Mastering storytelling to build a compelling company brand

IDEAS's Bob Allen shares why being right-brained and not concentrating solely on think-tank analytics is an important part of being successful in a creative business.

As chief storytelling officer for IDEAS [Innovation, Design, Entertainment, Art and Storytelling], Bob Allen understands the impact of the written word. With a philosophy that revolves around the “power of story,” IDEAS provides brand-management services that focus on educating the public and creating awareness through storytelling. Here, Allen explains how stories help his business succeed by creating the “once-upon-a-time” tale behind a company’s project.

What’s proven over time is that a human being will always stop and pay attention to a good story. We are wired to do it and scientific evidence proves it. It’s the cognitive inheritance; it’s how you make sense out of your world. But, there is more and more competition for people’s mind share. We live in an age of high throughput and lots and lots of noise—both psychological and real. Our strategic premise was to make sure that our clients’ stories get heard by the key audiences that they need to influence. We do this by applying a very well-polished method for story making across three different outcomes. One is a story to educate or teach, the second a story that markets, and the third a story that entertains. Sometimes we do all three in one, but that was the basic premise. How do we take a collection of story makers and build a true solutions company?

Our definition of a brand is that it’s the mind space you own in the mind of your customer. How it helps is you want to tell the customer’s story. A brand is a vector; it’s a vehicle, a construct that says, “This is our story and here is why you want to stand next to us. Here’s why we are not like anyone else, here’s why we are the best value, and here’s why you will really enjoy the promise we will make you.” A brand is a story decomposed into some very specific and actionable parts.

A brand is a construct that wraps your story up and you will like it. You may have the greatest product or service in the world, but you may never get an at bat because no one can see it or hear it. Brand is almost always trumped by experience. We are robust about branding; we have a strategy of seven distinct components and we want to work with you as the brand plays out. Let’s map it out. The one most people miss is inward brand activation. Everyone needs to know how they will wear your brand. You need to spend time on that.

We just finished creating the story and a brand for a brand-new town in China. It was a really fun and daunting project. It was a unique deal involving government and local farmers. They created a 6,500-acre spot on the Xi River, 40 kilometers from this big population center. It was 70 percent agriculture, but large scale. They had to aggregate the farmland and trade that for land in flats. Once we get that done, this large development will have a learning center and major health-care center. Mixed-use development was something not done in China.

Our task was to come into their world and ask, “What’s the story behind this place?”—and we really mean a narrative. Something populated by characters that has a plot, a beginning, middle, end, setting, emotion, and detail. We created a story and the story was around an eco-town, and told about a farmer who would live there and why his life would be better and what happened when people visited from the city and brought the place alive. Then we brought some market analytics and some other branding disciplines to create a very thoughtful and structured seven-layer brand including a name, which will be the western-facing name “Harmony.” We gave it a vision and mission; a good brand personality and look and feel and logo.

We are an interesting new kind of concept so once we get clients on board they see the wisdom of it. We do all these things but don’t label us an ad agency or a studio, we are a new hybrid cross-platform storytelling company and here’s why you want one: The world is different. We can help you take a new thought into a market.