Stories work because we can narrate our way through and listen to complex information in easy to digest form. Stories are sticky, especially when they present us with information we can identify with. Our stories from catching up in New York city this weekend really resonate with me until we add new ones, next time.
The Dove Real Beauty story used by Gerry Lantz in our conversation, hit a nerve with readers. Annie Heckenberger was first on the scene by mentioning the enormous spending of this campaign to look real. The Dove people were smart to work the integration over many channels.
"Yes, they did a cool viral video -- but the Ellen plugs were not PR placed, they were paid sponsorships. Additionally, their TV spends for the real beauty spots outnumbered previous spends by competitors. Last, the online conversations they generated were about the ad campaign. It was the integration of the campaign across marketing platforms that spelled success for them. (Disclosure: I worked for Dove's #1 competitor at the time.)"
To have the sort of reach that Dove had, funds needed to be allocated to nurturing the brand. It's amazing to me how marketers continue to be expected to make miracles with ever shrinking budgets. Copywriter Richie Dowling adds:
"The Dove ads have been a landmark for the advertising industry -- a reflection of real, beautiful people as opposed to the shiny plastic androids so beloved of the ad industry in general. How long before this trend makes its way into other realms?"
Joe Raasch talked about ROI, which to me also means return on involvement. I prefer to think of the public as amused, by the way. And took the conversation into a new direction by talking about outcome narratives:
"Even though the ROI for Dove was probably non-existent, it was a courageous move to show reality commercials. As consumers, we allow wraith-like models to telll us how thin we should be and hey, if we drink that brand of beer, we could be overweight idiots and get the wraith-like girl! Somehow the public is either immune or amused at the absurdities.
Last week at the OD Summit in Chicago I learned about "outcome narratives" from an IBM consultant. They had a bit of trouble integrating the PWC acquisition. By using outcome narratives they were able to get everyone focused, top to bottom, on the same goals.
Outcome narratives are sentences, paragraphs, that describe what success looks, feels like. Pretty simple, actually."
Matthew Grant approached the topic by inserting the element of fabrication in stories:
"I think that the BP example highlights the way that stories are always, to some degree, fabrications or fables. We encounter this in daily life when a child tells us something that we're not sure is true and we say, 'Are you telling stories?' If you are going to create a narrative around your brand, you need to work hard to make sure that it is not only fabulous but factual as well.
The Dove example illustrates this in another way as one of your other commentators points out. Dove had to pay a lot of money to create a story around their brand. The point is that that story was 'made up.' That is, it takes a lot of work to create a compelling story, and then it takes a lot of work to get the story to circulate, and then it takes a lot of work to keep the story 'real.' As soon as that work stops, the story can unravel and be rewoven into another, sometimes very critical, story (as in the SUV case)."
This injects another very important element: what is real? In Story, Bob McKee talks about screenplays being most real when the characters are built in the most essential ways. Gerry's take:
"First about spend levels: I have no idea what the numbers were so I bow to the person who is intimate with the dollars spent and that the talk show placements were paid for. Smart spend if you ask me. Didn't mean to imply it was purely PR. Whatever the dollars, the print and outdoor were very brave for a CPG campaign intro. The media strategy is less important to me, however, than the way Dove has aimed to change the conversation about beauty in the marketplace.
Second response: The Unilver executives obviously worked very hard to discover women's dissastisfaction with the conversation about beauty in the category. Dove did research globally in a multiple waves to ground their idea. Sure, Dove is telling a story. All brands do. All ads do. Some stories are fiction; some stories are non-fiction. My opinion: Dove is telling a fairly strong non-fiction story. Just an observer's opinion. Dove touched a nerve that is behind all great stories, fiction or non-fiction, (paraphrasing the words of Robert McKee in his seminar) great stories cause people to say 'yes, life is like that.' Dove has done that for women by debunking beauty myths and supporting self-esteem. By the way, unbeknownst to me, one of the Dove women, currently in a Dove print ad for '50 woment over 50,' showed up to my speech in DC a few weeks ago. She praised the Dove people for picking her, not based on any essay about the product, but for her views about beauty.
I grant Matthew's point that it takes a lot of work to craft a story and to keep it going. Especially in advertising, where wear-out is common. Dove, I believe, has done two things smartly. Dove has made the conversaation around their campaign truly interactive and two way on the web (they have been spoofed mightily on YouTube also). And the brand has stuck to what I believe is its core essence: authentic results authentically delivered. Yes, Dove does face a challenge not to let the Dove story 'unravel' by keeping Dove's story and the conversation fresh, engaging, and relevant. They can do it by staying close to the customer and authentically reflecting them. It will be a real creative challenge. That's their job and I hope they continue to do it well."
On the discussion of outcome narratives. The power of story in organizational life is enormous. Success stories have gotten a powerful boost with the discipline of Appreciative Inquiry. Joe responds:
I'm sure this is not the final answer, but it intrigued me a lot. Gerry has some insights into qualitative research that might change the way we look at the term results:
"I think stories are more like qualitative research, not quantitative. I recently helped a non-profit in New York re-brand itself by going through a Stories that Work Brand Story process. I interviewed or did focus groups with administrators, the board, clinicians, patients, donors, anyone with a stake in the success of the place. The result was universal agreement: the current brand name and tagline had nothing to do with the real stories all of the stakeholders were telling about the place. I can't take you into all the details due to confidentiality issues, but the point is all stakeholders agreed that the NFP was a second home, a place they felt safe, allowed to grow, cared for etc. Worse, they all agreed its current name gave the wrong impression. No numbers were necessary. The board agreed to the name change.
The proper use of qualitative research is to develop hypotheses for further testing. So in a large org., if there is a budget, you could survey these impressions and get a quantitative answers. So to date over several clients, I have not had to do this.
Now in the commercial world, it's a little tougher. Don't sell stories but solutions to problems. Of course you know this already. Stories are just a means to get you to solutions to larger org. dev. issues. If the vehicle of stories reveal consistent themes, values, successes, obstacles, then there is probably something there to examine further. But don't get hung up on counting, because some of the best ideas come from a single mention of a concept that catches fire. That's how new ideas happen.
Sometimes senior management can be convinced (we used to do this in advertising) by playing videos or audio tapes of actual comments so clients could hear perceptions directly from consumers (or employees). Seeing and hearing is more persuasive than telling or selling."
What is your take? What is next for stories that work?