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There’s a Zucker Born Every Minute

There’s been a lot of buzz about the Facebook IPO and its underwhelming reception. While there are certainly financial and possibly even legal issues at play, we can’t help but notice the story problem. Facebook, following in the well trod footsteps of many tech companies, seems to have purposely cultivated a kind of gold-rush mentality in the days leading up to their offer. While playing on the audience’s desire to get rich quick has often been enough to launch a tech stock into the stratosphere, it doesn’t seem to have been enough to help Facebook reach escape velocity. 

Why is that? Well, from a story perspective, we believe it’s because of an inherent dissonance between the gold rush mentality and the meaning of the brand.

A historical anecdote to illustrate the point: In the late 19th Century, Seattle and Portland were both growing, but their development was powered by two very different stories. Portland was settled by people who came over the Oregon Trail to homestead, while Seattle was settled by people who were on their way to Alaska to hunt for gold. 

Today, the two towns–while geographically very similar–are culturally quite distinct. Portland has always thought of itself as big small town; Seattle considers itself a hot, up-and-coming young city. Portland is currently hip, in a quiet, self-effacing way, with an appealing sense of community. Seattle, which has lived through many cycles of boom and bust, is experiencing both a lot more action and a lot more traffic.

Facebook was trying to tell both stories at the same time. The social network is about community and connectedness, while the public stock offering was all about getting rich quick. Of course, every successful brand has a human story and a money story living side by side. 

The question is, do the two stories complement each other in some interesting way, or do they cancel each other out? The answer to that question can apparently be worth billions of dollars.

“Character gets to the heart of what good storytelling is all about. They’ve helped Wendy’s focus on what makes us unique, different and special and that’s helped us to get people’s attention, keep their interest and keep the business growing. We compete with much larger brands, but by being overt about how we want to attack those differences, we’ve been able to have a lot of tension and conflict in the story that we are telling. That allows us to keep the story fresh and to fuel it. The more we do that the more positive attention we get as a brand and the more the brand continues to grow, which, in turn, builds our confidence in our storytelling and keeps the courage level high.”

—Kurt  Kane, President U.S. & Chief Commercial Officer, Wendy’s Corporation

“I’ve been through Character’s story framework process four times in my career, and it has always added extraordinary value. It was a central piece of Walmart’s rebranding effort in 2006, as we sought a new articulation of our brand narrative and our purpose. It’s an equally powerful tool for us now, as Walmart defines its place in a rapidly transforming retail environment. And we are currently using it to do the same for Sam’s Club.”

—Tony Rogers, Chief Marketing Officer, Walmart

“Since articulating our story framework, Gallo has had its best year. We’re up 10% and we’re outpacing the category. From a creative standpoint it’s been great because we’re all in alignment. Now that we have the articulation of our story, our social media, our partnerships, our programs, our packaging—it all makes sense.”

—Stephanie Gallo, Chief Marketing Officer, E&J Gallo Winery