Venture capitalist Ben Horowitz recently declared, “A company without a story is a company without a strategy.”
- In 1997, based on the number of trademarks in force, there were approximately 2.5 million brands. By 2011 there were nearly 10 million. That’s a quadrupling in the number of brands in twelve years. Simultaneously, the average paid-media spend per brand was down nearly 25% from 1996.
- In the past decade, all of the key traditional tracking measurements around brands have plummeted, perception of brand quality down 24% brand loyalty down 31%, brand trust down 50%, differentiation down a staggering 90%.
- 80% of CEOs believe that their products are clearly differentiated. But only 8% of their customers agree.
- A 2011 comScore study shows that advertising effectiveness against a young demographic is down 56% in ten years.
The future for marketing and the future for businesses is storytelling (wrote about in my book about books “Social media and selling, why marketeers should never ignore the science, customer delight, gaming, culture and the Lindy effect”) and increasingly about story-doing.
Branding is language
The products we buy offer a functional benefit, but much more importantly, they are a form of personal expression. In the modern world, brands and products are languages. The question you have to ask yourself is not what does your product do? The question that truly matters is, what does your product mean?
Practice what you preach
You can tell a story. But you need to practice what you preach. Is it called story-doing. Story-doing companies don’t just practise what they preach, hey actually preach by practising. Story-doing companies have a feeling of authenticity and humanity about them that has been lost in many traditional companies today. It makes them magnetic. It makes them authentic.
The common trait of any story-doing business that is social by design is that it has a compelling story at the centre of its offering because fundamentally, that’s what people are interested in sharing. These companies are story doing natives. They are companies created from the beginning to be story-doers. These companies rarely advertise. They aren’t organised or processed around the media channels. They are built to use people as a medium.
Where to begin
For your business to begin to engage in story-doing, you start with a meta-story (what do you want to become), and you bake the story into your product or service. Then there are four key elements that you need to explore and understand:
- the participants
- the stage
- the quest
Those are other words for market research, for creating a deep understanding of your clients, for competitor analysis, for the environment you operate in and for you big transformative purpose. Think anthropology, story mapping, culture audits, leadership, future trends, innovation, legacy and not-to-copy.
Finally, you translate it in an action map. Guiding principles if you will. Understood by everyone in the business.
When you encounter a company that really is applying story doing, has a clear, institutional understanding of its metastory, and is using it to drive all of its behaviour, there is something palpably different about it. Companies like this stand out. Which is the whole point of marketing.