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Campfire Stories: Episode Three with Greg Hughes

The best story in the world won’t help your brand for long if you don’t offer something great that your audience needs. So, am I saying that quality is all you need then? If you offer a great product, service, or experience, isn’t that enough? I’ve certainly encountered plenty of businesspeople who question the value of story on those grounds and paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emmerson to remind me, “If you build a better mousetrap the world will beat a path to your door.”

Greg Hughes, the President and CEO of Suntory Global Spirits, recently discussed with me the role of quality versus story when it comes to branding. “If all you really do is make the best products, but you don’t connect that to consumers in some way that is relevant to their life through story, well then nobody engages, and you don’t deliver an experience that allows the craftsmanship to get out into the world,” Greg told me.

“There are some core philosophies and values of Suntory,” he explained, “one of which is a Japanese word called monozukuri which basically translates into a relentless commitment to quality from seed to sip. But that’s paired with a Japanese word that we also talk a lot about called monogatari, which literally means story. And what we’re trying to do in all of our brands is join what we view to be our competitive difference with the story that makes that craftsmanship relevant.” In this age of choice paralysis and the over-abundance of high-quality goods and services, he warned, it’s more important than ever to connect with audiences in ways that motivate and engage them.

Greg offered three great tips for ensuring you embrace both monozukuri/quality and monogatari/story in your branding.

  • Don’t be too literal. Functional benefits are important but, as Greg points out, “If you don’t stay relevant in terms of meaning, there are very easy ways for people to find the same functional benefit from your category with a different brand.”
  • Make sure you really understand the truth underlying your brand. Brands are complex, especially spirits brands, but complexity is confusing. That’s why it’s essential to articulate the heart of what your brand is about and push through to a simple statement of its meaning. “If you get the core right and put the effort into the simplicity,” Greg elaborated, “it becomes much easier to know how to tell your story in multiple different contexts. If you don’t know that, then you just come off as complicated and confusing, and people don’t engage.”
  • Don’t build brands by committee. “You can’t tell a good story or develop a good story by committee, and if you’re too safe or vanilla in your marketing, people are just going to ignore it.”

You can watch the full conversation and hear more great tips and watchouts from Greg in Character’s third Campfire Story: Monozukuri and Monogatari. And if you’ve ever had an experience with a product or service that was clearly superior to its competition but didn’t seem able to break through, or had a great story to tell but for a product or service that didn’t fully live up to it, I’d love to get your perspective.

“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