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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Tim Girvin - Trends in Story, Brand and Experience Design

The Luxury Marketing Council of New York recently featured Tim Girvin, GIRVIN/Creative Intelligence for a presentation titled:

True Stories: Trends in Story, Brand, and Experience Design. An Exploration of Authenticity, Storytelling, and Integrated Luxury Branding.

Needless to say, I was intrigued. I left spell-bound. Here's why.

Girvin believes in stories. He communicates in terms of stories. He connects with others via stories. Stories represent the link between otherwise disconnected beings, ideas and products. Stories are reflective narrative.

We all have a story, he says. We connect with one another through story elements we have in common. After all, story captures personality. Personality attracts others. Before you know it, you have a community made up of people attracted to that personality and story.

Step beyond personal brand story to a product's brand story. Don't you find that the story connects you to the brand? It helps you remember distinct aspects of that brand's characteristics, its personality. Story is a shortcut to absorbing those characteristics and making them relevant to you. Story helps to efficiently convey those relevant aspects to others.

Story also creates conversation, leading to engagement with your brand...

Tim has a fascinating story [I encourage you to learn more about him from the link above, via Tim.Girvin.com where you will find soul-inspiring writings, photos and illuminations, his GIRVIN:D.log blog, and the Girvin company website.]; he characterizes it as evolutionary and fluid.

Powerful words. "Evolutionary" and "fluid" make me see connections all around me. So does narrative.

Fluid, liquid history helps me appreciate the past, present and future - all continuous and timeless, evolving. It includes macro themes [think myths, legends and archetypes] as well as micro details [think quips]. Yet, history also contains [vessels of memory, holding relationship] in a context relevant to me.

Nowadays, people are overwhelmed with too many messages. How to cut through that? They are knoweledgeable about what's real [i.e., authentic] and suspicious of brands that are indistinguishable one from the other - especially when logos have little meaning, and the absence of logos actually appeals more.

Our culture has embraced a new expectation of honesty and truth. Where is the heart of the brand? What is the centerpoint of the proposition? What is the legitimacy of provenance? [Is that Piaget watch special because it is made at Piaget or just carries the logo?]

Authenticity matters. Traditional brands are under pressure because so many cheaper alternatives exist. What then is the difference? What is the truth?

What is the truth that matters to that brand and brand community? Truth for an Apple lover will differ from that of a Harley-Davidson fan. What is authentic to that brand essence? Authenticity is the benchmark against which items are judged.

I look increasingly for authenticity. I think many of us do. Perhaps it's a function of ageless marketing? And also being weary of falsehoods and inconsistencies, poor quality and unsafe products. We seek the truth. If something fails, the brand loses meaning; brand integrity becomes questionable, and brand community a farce. As marketers, then, we must ensure that brands communicate authenticity consistently to our brand community.

Discovering and communicating the real, original story behind a brand becomes, then, an even more critical and effective way to connect. After all, a logo is only as valuable as the brand it represents. It manifests the story and brand.

Girvin urges going farther and deeper into the history of the brand to how it began. Every brand starts with a human being, reflecting that being. Think Apple and Steve Jobs, Nike and Bill Bowerman, both examples of the brand as "the genome of personality." The brand exudes so much passion that it develops into a cult that becomes part of culture that turns into love, committment and deep loyalty.

Brand story is made up of:
- cult and culture [the human brand genetics]
- story [captivates the community]
- premise [founding drivers that make the brand different]
- promise [the emotional gift]
- reflection [what is given and given back]

Example: Nordstrom - the story is about the holistic integration of the Nordstrom family history with the store's evolution to provide legendary Nordstrom customer service. The promise is all about the customer's delight with the Nordstrom retail experience.

Example: Yves St. Laurent - the story begins with Yves St. Laurent himself, embodying Parisian character and sensuality. But, how to ensure continuity beyond the originator? First with Tom Ford, then with Stefano Pilati? Tom Ford has moved on; he exudes strong sexuality [note: the Tom Ford website includes a warning!]. With a strong affection for the handmade and thoughtful truthfulness about true luxury, he wants to bring that sense of truly individual and unique back. Pilati seems truer to the original YSL mystique.

Example: Hermes where the legacy of Hermes products has a great deal to do with the management of the legacy over time [please read the 5 page article form Vanity Fair titled "From Hermes to Eternity..." which tells the story of the Dumas family and their amazing commitment to the integrity of the brand. It's fascinating.].

Brand story matters because it differentiates from commodity. It is highly competitive. It is uniquely positioned. It is not only relevant, but also resonant. It is human and warm, truthful and authentic, creating layers of connection.

True stories take a brand way beyond image advertising. True stories make brands authentic and engaging.

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