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Campfire Stories: Episode One with Douwe Bergsma

We’re launching a new thing today that we’re calling Character Campfire stories. For almost 25 years now, we’ve been running Character Camps to help brand leaders and their teams better understand and work with the key principles that underlie great storytelling. In the course of that work, we’ve had the pleasure of connecting with some fantastic people who’ve done an excellent job of using story to build their brands and drive their brand strategy. I don’t know why it took so long, but it finally occurred to us that it might be valuable to talk with some of these folks on camera so that we could share a bit of their experience and insight with a wider audience. Today we’re happy to present the first of those conversations.

Our inaugural guest is a Character Camp alumnus 8 times over, Douwe Bergsma. We first met and worked with Douwe when he was the brand manager of Pringles at Procter and Gamble. After that, he became the first CMO ever at Georgia Pacific, holding that position for 9 years. These days he is the CMO of Piedmont Healthcare, overseeing the marketing, communications, and physician outreach for their 23 hospitals and 44 thousand care givers. In addition to that work, Douwe is the Dean for the Cannes Lions’ Brand Marketers Academy, a founding member of the CMO Collaborative, and serves on the board of directors of the Association of National Advertisers, among other accomplishments.

Douwe took on his position at Piedmont Healthcare a mere four weeks before the beginning of the COVID pandemic. We’ve titled this first Campfire Story after something Douwe said when I asked him how he felt about that momentous coincidence: “When the world is on fire, why not work for the fire department?” A typical sentiment from an extraordinary person.

Later in the conversation, Douwe lists the top four challenges he believes stand in the way of activating story for brands. I’m interested to know if there are other challenges you would add to the list. And, of course, I’d love to know what you think of our first ever Campfire Story!

“For B2B businesses, Character is a powerful tool. I have used Character three times in my leader marketing roles, 2x were in B2B businesses. The Character work was the foundation of a transformation in product innovation/commercialization, rebranding, M&A, sales growth, and employee engagement. Character’s work helped us take dead brands and make them relevant again and helped us establish lesser-known brands with high share in a B2B market. What’s so unique is that you don’t create something that the ‘marketing talking heads’ think the company needs, you use the history, culture and DNA that is already part of the company to bring out the true story that is unique to only your brand. The Character team is so special, genuine, and has the perfect mix of creative and business knowledge to lead cross-functional executives through this process. ”
—Melissa Minihan, Head of Digital Commerce & Marketing, Veritiv Corporation

“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

“Character’s approach to brand building is unlike any other in the business. Jim and his team use the timeless truths of human storytelling to unlock story potential and connect deeply with brand audiences. I’ve worked with Character throughout my career, and my experience with Tabasco was as fascinating, inspiring, and productive as ever. 

Character worked with our team not only to help us re-examine and re-articulate the elemental truths of our iconic global brand but also to develop and apply practical tools that make the brand story framework user-friendly for our entire organization. 

I whole-heartedly recommend Character to any brand marketer who is looking to make intuitive and durable connections with their consumer.”

Lee Susen, Chief Sales & Marketing Officer, Tabasco / McIlhenny Company