One of the most enduring brand stories is the plight of the underdog. Remember the tale of the scrappy technology company founded out of a garage in Silicon Valley? Apple's story persuades us to root for "the little business that could," even before we buy a product. Decades later, Apple is hardly an underdog, yet that story continues to resonate with entrepreneurs, investors and employees alike.
Public relations expert Cameron Craig, who spearheaded Johnny Cash's two Australian tours and helped craft the Apple brand story in the late 90's early 2000's, has an interesting take on what works and what doesn't.
"As part of the PR team at Apple, I learned that simplicity is really the key to telling smart stories that resonate," Craig explains. "Jobs was a master storyteller and he oversaw every aspect of how the company was positioned -- including reviewing every press release."
Craig also used the underdog story to great effect for Polycom. "It must have been my second week on the job and we had a Bring-Your-Kids-to-Work Day," Craig recalls. "I was in the cafeteria and I noticed [Polycom] co-founder Jeffrey Rodman talking to a bunch of 10 year-old kids, they're all in a circle and they're all captivated by what he was saying to them. He was talking about how he bought a $0.95 book from RadioShack on building speakers and how that book led to this company that we now know as Polycom."
In the decades since the 1972 book Building Speaker Enclosures was published, Polycom has grown into an international technology powerhouse with more than 400,000 customers. The company recently sold for an estimated $2 billion.
"Not a bad return for a $0.95 book," says Craig. "Great stories are everywhere -- it is up to internal teams to listen for them."Craig's approach isn't just spin from a 10-year Apple veteran. It's rooted in social science. In his recent book Pre-Suasion, social psychologist Robert Cialdini describes how people can be 'primed' and 'anchored' to think about certain things right before they make decisions. It's one of the reasons we feel good about supporting large corporate brands with underdog stories.
The best brand stories, Craig believes, have a hero and a villain. The villain doesn't have to be human: It can be can be a concept, a problem, or a pain point. "In the tech world especially, the villain is complexity and the hero is simplicity," Craig points out. "And as humans, we love simplicity."
You can do this, too -- even without Apple or Polycom's public relations budget. Craig recommends asking five people -- colleagues, friends, family -- the following questions:
- What is interesting about you and/or your company?
- What is your defining characteristic?
- What is that one thing that sets you apart from the rest?
"You'll probably get five different answers, each of them different than what you think they might say," says Craig. "At the end of the day, it's about the people. Your story has to make them care, not just about what they do and who they do it for, but about how what you do impacts others' lives."