Penne all’amatriciana

Last week we returned from a vacation in Italy. During our stay we were confronted with the breaking news about the devastating 6.2-magnitude earthquake that rocked the center of the country. One of the hardest-hit towns was the beautiful comune of  Amatrice, with 80% of the historic center destroyed and nearly 200 deadly casualties.

As we were safe and sound, visiting a region of the country hundreds of kilometers away from the quake’s epicenter, we heard the dramatic testimonials of disaster-stricken residents and saw the images of rescue teams digging through the rubble delivered via the local media.

In addition to all the dramatic facts and figures, we also learned that Amatrice is the birthplace of the bacon-and-tomato flavored all’amatriciana pasta sauce that was accordingly named after the severely hit mountain town. This factoid turned out to be an ideal context for Italian food blogger, Paolo Campana, to launch an appeal on Facebook in which he asked restaurants to put pasta all’amatriciana on their menus and donate 2 euros per dish sold to the Italian Red Cross.

Amatriciana

When we went for dinner on the last night of our Italian holiday, we found out that the restaurant had also appended a solidarity penne all’amatriciana item to their menu. So, guess what we chose as the primo piatto of our meal? And, actually, the food was  delicious, but the knowledge that we were supporting the earthquake victims with a symbolic donation made it taste even better…

My apologies for using some inappropriate terminology in this dramatic context for my conclusion, but the above anecdote is proving once again that combination of an emotion-touching story (the sauce that originated in the earthquake-hit town,) combined with an excellent product (a perfectly flavored pasta dish,) and an engaging cause (supporting the earthquake victims) is a powerful marketing and communication tool.

You may also have a look at these other posts about the value of brand storytelling:

Some B2B marketers are liars (or not)

What’s more important, the absolute facts and figures or  the story?

As I have written many times before on this blog (read e.g. the posts mentioned at the bottom of this article,) I am not a big fan of presenting naked numbers to an non-expert audience. IMHO, most numbers, spreadsheets and charts are meaningless without a value context or without a good story.

The title of this week’s post is inspired by the title of Seth Godin’s 2005 bestseller “All marketers are liars.” In this book the author illustrates the power of marketing an authentic story:

“All marketers tell stories. And if they do it right, we believe them. We believe that wine tastes better in a $20 glass than a $1 glass. We believe that an $80,000 Porsche Cayenne is vastly superior to a $36,000 VW Touareg, even if it is virtually the same car. We believe that $225 Pumas will make our feet feel better —and look cooler— than $20 no names… and believing it makes it true.”

Though Godin’s examples are originating from B2C use cases, the title statement also holds for B2B marketers. Often we think that, unlike consumers —who tend to make buying decisions based upon impulse, emotion, or even the love for a certain brand— business customers only care about detailed product specs, competitive differentiators, and value-for-money. But business decision-making is often driven by emotion too.

Recently I came across a CEB research paper about the challenges that marketing leaders in large B2B organizations face in structuring a brand differentiation strategy and in addressing their customer’s real needs:

  • Branding is important. Most B2B buyers (74%) believe that brands provide business value, although the exact value is hard to quantify by numbers. Only 14% of customers perceive a real difference in a supplier’s offerings and value its difference enough to be willing to pay a premium for it, while 68% of buyers who see a personal value will pay a higher price for a product or service. This personal value includes emotional appeals in areas such as professional benefits, social benefits, emotional benefits, and self-image benefits.
  • Stories and personal value messages drive action. 48% of B2B buyers say they have ever wanted to buy a new solution but not spoken up about it because of fear of losing respect and credibility with colleagues (or even their job). To drive action, suppliers must shift their customers’ focus away from the costs and risks of change, and start a conversation with their prospects about personal difficulties, emotional needs and future personal gains.

By telling a story that empathizes with their customers’ real challenges and offers them solutions in a language they can understand, B2B marketers can build trust and support buyers in their choices and decisions.

liar

And, although one should never lie to your audience or present them with content that you definitely know is incorrect, there is nothing wrong with omitting meaningless figures, or framing the facts to better align with the message you’re trying to convey.

More reading:

Me and my brand

My manager recently said to me that, even if I didn’t put my name on my PowerPoint presentations, he’d recognize them any time. Did I do anything special to earn this compliment? I don’t think so. As a good corporate citizen, I always use the prescribed company template. And I present content (at least I hope) that is relevant for my employer and our customers.

Where I may be different, is that ― unlike the average professional in my company ― I try to keep my slides simple and sweet. No information overload. No long bullet lists. No 12 point font sizes. No complex technical drawings. I am also a visual thinker, which often helps me finding good metaphors and original graphical representations. And, as a passionate storyteller, I always put a proper mix of ethos, pathos, and logos in my presentations. The more personalized, attractive and relevant information is to the person presented with it, the more engagement is possible.

Of course I’m flattered by the fact that my presentations are recognized as (part of) my personal brand. In an earlier post on this blog I wrote about the relationship between brands and customers, and how companies are taking their target audience on a journey, connecting with them emotionally, and positioning their products and services beyond functionality and price. But also personal branding is a very powerful tool, because it provides a clear and consistent message about who you are, what you stand for and what you have to offer – as a representative of your company as well as a private person.

personal_brand

As such, I can only acknowledge the words that Tom Peters wrote in a 1997 Fast Company article:

“In the age of the individual, you have to be your own brand. […] Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.”

In today’s technology-ruled, content-driven and information-overloaded business environment, the contribution of an individual can still make a big difference. That’s why (even if my boss doesn’t think I need to) I always put my name and my TwitterID on the title page of my presentations…

More reading:

Your story is your brand (and vice versa)

The relationship between brands and customers often draws upon love and respect. A mix of ethospathos and logos. Isn’t that exactly what storytelling is about? As such, storytelling is probably one of the most powerful tools for brands and companies to communicate their core values, win more customers, and differentiate from competition.

Below are a few examples of how companies have used stories to take their customers on a journey, connect with them emotionally, or position their products and services beyond functionality and price.

Let me start with a quite recent one. When Amazon introduced their first smartphone last June, the invitation for the launch event they sent out was accompanied by CEO Jeff Bezos’ favorite children’s book “Mr. Pine’s Purple House.” As the book tells a story of being special, standing out from the rest and inspiring others, it was a perfect teaser for the Fire Phone – which, after launch, turned out not to be a big success.

My favorite brand story, however, is without any doubt the video that Apple created for launching the Macintosh in 1984. In exactly one minute, the company managed to articulate its mission, introduce its new product, and tell an unforgettable story – that contained all thinkable elements of good storytelling: suspense, emotion, metaphors, antagonist and protagonist, …

Another famous Apple branding example is the “Think Different” blitz, about which Steve Jobs said afterwards that “it took maybe 60 seconds to re-establish Apple’s counter-culture image that it had lost during the 90s.”

Similar ‒ but more controversial ‒ to Apple’s Think Different advertising is Johnnie Walker’s “Walk with Giants” campaign that shows videos featuring running legends Haile Gebrselassie and Paul Tergat.

In an older post on this blog, I have written about a series of Hollywood-style movie trailers we created in Alcatel (today, Alcatel-Lucent) to pitch our portfolio of broadband solutions. “The Convergence Factor” was probably the most impactful, but certainly the most fun business presentation I created and delivered in my whole career.

Two other of my favorite brand stories come from FMCG giant Unilever. Ask any woman what Dove stands for, and she will tell you about the “Real Beauty” campaign, showing non-stereotype women, in different ages, shapes and colors, with real curves, wrinkles and spots.

Dove-firming

A memorable video published in the Real Beauty campaign reports on an experiment in which a forensics artist draws sketches of different women. A first one based on each woman’s personal description of herself, and a second one based on the description given by a stranger. Experience the movie and understand what makes it so powerful….

The “Lifebuoy” campaign, also by Unilever, hits the storytelling spot too. It addresses the necessity to change the hand washing behavior of one billion people in developing countries – and as such help reduce respiratory infections and diarrhea, the world’s two biggest causes of child mortality.

As can be learned from the Unilever examples, sustainability stories are often good recipes for success. A growing number of eco-, local– and fairtrade-labeled products succeed in seducing consumers with the promise of contributing to a greener, healthier and fairer world. Read also my post about “the good life”, which tells about a farm in Denmark that manages to sell eggs at three times the market price thanks a “happy chickens must lay delicious eggs” message.

Another example of a sustainability message comes from my own employer’s “Campus in the Cloud” project that aims to bridge the knowledge gap for those who have no or little access to education by leveraging our in-house skills, talent and communications technology. Alcatel-Lucent employees share their knowledge by creating short (10-15 min) educational videos, which are made available to children and young adults.

Here’s one more. “Nike Better World” tells us how sports contribute to developing the next generation of youth with skills such as teamwork, determination, self-confidence, creativity, resilience, and physical and emotional health.

But not only big multinationals are good in story marketing. Belgian communication agency Mosquito introduces itself on LinkedIn with: “We believe that, whoever claims that his behavior cannot be changed by a small thing, has never slept in a room with a single Mosquito…”. You’ll never have to guess again about where the company’s name came from – or what it stands for.

More reading on stories and brands:

About storytellers, storydoers and storymakers

I am currently attending the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. One of these global mega-events, where thought leaders, opinion makers and industry gurus (and also few humble marketers like me) come to tell their stories.

You can hear these corporate storytellers in the auditoria, watch them talk on one of the big screens in the halls and meet them on the exhibition floor.

mwc

Lately I came across a few articles about the need to complement storytelling by storydoing. The idea is simple and straight forward: great companies don’t just tell stories, but they also take action on them.

  • Storytellers are companies or individuals, that convey the story of their brand, business or product by telling that story. As I stated in earlier posts, storytelling is a powerful tool to engage audiences and create worth-of-mouth buzz.
  • Storydoers consciously work to convey their story through direct action. Storydoing companies put the narrative in action and use stories to drive product development and enhance their customers’ experience.

Storydoing should not be considered as a black-or-white alternative to storytelling. In fact, both practices go hand in hand. Storytelling is mainly driven by marketers, while every company employee can contribute to the doing. Recent research by storydoing.com suggests that storydoing companies are better performers, as they tend to spend less money on advertising and paid media, but rather invest in customer engagement and execution.

As a marketer in a fast-moving technology sector, I would tend to add a 3rd category to the ones above:

  • Storymakers are the real market innovators, entrepreneurs and changemakers. They build a whole new story for their product or their company, or even a completely new brand.

Only great personalities are able to combine the three roles above. The Mark Zuckerbergs, Elon Musks and Steve Jobs’s of this world. They not only have great ideas, but they also have the capabilities to execute them and engage their audience – and as such create or change an industry.

So, if you can be a storymaker, a storyteller and a storydoer; And if you can talk your walk, walk your talk, and walk your walk, then you’ll be a man my son… (free interpretation of Rudyard Kipling’s “If”)

Some other articles about storytelling vs. storydoing: