People, Not Products: How Purpose Uncovers the Best Stories

Written by

BCG BrightHouse

Aug 25, 2014 · 2-minute read

“Storytelling” is a buzzy word these days. Every product from the artisan popsicle I downed last weekend to the soap in my kitchen has a story to tell (spoiler alert: germs die). Now, I love a juicy story, full of subtext and high stakes, even if it comes at me from the lid of a coffee cup. But when brands tell their own story, why do so many skip over the best part?

For us, the story of why a company began – its founding story – is drama at its finest. One banking client guarded Coca-Cola’s secret formula during the Civil War. Another client’s founder tried to assassinate Hitler, and then started a firm dedicated to global security. And on a gentler note, what began as a mom baking bread for her allergy-prone son became an international company decades before “gluten-free” was even a thing.
Ad man Robin Wight famously instructed marketers to “interrogate the product”. Too often companies are so focused on what they make, they forget why they’re even bothering to make it. Under intense cross-examination in a dimly lit room, a product might tell you it is environmentally-friendly or customer-centric or a whole grab bag of other descriptors. But only by asking a person will we understand why those things matter. When we can answer “why”, brands have a story that defines their unique role in the world — their purpose — based on human truths, not product laundry lists.
Take a look at our film that kicked off this year’s Atlanta Jewish Film Festival (AJFF). The piece explores how stories unite diverse cultures. Even if our own romantic follies and vacation mishaps are never transcribed for the big screen, they’re all part of a larger narrative of what it means to love, to dream, to belong – precisely why brand stories based on people, not products, are a magnet. These stories are all around us, waiting to be told. Asking people and asking why sure beats making small talk with a durable water repellant thermal something something.

Wondering how to tell your brand’s story? Chapter 4: Ethos in The Story of Purpose is a great place to start. Follow BrightHouse on Twitter or LinkedIn for the latest insights on purpose.

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