The power of simple stories
What is your favourite story?
It might be a book – Charlie & the Chocolate Factory? Maybe it’s a play – Romeo & Juliet? Perhaps it’s a fable – The Tortoise & The Hare? You probably know so many stories that it’s hard to pick a favourite.
Stories have been around for nearly as long as humans have been around. It is said that once humans gained control of fire (at least 400,000 years ago), people started sitting around campfires telling stories. These stories informed others about potential threats, they educated people, they ignited imaginations.
Stories are still one of our most fundamental communication methods today. In 2012 Bryan Stevenson gave a TED talk titled ‘We need to talk about injustice’. He received the longest standing ovation ever at a TED conference. Personal stories made up 65% of his talk.
We like hearing stories. We like telling them.
Why are we talking about this? In our industry we are always sharing information and content. When we do so, we often share a lot. “Here is everything you need to know about Category X.” “Here are all the reasons why our brand is great.” “Here are all the activities we are going to work on.”
But most people don’t need to know all this information.
A big thing in our industry is transfer of knowledge. This can happen within an organisation – from one function to another. It can happen from a manufacturer to retailer. It can happen from a retailer to manufacturer. Often it is different people sharing the knowledge. But, it is the same knowledge that they need to share (think account teams in different markets talking to different retailers).
What is the best way of consistently transferring that knowledge? The way humans have been transferring knowledge for 400,000 years. Doing it through simple, memorable stories.
So what are some of the key stories that you might need to tell?
Your Category Story. What is the simple story that you can tell about how your category can grow? What are the few big issues and opportunities the category needs to address? What do you need to do to address them and how do you need to do it? This thinking exists in a lot of category strategies. But it is usually buried in all the information you share about the category. It is buried in a long shopping list of opportunities and actions. You need a simple category story. A story that people will understand. A story that people will remember and can tell to other people.
Manufacturers also need to have a story about the role their brand(s) play for a category. Are you a brand leader that can drive behaviour change? Are you a premium brand that can drive trade up? Are you a value brand that can drive affordability? Are you a new brand that can drive trial and interest? If you asked 10 people in your organisation what role your brand plays in the category, what would they say? How many different answers would you get? How many people could even answer? You need a simple story.
Your Channel Story. What is the simple story that you can tell about how a channel can grow? What is the role that your category can play for a channel? What is the role that your brand can play in the channel? There are some big channel opportunities for categories and brands to go after. For instance, in convenience stores it is harder than it should be for shoppers to buy healthier food. This is an opportunity waiting to happen. It is a story waiting to be told.
Many shoppers are still buying a lot of core, regularly bought categories (nappies, toilet paper, detergent, soft drinks, beer) in store. E-Commerce (through retailers or direct to consumer) is a big opportunity for these categories. It is a new story to be told. If you don’t tell the story, somebody else will. Who told it first in razors? Gillette has a subscription model now, but only after Dollar Shave Club did it first.
Your Brand Story. What is the simple story you can tell about your brand? Why does it exist? What makes it different? What do you bring that nobody else can bring? What is the story you tell to retailers? What is the story you tell to shoppers? It is interesting that the best brand storytellers tend to be smaller, challenger brands. Why? They do not have the money to invest in marketing a mediocre story. They have to tell a simple, compelling story. So retailers will list them. So shoppers will buy them.
But, small, funky brands shouldn’t have a monopoly on great brand stories. Lots of brand leaders have stories they could tell. But they often don’t tell them. They rely on share of shelf, a bit of range renovation, some price promotions. Everyone can run a price promotion. Not everyone can tell a great story.
People often think that they need to tell different stories each time. They are so used to the story that they assume other people are. But they aren’t. The consistency of the story is crucial. It helps people hear it. Remember it. Tell other people about it.
Can someone light the campfire…?
Feel free to forward. Have a great weekend and speak to you next week.