Years ago, a man who loved music as much as anyone of his generation, began going deaf, just as he was becoming recognized as one of the world’s great composers. But he didn’t let his handicap interfere with his destiny. After losing over 90% of his hearing, he went on to compose one of the most famous symphonic works of all time. That man of course, was Ludwig van Beethoven. The symphony? His Ode to Joy.
Anyone who knows this story never forgets it. That’s because stories engage. Stories move us. Stories are how we learn.
A couple of years ago I called on several Indian software companies with my colleague Jennifer Beck. The CEO of one of these firms asked us to look at his ideas for refreshing his organization’s brand. After the second or third slide, Jennifer asked, “ Why do you bother to get out of bed and come to work every day? What moves you? What is the heart and soul of this company?” It was a memorable moment, because the client was speechless (stunned is more like it). There were a few more moments of awkward silence. So Jennifer tried again, with a tone that indicated she was quite serious about getting an answer. This time she slowed the pace of her usual rapid fire speech, asking in a near whisper: “Why do you bother?”
We went on to remind this client that brand is about memory (arguing that people rarely, if ever, remember bullet points on powerpoint slides; they do however, remember good stories).
When I asked the CEO of a Silicon Valley firm who was pitching a new chemical compound used to prevent heart attacks, I asked him Jennifer’s standard question. He said he was inspired to invent the compound following the premature death of his father, with whom he was very close. He went on to explain that in his grief, he kept seeing ways his father’s death could have been prevented. It took some coaxing, but he eventually agreed to make this part of his corporate story.
I don’t remember much about that company; but I remember the reasons that CEO bothers to get out of bed every day. Behind every good brand is a good story. A story of why you do – what you do. Mr. Beethoven, who never cared much about marketing, might have been a natural brand manager. When asked, “What do you do?” he responded, “I write music for the ages.”