‘Skip looked out into the sea of suspicious stockholders and wondered what might convince them to follow his leadership. He was thirty-five, looked thirteen and was third generation rich. He decided to tell them a story:

My first job was drawing the electrical engineering plans for a boat building company. The drawings had to be perfect – a mistake could cost millions of dollars, easy. At twenty-five I already had two masters’ degrees. I had been on boats all my life and frankly found drawing plans a bit boring.

One morning I got a call from a $6-an-hour worker asking me, “Are you sure this is right?”. I was incensed. Of course I was sure. When his supervisor called an hour later and woke me up again I had even less patience. “I said I was sure an hour ago and I’m still sure.” It was the call from the president of the company that got me out of bed and down to the site.

If I had to hold these guys by the hand, so be it. The worker who called sat looking at my plans with his head cocked to one side. With exaggerated patience I started to explain the drawing. But after a few words my voice got weaker and my head started to cock to the side. It seemed (being left handed) I had transposed starboard and port. The worker had caught the mistake before it was too late.

The next day I found a box of remedial pair of shoes for future reference on my desk to ensure I did not repeat my mistake. These shoes were to help me remember to listen even when I think I know what I am doing.’’ Skip then held up the shoebox with one red and one green shoe, there were smiles and smirks. The stockholders relaxed a bit.’

This is an excerpt from the book, The Story Factor by Annette Simmons. It illustrates the influential role of a story and the chord that it strikes within us. Story-telling is a core characteristic of African culture, used to expound wisdom. If one casts their mind back to childhood or a moment in a movie theatre, one cannot ignore the emotions that stories evoke within us. I recall as a child the storyteller would announce the beginning of their story and we little ones would eagerly respond loudly declaring our readiness to listen and get lost in this imminent world.

A story captures one’s imagination inviting one into another world. It is within this world an understanding of the truth comes to life and one takes ownership. Here lies the value of stories for brands. Inherent in the brand story is character. Character helps reveal the bigger story that is worth telling. For instance Kulula.com is elevated from a budget airline to entertaining journey through its jester trait. A journey one is happy to share with others.

The world of luxury often invites consumers into a broader experience. They do not just convey their quality credentials but rather send out an invitation into the experience they offer. Whether it is Montblanc which is about the art of writing and has linked itself to the fight for illiteracy or whether it is the well-known Louis Vuitton which tells the story of self-discovery through asking ‘where will life take you?’. Watch the video here.

So as the movie award season comes to an end; perhaps it is worth reflecting on what the story is your brand is telling. Is your brand defined such that it is able tap into the imagination of consumers, allowing them to discover and share its truth?

Louis Vuitton

Written by Masingita Mazibuko for MarkLives.

Photo credits: Louis Vuitton “Where will life take you?” campaign.

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