petition, etc. And they did in the case of Coke. Why? Because consumers had kissed their first dates over Coke; they grew up with it; it was part of their lives and available everywhere. Coke is cola—don’t tell Pepsi—in America. Likewise, Hershey is chocolate in America. The best brands become quintessential and irreplaceable. A human relationship based on shared experience develops—it is a reciprocal story told by the user and the brand. And it’s real. The marketers of Coke lost faith in marketing and their brand’s story, their conversation with users, and nearly paid a devastating price for it.

So people and brands go through life together; yes, it’s a story with a plot, incidents, characters, obstacles, victories (“Wow, this brand really does what it says! I love this stuff.” And they mean it.) Brands have more than a “personality”—I hate that word which leads to confusion when applied to brands in my opinion, but that’s another story. Brands have human qualities which are a richer and deeper part of the brand’s values than mere personality. That’s why people form a relationship with the brand.

So not only is there a brand story, a concept we use at Stories That Work, Inc. to help build, launch, and revive brands; but there are customer stories, trade stories, sales stories; everyone who touches the brand or whom the brand touches has a story about it. All of these stories contribute to a brand’s values. As a brand planning tool, the brand is the hero that stands for something or even fights for something. In managing brands long term, just as in a good story, marketers have to consider the emotional thought line that carries the brand over time and keeps its story fresh generation after generation. Story thinking helps construct this kind of longevity.

Valeria Maltoni: Can you give me an example of a brand that used narrative successfully?

Gerry Lantz: Sure, let’s take Harley Davidson motorcycles. Long before Joseph Pine and James Gilmore wrote their 1999 book, The Experience Economy, Work is Theatre & Every Business a Stage, Harley-Davidson was creating a drama and a dream for its riders. A senior executive at HD was quoted a while ago as saying, “What we sell is the ability for a 43 year-old accountant to dress in black leather, ride through small towns and have people be afraid of him.” Now he’s clear about the experience Harley-Davidson is selling and riders are buying. Each rider, from middle class family man to hell-raising bikers is a character in this little drama and loves to “ride the dream.” Talk about owning an emotional through-line, a direction into the future. Very smart stuff.

Stories_that_work_logo_2 To be continued…

Listen to Gerry Lantz podcast with Anna Farmery at The Engaging Brand.

Let's continue the conversation. What brands have used narrative successfully in *your* experience?

UPDATE: for Part Deux link here.