What makes a brand valuable?

Warren Buffett once said, “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” To answer the question of what makes a brand valuable, I interviewed current and former senior executives from three global companies, which were named by Forbes as the most valuable brands in 2017. Each executive gave the same answer – effective storytelling.

Apple: Guy Kawasaki, former chief evangelist

Apple’s approach to cementing its premium brand value is rooted in emotional storytelling intended to make their customers feel “cool” about owning their products.

“No one buys Apple products because of price,” says ex-Apple Chief Evangelist, Guy Kawasaki. “The decision is based on intangibles, such as ‘coolness,’ quality, innovativeness and support.

“Any brand should be lucky to stand for one good thing in people’s minds. Apple owns the mind space of ‘cool,’ so owning an Apple product is proof positive of one’s coolness. Apple will never equal enterprise. Volvo is safety – it will never be sexy.”

Storytelling tip: According to Kawasaki, when it comes to effective storytelling, the cautionary tale for brands is to not to “try to be all things to all people.”

General Electric: Linda Boff, chief marketing officer

Co-founded by the legendary commercial light bulb inventor, Thomas Edison, GE – a “digital industrial company,” which operates in sectors ranging from health to wind turbines – has long been committed to “sparking an emotional connection with the progress GE drives around the world and how [GE] technology improves people’s lives.” In the words of GE CMO, Linda Boff, “When we can evoke that [emotional] reaction from our audience, it makes our brand valuable.”

She goes on to unveil GE’s storytelling strategy: “We have a three-part formula we use to guide our storytelling. It starts with being first on platforms. Channels have a big impact on how a story is told and we choose them for their ability to help us show up in unexpected, interesting ways. Second, activate unlikely audiences. We want people to fall in love with GE – from investors and job hunters to science geeks! Third, find the ‘human’ in the digital. It’s our job to help audiences see the human impact of what can seem like a complex industry. The technology we create is building, moving, powering and curing the world.”

Storytelling tip: For Boff, humanity, versatility and a pioneering spirit are the cornerstones of effective storytelling.

Mastercard: Raja Rajamannar, chief marketing and communications officer  

Contrary to popular belief, there’s more to Mastercard than credit cards – it’s a technology company, an online platform and a “digital wallet.” Each of these formats uniquely contributes to Mastercard’s storytelling approach.

Raja Rajamannar emphasises the brand’s use of storytelling to signpost its core values. “Being transparent about your values as a company and aligning with the values that consumers have is a great place to start,” he says.

Rajamannar continues, “Some of the core values that a brand needs to exhibit are purposefulness, authenticity, transparency, consistency and dependability. These values help to build consumers’ trust and affection for the brand. Consumer interaction should reinforce these core values.”

He observes that “consumers are seeking experiences more than material things. We needed to go way beyond showing Mastercard Priceless experiences in commercials – we needed to give our cardholders the tools to create their own experiences. When we connect with consumers and create these Priceless experiences, we’re transitioning from storytelling to ‘story-making,’ where consumers are an integral part of the story.”

Storytelling tip: Rajamannar believes that, by encouraging their customers to play an active role in the story-making process, companies significantly increase their credibility and brand value. 

Storytelling sells

Everyone loves a good story. A well-told brand story resonates with consumers – on an emotional level – far more than facts and figures ever can.

Marketing a powerful narrative – taken from a company’s history – can convert an otherwise ordinary brand into an extraordinary one. Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS, put it this way, “I realised the importance of having a story today is what really separates companies. People don’t just wear our shoes, they tell our story.” 

Mycoskie knows first-hand the power of storytelling. In 2006, while on his travels in South America, he encountered scores of destitute children who didn’t own any shoes. Mycoskie instantly had an epiphany – to create a profitable business that would provide shoes for children who needed them.

Later that year, the TOMS Shoes “One for One” program was born – for every pair of shoes purchased, TOMS Shoes donates a new pair of shoes to a child in need. In 2011, Fortune Magazine recognised Mycoskie on its 40 Under 40 list of the most influential young people in business, which includes disruptors, innovators, rebels and artists from all over the world.

So, according to Apple, GE, Mastercard (and TOMS Shoes), storytelling can skyrocket a brand’s value. But not all storytelling is created equal. As we often say at my creative content consultancy, Regal Content, “a good brand story reaches the mind, but a great brand story touches the heart” (and loosens the purse strings, too!).

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.


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