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  • Writer's pictureLesley Gold


I’m not very good at compartmentalizing. If you work with me you’re going to hear a lot about my kids and meet my dogs. The last few weeks I’ve been steeped in my son’s production of Peter Pan. And did I mention he’s Peter Pan? Peter Pan! If you’re one of my clients, attended the Lobby conference, crossed my path on a social network or in the street, or you’re my gynecologist (yes, I pitched her in stirrups mid pelvic exam) you’ve likely received a plea and a business card to come see the show.

I’ve seen the show dozens of times already. One performance had an audience of 600 school children. And like them, I got a little rowdy when Peter pleads to save Tinker Bell and asks us to believe in fairies. “If you believe, clap your hands.” The house gets giddy, the applause builds, the whoops begin. We believe. Tinker Bell lives.

Belief is powerful. It’s faith beyond reason. Belief is a tough bond to create but the best companies understand a bond with customers is critical. We’ve been challenging ourselves at SG to dig deeper. To reach for the fairy dust and help build brands that make us all believe.

When companies come to SG they are looking for a lot of things — they want to generate buzz, build brand, drive traffic, drive downloads, generate clicks. But few walk in the door saying, “I want to create a world full of believers, people who have faith in my brand or company beyond reason.” Create a group of believers and not only will the clicks and downloads follow, but your believers will seek to convert others into believers.

What’s the best way to turn someone into a believer? Tell them a story that makes them see their own world differently. Great stories do this all the time. They make us believe that there are worlds behind the wardrobe or worlds with yellow brick roads and flying monkeys. Stories exist to make us believe in what we can’t see or know. They help us illuminate the things we’re missing in our own world. And when we hear a great story, we feel compelled to share it. The best part about today’s socially distributed media environment is that it’s clearer than ever that the best story wins. No longer do branded media entities tell us what to read, what’s news, or what gets the most views and clicks. The best stories make themselves known around the web and land at the top.

Take the recent announcement by REI that it would close its stores on Black Friday instead of stacking up discounted items in the aisles and letting desperate shoppers wrestle each other for deals. Not only did REI capture wave upon wave of media coverage, it did so with a story that totally reinforces its overall brand mission — to inspire the masses to get outdoors. And REI no doubt will see another wave of media coverage around this powerful story when Black Friday does arrive later next week.

A little over a year ago here at SutherlandGold we started to ask ourselves: What if we put creating belief at the center of what we do? How might that change our approach and the marketing mix we use with clients? Here’s what we learned:

1. It all starts with story. And we’re not talking about a story about why your widgets are better than everyone else’s widgets. In fact, the first thing you need to understand is that your story is not about you. It’s about your customer. REI’s story would have flopped if the store claimed it was closing on Black Friday because it could still sell more outdoor gear than any of its competitors. Think about the moral of your story. How will it inspire others to care, act and believe?

2. Be fanatical in bringing your story to life. If you don’t believe, then how do you expect others to? Invest in rolling out your story internally. Believers start at home — that’s right there in your office. Once everyone in your company believes, it’s easier to work together as a team and achieve success. Take Zappos for example. Zappos didn’t just declare on its website and in its marketing that it was going to offer the best customer experience anywhere. No, that commitment to customers became a mantra that every employee believed. This commitment to customer service was the absolute crucible of training for every single new employee.

3. Be protective of your story. It doesn’t belong anywhere and it’s not shopped around all the time. Take care to think about who are the right people to hear your story, when they should hear it and how. Take, for example, the recent Starbucks red cup controversy. Starbucks, without any fanfare or PR, introduced its holiday lineup last week featuring a simple red paper cup. No “Merry” or snowflake. Just red. It kicked off a conversation in just about every household in America. At one point, Google reported more than 9 million stories on the Web about the cup. What did it all mean? Starbucks never commented.

4. Create unique story encounters. Back in its early days, TiVo noticed that employees and customers absolutely loved their black antennae little mascot. The company actually created a version that could be worn. It looked kinda like the college mascots so famous in ESPN commercials. The TiVo mascot started to appear at events and locations all across the country. The company made no fanfare, did no news release about it. But Mr. TiVo would draw crowds all across the country and photos of him with fans would flood across social media.

We don’t have fairy dust to make all this happen but we have developed a menu of creative services over the past few months. We have become tenacious advocates for the power of stories and fiercely protective guardians of our clients who have poured their heart and soul into their own stories.

We have developed a storytelling workshop that allows us to guide client teams through a creative process designed to build strong stories. We challenge our clients to define their main characters and tout real missions, not just business objectives. And we have built out a content team of writers, artists and thinkers that create stories that resonate and then use the Web and social media to find the perfect audience fit. We’re even using paid media to share these stories with the right audiences of potential believers.

We have been quietly guarding and iterating and tweaking our own story for the last 18 months. We’re ready to share it today. We’re believers. You can be, too.


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