How Story Platforms Help Global Brands Go Local

How Story Platforms Help Global Brands Go Local

by Kirk Cheyfitz  |  11:00 AM July 23, 2013

While the current turmoil in Cairo may obscure the post-revolutionary optimism that pervaded the city last winter, that mood was powerful at the time. Despite the chaos in the virtual absence of government, the metropolitan region of some 14 million was taken over in January by an Arabic pop music video urging people to “go crazy” by committing acts of kindness to spread happiness. The film, produced by Coca Cola, features street scenes of people being kind and happy in well-known Cairo locations. Locals say it perfectly reflected the hopefulness and optimism of Egypt’s people as they embarked on the difficult path of building a new democracy.This spring, when I spent 10 days working in Cairo, the catchy song was still on everyone’s lips. Asked about the video, Egyptians uniformly identified it as a local production — a combination of an ad, a pop song, a documentary and an accurate social commentary on post-revolution Egypt. Despite the truth of most of these observations, “Go Crazy” is part of a global campaign originated for Coke by Ogilvy Brazil.

The Coke campaign is one example of what three prominent co-authors addressed in a March HBR post titled “Great Advertising is Both Local and Global.” As they wrote:

“It’s hard to create relevant and timely global advertising themes, positioning, and stories that reinforce the brand, appeal to consumers around the world, and can be creatively delivered through all touch points… One solution to this tension is to pursue what we call glocal advertising strategy — locally adapting a universally embraced core idea that will resonate in any market anywhere in the world.”

Coke rolled out the “Go Crazy” campaign in numerous locales, including South America, Africa, the Middle East and the UK. In each place the central story was identical, but the executions were quite different in virtually every aspect — music, people, locations, focus.

When executed flawlessly, such global-local campaigns combine the power and efficiency of a single global brand with the targeted, culturally nuanced appeal of a localized execution. It’s not easy to do, however. The key question for global brands is, “How can marketers pull it off consistently?”

The steep rise in digital media has meant that a logo and tagline are not nearly sufficient to provide consistent, relevant branding. What’s needed, clearly, is a disciplined, repeatable process that enables a brand and its agencies to locate, define and craft consistent global narratives — truly compelling brand stories — that unite brand attributes and business goals with deep audience interests and passions.

Coca-Cola, following a well-defined global trend among savvy advertisers, declared in 2011 that it’s marketing practice was going to shift to content creation. It has since become a leading example of how a global brand can clearly embody a single core narrative while telling many different stories. In Coke’s case, the unitary narrative is about spreading and celebrating happiness and optimism. Coke can produce hundreds and thousands of local creative executions across the world precisely because it keeps telling stories based on one central narrative that unambiguously embodies the brand.

At my agency, Story Worldwide, we’ve been doing storytelling work with brands around the world for some 15 years. Our first effort at global storytelling began with Toyota’s luxury division, Lexus, where the task was to create emotional connection for a very rational brand. In those days, merely defining what a “global story” should be involved a year-long debate. The clients entered that debate believing global content had to be delivered in exactly the same form everywhere in the world, not an unusual position for a company concerned with precision engineering. But the discussion continued until we had all agreed that a global story should be told differently in different countries and cultures because the real goal is to create the same impact and effect everywhere.

Eight years ago, we began calling these defining core brand narratives “Story Platforms” and we’ve created dozens of them for some of the world’s biggest brands. We’ve created and honed a detailed process that discovers the core narrative of a brand and charts a clear path for turning the Story Platform into advertising executions in any culture on any media channel.

The process is built around research and collaborative workshop exercises and results in a final report that sets out the core story and shows how to build communications on the platform.

To understand why these platforms are so useful and powerful, it’s first important to understand what they are not. A Story Platform is not a tagline; not a campaign strategy; not a piece of ad copy; not usually a consumer-facing line at all. Instead, it is the simplest expression of a core story that narrates the most powerful relationship between a brand and its audiences.

The power of a brand’s Story Platform is that it is singular (there is never more than one), unchanging over long periods of time (outliving any campaign by orders of magnitude), differentiating (focused on what makes the brand unique for its audiences) and contains the authentic truth of the brand. It also defines what subject areas a brand can credibly create content around — the brand’s “authority to publish.” Using a Story Platform properly, brands and their agencies can build a huge variety of brand stories over a long period of time and every story will ladder up to the brand’s core proposition.

Finding and building such a global narrative core begins with the kind of careful research that should be very familiar to branding agencies. The so-called ABCs of the brand — audience, brand and category (or competition) — have to be thoroughly probed and evaluated with the energy and bluntness of a team of investigative journalists and social scientists.

The research must establish a baseline of facts for a workshop that is designed to bring out the clients’ unique narrative and emotional knowledge about the brand. The exercises used in the workshop are probably unfamiliar to traditional advertising practitioners because this is where narrative approaches — storytelling techniques — begin to take over. A metaphor exercise teases out a wide range of potential emotional connections to the brand. A session on customer journeys frames the ways in which audiences encounter the brand and its messages. The clients are asked to debate and select the brand’s archetype so the brand as character and personality can begin to emerge. And so on. From the research and the output of these workshop exercises, we then create the Story Platform.

The number of workshop attendees must be limited to no more than 15 people. This is enough to create 3 to 4 breakout groups on any given question, but small enough to allow the entire group to hold meaningful conversations and debates. Just as important, the participants must not all come from marketing. They need to represent every part of the company that touches the brand — sales, operations, distribution, customer service and so on. Getting input from everyone not only improves the outcome, it also builds backing for the outcome across the enterprise. The workshop is not just a marketing exercise; it is also a political exercise, in the best sense of that word, building consensus around the brand story. That sort of enterprise-wide buy-in is absolutely crucial for success because a brand’s story must be something that connects with internal as well as external audiences.

The marketing guru Seth Godin recently announced that content marketing “is all the marketing that’s left.” In a world of exploding channels and increasing consumer control over media, Godin is probably right. The definition of advertising is under enormous pressure to change and it is swinging to brand-owned content that tells a consistent brand story and fosters long-term relationships with audiences. In this new media world, locating a brand’s global story and telling it in its most powerful local form is becoming the central mission of all marketers. Disciplined processes and storytelling techniques will help brands do this critical job successfully.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: