Sound Stories #016 – Why Your Brand is Not the Hero

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    Who is the hero of your brand storytelling? According to Scott Monty, CEO, Co-Managing Partner at Brain+Trust Partners, if it’s your brand, then you’re missing the mark. Listen as Scott talks about GE, Coca-Cola, Ford and other brands who are winning at brand storytelling – and why their strategies work. Bonus: Listen in as Scott goes a step beyond with tips and tricks on how to harness the power of influencer marketing.

    TRANSCRIPTION SOUND STORIES #016

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Hi there, and welcome to another episode of Sound Stories, an inspirational podcast for creative professionals and storytellers who want to improve their lives at home and at work. I’m Stephanie Ciccarelli, your host and co-founder of voices.com. Today we’re joined by Scott Monty. Scott is the CEO and Co-managing Partner at Braintrust Partners, and a well-seasoned speaker on marketing, branding, and storytelling. He’s held talks at numerous high profile engagements, including the Google America’s Marketing Leadership Meeting, Content Marketing World, and Dreamforce, to name a few. Welcome, Scott.

    Scott Monty:

    Hey Stephanie, glad to be here.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    We have a long history of knowing each other. I think it might’ve started through podcasting and one of those podcast events. But obviously your career has really grown and blossomed over that last decade. You’ve been with Ford, and now of course, your own company. But to start things off here, as a speaker, one of the talks that you hold is focused on storytelling strategy, and specifically why brands have such a hard time getting story right.

    Scott Monty:

    One of the problems with brands, and it’s no fault of their own. It isn’t, it isn’t. This isn’t done maliciously, but brand managers and marketing managers, they’re tasked with a difficult job, quite frankly, and that is capturing attention and trying to build trust. Now, that’s ultimately the name of the game, because if you do that consistently over time, you will build in customer loyalty and customer retention and all the rest. And they wake up every day so excited to go to work and to promote their brand, to think up of a variety of brand stories, of advertising, of what they’re going to do that’s specific to their brand. And the average consumer does not wake up first thing in the morning thinking about your brand, unless you happen to be Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts, or Tim Horton’s for our friends up north. This misaligned priority means that brands are constantly thinking of themselves first, and that’s human nature. It is completely within the nature of humans to consider what we want, what’s important to us, what’s important to the people that we care about. And so that spills over into brands.

    Scott Monty:

    The people that run brands think the same way. Instead of taking a step back and thinking like a consumer, and thinking about how they craft their stories to focus on making the consumer the hero, not making the brand the hero. Usually the brand puts itself at the center of the story. And if you’re doing a good job of corporate storytelling or brand storytelling, you are making the brand more of a minor character. It doesn’t necessarily devalue brand’s role in any way. If anything, that massive impact of a minor player can be even more significant. But recognizing that the brand is not the hero, the customer needs to be the hero. The customer needs to overcome a challenge. The brand happens to interact with them as part of the overall process of the story. But people don’t want to hear about you, they want to hear about them.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    And is that how a brand can set themselves apart? Obviously you’re putting the customer in the role of the hero. You’re the guide. But even some of the greatest companies may be doing that, but what is it about how they’re doing that exact thing that might set them apart from others?

    Scott Monty:

    Well, I think it really comes down to the way that they show a little bit of humanity. That seems to be a lost art. Back in the day before truly mass marketing, and certainly before the technological era in which we live, where everyone is their own publisher or you can be friends with thousands of people online. Years ago, business was predicated upon trust. And in those days it was a firm handshake, good eye contact, a person’s word was their bond. It was really an individual transaction. And I think as we’ve moved away from that, and we’ve gotten into all of these things that we can do, we don’t stop to ask ourselves if these are the things that we should be doing. And in setting themselves apart, I think brands can show the people that work there. They can show the customers that they have, they can show the lives that they impact. There’s lots of different ways to go about it.

    Scott Monty:

    Just by way of an example, and probably a fairly well known one, given its virality, there was a Super Bowl commercial, gosh, maybe five, six years ago, for Volkswagen. And it followed the frustrating day of a little kid who was dressing up as Darth Vader and all the things he wanted to do as Darth Vader, commanding the doll to sit up or the dog to stay. He was frustrated because he didn’t have the force. And his dad came home, parked the Volkswagen in the driveway, and the kid went out and zapped the car. And his dad started the car with a remote starter. Now, that miniature story there, it was really the story of the kid. It wasn’t the story of Volkswagen. Volkswagen played a role in his day, and then made his day ultimately. But it really wasn’t fully about the car. And that level of humanizing the Volkswagen brand, because you could talk about the technological achievements and the safety and all the rest. But by humanizing the company that way, it really struck a chord with a lot of people and made people want to connect.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    As you said, it is about putting the hero in there. In this case, it’s the little boy. And I love how Volkswagen had incorporated the father helping out too, to make his son feel like, “Oh my gosh, I actually did this and this is amazing.” It’s one of those moments that you don’t forget. And there are a number of those that we’ve seen over the years, in Super Bowl commercials in particular. And they often include animals, usually horses or puppies or something like that. But could you maybe give us another example of a company that’s also doing this well?

    Scott Monty:

    I’ll give you two. One that’s fairly well known, and that is Coca-Cola. A few years ago, they decided to change their entire corporate website to an online magazine, if you will, where you could explore by topic. It was a lifestyle brand choice. And they wanted to talk about things like happiness and the environment and family. So it wasn’t necessarily tied to corporate initiatives, at least not in an obvious way. And they let you explore what mattered to you. And it was just a beautifully laid out site. It’s called Coca-Cola Journey. So that was a consumer brand that went about that in a vastly different way. And it was risky. It was a risky thing for them to launch, but it’s been very clear that they’ve increased readership, they’ve increased time spent on the site. And ultimately, that means people are getting a better connection with the Coca-Cola brand.

    Scott Monty:

    On the other side, B2B, we have General Electric, which has been around for 125 years. Founded by Thomas Edison, one of the greatest inventors of the modern age, well known. The GE brand is well known. But they’ve done everything they can to push their brand into the innovation space. In premieres past, yeah, you probably knew that GE made appliances or light bulbs from its founder, or other utilitarian things. But they’re involved in major transportation initiatives with manufacturing. Now they’re involved in a lot of data processing and data sharing. And it’s really pushed GE to do everything they can to talk about innovation.

    Scott Monty:

    So all of their stories, and it could be as miniature, as minuscule, as a six second story that they would tell on Vine. They had a series called, I think it was Six Second Science Projects, because Vine videos were six seconds long. They would show you how to do a science experiment in six seconds. And one I remember was they put a saucer of milk down and then they put in a drop of dish soap. And then they put in a variety of food coloring, and they just dropped it in there. And then they put a Q-tip in the middle of the saucer of milk. And all of a sudden, you began to see a swirl, a kaleidoscope of colors, that began moving automatically. And they told that in six seconds, and this was just part of the inspiration behind what it means to be an innovator.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    That’s a wonderful example. And as you’ve said, Scott, people are really pulling on humanity. We want to talk to that. And in the case of GE here, it seems like creativity, almost re-imagining. I’d like to go down another trail, if I can. An area that tends to be a mystery for brands is not just how they feel about their story, but how they can harness the power of others. So getting those other people to tell the brand story too. And the most obvious example of this would be influencer marketing, which tends to be a mystery for marketers. So how does one get started in influencer marketing?

    Scott Monty:

    Well, there are really so many different aspects to influencer marketing. And I think even the term itself sells the practice a little bit short. Influencer marketing has become the watch word of 2017. It was already rising in 2016, but certainly it’s on the tip of everyone’s tongue this year. And again, you go back to the basics behind that. Why is it that brands are turning to influencers? Well, there’s a few things. One is that brands aren’t as trusted as they used to be. If you look at the annual survey that Edelman does, the Edelman Trust Barometer, you’ll see that across the board at businesses, media, government, non-profits, trust is down year over year to these entities. And at the same time, people said that more… And this is interesting, because in 2017, this is the first time that this happened. More people said that they would trust people like them over third party academics and experts.

    Scott Monty:

    That’s very, very telling. That people are looking to peers, they’re looking to people that seem like they match their sensibilities and their values. So for a brand that is already struggling with trust and that is already struggling with attention, there are only so many channels on which a brand can promote its material. And again, it’s usually chest thumping. If they turn to third parties, individuals that are not necessarily at the celebrity status, but at least have some sort of a reach, and maybe a reach into a different sphere of the internet or a customer base that the brand normally couldn’t reach.

    Scott Monty:

    A great example is when I was at Ford, we would reach out to bloggers. And over time it became more than just bloggers. It became videographers, photographers, influencers in a variety of different spheres and in a variety of different media. Instagram and Snapchat eventually came along. But we would invite people in that were not part of the usual contingency. We were used to dealing with business press and automotive press. So at an industry event, we brought in mom bloggers and fashion influencers and people interested in architecture and the environment, and down the line. And what this did is it provided us additional exposure into these verticals that normally would not pay attention to a car company.

    Scott Monty:

    On Ford’s end, it mattered because the four pillars that Ford was constantly talking about were quality, green, safe, and smart. Quality matched up with architecture and fashion. Green, obviously the environment. Safety matched up with a lot of the parent bloggers. And smart was technology, we brought in a lot of technology people. So we ended up giving them experiences and letting them explore the things that mattered to them, so that when they went back and provided a story for their audience in whatever format it was, it was authentic. It was in their voice and it was in what they experienced.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Oh, so what were those experiences? Did you give them the vehicles?

    Scott Monty:

    Well, in some cases we did. There was a massive campaign. This was, again, this is where you get down to this bifurcation of what influencer marketing can be. You’ve got influencer marketing, which is very much transactional. And then you’ve got influencer relations, for lack of a better term, which is more akin to traditional media relations, where you’re building a relationship with the individuals over time, and you’re following their content, and you’re inviting them to event after event after event. The influencer marketing side, an example there is with a program called the Fiesta Movement, which took place all the way back in 2009, but it’s still one of the hallmarks of influencer marketing that’s referenced today. In that case, Ford had a vehicle that was to be the same globally, the Ford Fiesta. However, the manufacturing timetable was about a year in advance. So you’re ahead of time in Europe.

    Scott Monty:

    So we decided to bring 100 of these vehicles over to the United States and to give them to 100 influencers for six months. And all that was required out of these influencers as they drove around and experienced their daily lives was that they had to create a single video every month. So a total of six videos per influencer over the course of the program. In exchange, they got use of the vehicle, they got free gas. And obviously, the insurance that goes along with the vehicle. However, because these are influencers, because these are people who are creating content as part of their daily regimen, we knew that they would do more than just what we were tasking them with. And that, by the way, the cars would be out in the wild, so there would be additional exposure to people on the streets. And ultimately what that program netted, 132,000 people submitted their email address to Ford to raise their hand as if to say, “Yes, tell me more about this vehicle when it’s finally available here in the United States.”

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    132,000 people. That’s amazing.

    Scott Monty:

    Yeah, it was more than the team had expected. And there are some calculations whereby it was said that the company actually did better than if it had spent the same amount of money on advertising.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Wow. And that’s largely due to, as you pointed out before, that you’ve invited other influencers into the storytelling process. And they came from all walks of life. We’ve done similar engagements, not necessarily the level that you’re talking about, but we strategically reach out to mommy bloggers sometimes to talk about what it’s like to be a voice talent who works from home. You’ve got a young baby, but you still want to do some work, and this is an avenue for you. So yeah, it’s an amazing tool. If you’re able to have champions, even, in there. These don’t have to be campaigns in the sense that you’re paying these people necessarily, but sometimes they will just arise organically, don’t they?

    Scott Monty:

    They can, certainly. I think we’re at a point now where the more savvy among the influencers understand the financial impact, or the reputation or brand impact, that they’re having. Some of them even have agents now, believe it or not, where they negotiate a contract. And again, that’s a very transactional approach, and there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s fine, that’s one way to do it. But because a number of them are getting more savvy, it can potentially be more expensive from that perspective.

    Scott Monty:

    If it’s approached more along the lines of, I don’t know, co-creation of content, or more of more along a traditional communications approach as a press outreach, that takes on a slightly different flavor. But depending on the size of the organization that you’re running, if you’ve got marketing and communications each running their own influencer programs, you need to be careful, because… We ran into this at Ford while I was there. We had built a relationship with a tech journalist, and the marketing team came along and contracted this person to do a series of videos. Well, what that did is it poisoned the PR relationship with this person, because he could be accused of no longer being impartial, of being a reporter, and now being a page shill, so to speak. So there is that whiff of impropriety that it can approach, if you don’t let these people do their things organically and in the way that makes sense for their audience.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    That’s really important, the authenticity aspect, and the way that people feel that they have control over the message that they’re sharing. But for those who Ford did contract to go out and do this, obviously there’s those influencers and it resulted in a wonderful result for you, what were the parameters that they were given? Did they have the ability to tell others that Ford gave me this Fiesta to test out and to use? How were they to position it so that their audiences did not feel as though they were just basically a mouthpiece for Ford?

    Scott Monty:

    Well, we actually required them to disclose that they were part of this program. It was important to us, not only from an ethical standard, but later on, it became very apparent as this became more of a regular practice, that this became a legal ramification. The Federal Communications Commission here in the United States has made it a requirement now that there needs to be disclosure when there is some sort of material relationship happening, whether cash is exchanged or whether there’s some goods or services that are bartered. The consumer needs to know when there is some sort of material relationship between a brand and an influencer. So that was the guideline we gave them, you need to disclose that you’re part of the program and you need to create a video a month for us. Other than that, do you want to do. Because if we clamp down any farther than that, that would completely ruin the authenticity.

    Scott Monty:

    And they said, “Really? What if we have negative feedback about the car? What if there’s something we don’t like?” And the Ford team said, “We want to hear about it. And we think you should tell everybody about it, if that’s the case.” Now, Ford was obviously so confident in this vehicle that they were not really concerned that there’d be a lot of negative feedback. However, the team created a feedback loop whereby anything that these influencers complained about, the team could get back to the engineering and product development team so that they could make a correction or reconsider how the vehicle was being assembled. It was certainly part of the process. And an even more important part, even if you’re not going to use the recommendations, simply providing the influencer information about what you’ve done with their recommendation, that becomes essential. Because again, they feel appreciated. They feel like they’re part of the process. And if you can tell them that you’re suggestion resulted in this change, there’s a point of pride with that, where they really feel like they’ve got an investment in the relationship.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Absolutely. We’ve seen it ourselves with customers and anyone else who might say, “Oh, I have this idea for how we could improve something.” And when you do actually take the time to evaluate it and apply it, it’s like, “Look at this. You actually had influence, you made an impact, and we value what you have to say.” So I agree. It’s the followup, and letting them know that is really important because you could make that change and you could do all of this stuff but not get back to them, and they would never know that they themselves had actually helped to make this a reality.

    Scott Monty:

    That’s right.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    All right. So Scott, are there any other cautions that we should know about? What should we be more aware of as we go into an engagement with influencer marketers?

    Scott Monty:

    So this is why I think influencer relations is probably more appropriate. Because if you are following their content with any degree of regularity, or if you are even participating as a commenter on their videos or on their website or on their Facebook page, you understand the dynamic of the community in which they operate, and you have a sense for the type of content that they create. And I think some of the difficulties that we’ve seen in the news recently are because of brand wasn’t truly invested in knowing and understanding who the influencers were. It’s as if they outsourced the influencer marketing function to an agency, which is not at all uncommon, it’s usually the rule rather than the exception. But if an agency comes back and says, “Hey, here’s a list of influencers we think you should do business with,” it’s the brand’s responsibility to vet that list and to really understand what they’re getting into, rather than to just treat it like a media buy.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Oh, absolutely. And you need to know what your own content and brand guidelines are in order to even do that. So if someone maybe hasn’t explored what those criteria are for evaluating whether someone lines up with your brand or not, what would you suggest some of those points should be?

    Scott Monty:

    Yeah, well, I think again, you outlined it perfectly there. Understanding your brand guidelines. Is your brand a family friendly brand? Is it a cheeky, snarky brand? Whatever it is, understand what the parameters are, what the brand voice is, and try to find influencers who match up to that. Because it doesn’t… I was really taken aback when I had discovered that Disney had partnered with PewDiePie. Disney is a family brand, and PewDiePie is cutting edge, controversial. And as we saw in some of the news reports, very controversial when you dig down a little deeper. But it just didn’t seem to align to what we all know the Disney brand to be. And again, a little research would have uncovered that early on, and a decision could have been made of something more than just looking at reach and numbers. Really looking at fundamentally what the content is what’s being talked about and how that fits with what your brand is trying to accomplish.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    As you said, we can definitely outsource these things as business owners or companies to external parties. But if those parties don’t actually understand our brand, they’re just saying, “Oh, well, here’s a great influencer. They’ve got a humongous reach. It’s the sort of people you want to talk to,” that doesn’t cut it. It isn’t just about reach, it’s about integrity, and it’s about having that correlation and feeling like this person is almost an extension of your Salesforce, in a way.

    Scott Monty:

    Yeah, exactly. And it really gets back to asking ourselves not can we do it, but should we do it?

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Yeah. Oh, I love that. And I think we should leave it there. Those are brilliant words. But before we let you go, Scott, I do have to ask you this question. Why do you love what you do?

    Scott Monty:

    Oh boy.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Yeah. This is the moment.

    Scott Monty:

    That’s an interesting question, because I don’t stop to think about it in those terms every day. I think for me, and I’m going to dig way back here now, and this may help you understand some of the context behind the positioning around storytelling. When I was at university, I was a classics major. I studied Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome and all the things that came with them. I didn’t necessarily appreciate it at the time, but as I’ve grown in business and come to understand consumers and just the human psyche, what I’ve realized is, first of all, I’m more appreciative for that education than I ever thought I would be. But the reason is over the past, let’s say 3,000 years of recorded human history, we really haven’t changed. Technologically, things have come along and innovations and inventions have happened, and what an amazing world we live in today. But fundamentally, deep down, people still want the same thing. They want what matters to them, they want to be able to leave a mark on the world, leave the world a better place for the next generation. If you can understand those motivations, if you can understand how consumers are thinking and then build your content in a way that accommodates that, you’re going to be much better off.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    I couldn’t have said it better myself. It’s lovely to know your background, too, and how that applies. Well, thank you for being with us today, Scott. Now, for those who are interested in learning more about you and your company, where can they go to find you?

    Scott Monty:

    Well, you can find me at my website, scottmonte.com. And you can find out about my company at our corporate website, braintrust.partners.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Thank you for joining us on Sound Stories. If you’d like to subscribe to Sound Stories, there are two really easy ways to do that. You can either go to iTunes, look us up there. Really easy, you’ll get every episode as soon as it’s ready. Or you can go to our website, voices.com/podcasts/soundstories. We’ll see you next time.

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