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Brand Storytelling

Should CMOs Be Doing More With Brand Stories?


CMO Brand Storytelling

Marketers are busy talking up the value of telling the stories of their brands. But why aren’t more organizations structuring their own strategies and issues as stories, and what role are marketers taking in making that happen?

As the lines between disciplines continue to merge and as the demands on Chief Marketing Officers continue to escalate and the timeframes within which they are expected to achieve noticeable change continue to shrink, perhaps we need to step back and evaluate not just what CMOs do, how and when, but what they contribute to the overall strategy that others can’t and why that matters.

In a very enjoyable article last week, Jack Trout offered his views on what it takes for a CMO to succeed today.

  1. The CMO’s role is to understand the competition, where the brand sits in relation to those competitors and what their weaknesses are.
  2. Build a strategy on a simple idea that clearly positions the brand and that the brand has earned the right to own.
  3. Create campaigns that report to the strategy, not just ideas that win awards and entertain.
  4. Convince colleagues, particularly the CEO, to invest in a long story
  5. Use all the platforms the brand can afford to tell that story, and tell a version of the story on every platform.

Trout’s five point guide makes great sense, but I was drawn to one particular comment in the piece: “Good marketing is good storytelling.” It got me thinking about the journeys that are used to describe how great stories happen, and in particular CMI’s Brand Hero’s Journey.

If indeed marketing is about storytelling, then brands need to be assessing their own actions within the context of a narrative and not just pushing stories for their brands out into the marketplace. I can’t help feeling that at least part of the role of the CMO today is to storify the organization’s own strategy.

That might suggest CMOs manage the crafting of two parallel storylines: the narrative surrounding the organization’s journey (the push element); and the stories that consumers hear from the brand that convinces them to believe in the brand and its competitive value in market (the pull element).

Rather than giving CMOs a set of tasks, it seems to me, brands might be better served giving their CMOs roles in a set of chapters in the journey – to take place over a certain time with agreed outcomes and within a set budget. Essentially this shifts a fundamental question.

From: How will marketing help us achieve our organizational targets?

To: Where are we in our own story, what is likely to happen next and what can marketing do alongside others to help make that happen?

This might also change the role of the CMO from the historic job description of brand overseer and advertising commissioner to one that David Wheldon, head of brand reputation and citizenship at Barclays Group, describes in this article as a mix of “art, science and magic”. Marketing spend becomes the means, not the end. And the role of communication agencies and colleagues is to work with the CMO to help the organization navigate each chapter.

It also significantly shifts the contribution of the CMO from one of spending money for the strategy to one of reframing the strategy for a wider audience (adapting it if you will). If, as Trout has suggested before, the role of the CEO is to be the chief storyteller, then it follows that the role of the CMO is to be the chief story writer (at least from a brand perspective) – the person who introduces the characters, twists, turns and journeys needed to answer the ongoing question “And then what happens?” Within the organization. And for the customers.

The reason why this story-ing role should fall to the CMO and not to other parts of the organization again comes back to Trout’s point about what makes good marketing. No-one in the organization should be more qualified to understand the nature and structure of powerful stories. But everyone, from HR with their take on people dynamics to operations with their views on how things work can help solve each situation that the organization finds itself in.

One interesting aside to close. When you frame strategies as stories rather than numbers with commentary, change becomes the most natural thing in the world, because all stories need change, often dramatic change, in order to move them forward.

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Curtis W. White on July 01st, 2014 said

The reference in your piece to the Hero’s Journey puts me in mind of Joseph Campbell, who is, incidentally, as relevant today as he was 35 years ago.

In an era where brands must tell their stories to survive, his ideas about the structure and importance of ‘myth’ is rich source material.

His work is vital for anyone who wants to understand how to create stories that connect with, and capture, the imaginations of people.

Twitter: markdisomma
on July 01st, 2014 said

Thanks for the pointer Curtis.

Tuhin Verma
Twitter: kahkabir
on July 02nd, 2014 said

I am a very strong believer in Brand Storytelling & apply it to all our work for brands. & my belief has strengthened after seeing the results myself. However I would like to add that brand storytelling may vary in its degree intensity from country to country. For example, in India, the whole system is built on past, present and future. Being a developing economy, there is a huge past which cannot be ignored or forgotten, a present which is highly volatile and rapidly changing, to a future which we all are looking forward to. You will see that in India brands have gradually learnt the storytelling methodology (strategy) which of course is coming from the CMO corner along with a team of Communication experts. In India storytelling strategy has shown great results in the past for brands and it is too contagious. People like to talk, give opinion & speak loud here. They like when brands take them through a journey rather than being cold and boring.

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