Creativity Counts A Lot

Creativity Counts A Lot

by Michael Hammond

We need a good story to share a laugh, to shed some tears and to enjoy a chat over a diet coke. Creative brands work in the same fashion.

I ’ve talked about the importance of your brand in the last issue. I emphasized how it’s crucial to be “liked.” Why? With originations declining you need every possible piece of business. So, as we start 2012, I challenge you to really focus on making sure that your brand is the best it can be.

I recently read a white paper called “The art of an idea: The storytelling of the most creative global brands” by Gion-Men Kruegel-Hanna that put it this way: “Human beings love to listen to good stories: We need a good story to share a laugh, to shed some tears and to enjoy a chat over a cup of coffee. Creative brands work in the same fashion. The most creative brands are not necessarily the brands that intrigue us by the way they look, but rather the brands that tell us never-ending stories that make us want to learn more.

The most creative brands stand out because they inspire and excite us. They tell stories that take us on journeys and make lasting imprints

“Whether a brand captures the archetypal hero (Nike) or the coach that makes everyone perform better (adidas), the most creative brands succeed because they take into account the basic human need for storytelling. Brands like Pixar, Google, HP, Puma and Nike take us on journeys that surprise us and capture and spark our imaginations.” Below are some of the ways in which the most creative global brands are successfully building their brand stories into all levels of their work. Read on and be informed.

1. Using brand stories to stay relevant. Gion-Men Kruegel-Hanna notes that Pixar is a good example of a company that captures the kid in every one of us through its timeless stories. It continues to amaze us with one blockbuster film success after another. Even though the films take three to four years to create, everyone eagerly awaits its next move. It goes “to infinity and beyond” and always stays top-of-mind.

Nike is another brand that takes its story a step further than most. It not only designates a “chief storyteller” for the company, but also requires that every new employee go through an education program that teaches him or her about Nike’s heritage, history and culture. Nike, perhaps more than any other brand, uses its story to adhere authentically to its heart and remain trustworthy and relevant to consumers.

How does this relate to you? Think about the story that you tell the market. If you’re a POS system are you just talking about online lending? If so, you shouldn’t be. Lenders need to know that you’re a thought leader. So be a thought leader. Tell a bigger story.

2. Evolving brand stories to cater to an audience.

Gion-Men Kruegel-Hanna points out that while good brands know how to use their brand story to develop innovative services and products that relate to the distinctive core of their brands, the very best ones are able to progress their stories over time. They know how to cater to their audiences, and they’re adventurous enough to explore new territories and opportunities. Take Lego, a brand that stays true to the world of play. With Lego, “building” becomes an overall experience in all media channels. It’s a powerful force of progression in both the off- and online brand experience.

For technology vendors I would recommend getting involved in social media as a way to cater to your audience in a new way. Tweet a little. Start a LinkedIn Group. The point is that you need to look at new channels and vehicles to cater to your audience and reinforce your brand.

3. Imagining radically new brand stories

Gion-Men Kruegel-Hanna added that brands like Google, HP and Puma are using innovative new technologies to dream of visions that would never before have been possible. Google wouldn’t have been relevant 15 years ago but today, with evergrowing bandwidth capabilities, the Google experience grows into areas previously unknown.

HP is another example of a brand that has used technology to think outside the box. Its Memristor will eliminate computer boot time and enable us to switch a computer on and off like a light switch. HP has dreamed of a way to make nanotechnology that previously only spoke to the experts in the field, accessible to everyone.

Puma’s work with Hussein Chalayan (its first Creative Director) also fuses creativity with technology, in ways never before anticipated. The Spring/Summer 2010 “Urban Mobility” collection features playful skirts that open and fold by remote control, furniture that morphs into clothes and outfits encased in electric lights.

And then there’s Nike – yet again. Using “Flywire,” which is inspired by suspension bridges, it has developed the world’s lightest high-performance footwear: shoes that fit like a second skin. Does your technology fit lenders like a second skin? I’m sure you can make the case that it does, so why not be creative in creating new visuals or narratives that work with your brand. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box.

4. Using the brand story to drive internal brand engagement

Beyond standard marketing and product development, some brands are using innovative storytelling to drive traditionally less creative departments like business strategy, human resources and brand management. While it is probably not advisable for a CFO to demonstrate wild creativity with numbers, companies like Google’s and Pixar’s create living work environments that foster better and (dare I say it?) more creative solutions and products. It’s not so much about treating the employee well – it’s about unlocking the best and brightest ideas.

Companies like Google and Pixar trust their employees, which in turn allows them to come up with the best possible ideas. Google employees have a half hour “time out” in a darkened room with fish tanks and private cabins that allow for employees to take care of their personal telephone conversations or pay a bill online. Pixar provides a running trail and free film screenings. The logic is simple: When everyone isn’t miserable and stressed, they come up with better policies and make better workplace decisions.

5. Crafting a great story – and the courage to stand by it

Gion-Men Kruegel-Hanna said that beyond just crafting a unique and inspiring story and integrating it into all levels of the brand, the most creative global brands all have one thing in common: the courage to trust their instincts. Being truly creative often feels uncomfortable – you can never be sure if your idea is good or bad. In some areas, market trends and research can help to deliver a degree of certainty, but at the end of the day it all comes down to instinct and passion for the idea. Overall, this is what separates a success story from a no-story. This is particularly true today, when brands face the challenge of enticing skeptical customers who are less likely to spend in the recession.

The bottom line according to Gion-Men Kruegel-Hanna is that in the end, the difference between a mediocre idea and a good one dictates who sinks or swims.

Creativity and great stories simplify customers’ decisions, increase sales and provide opportunities to differentiate your brand.

The brands mentioned here have invaluable aspects instilled into their business philosophy: creativity, ideas and the understanding that brands are best experienced through a multitude of living experiences and touchpoints. It is this understanding and creativity that increase sales. Top ideas force you to break through conventional and established patterns in order to come up with strategies and business opportunities that are truly differentiating – that are unique, new and carry on the legacy of a brand.

Now that is real storytelling.

Published in Tomorrow’s Mortgage Executive, Business Strategies, January 2012