How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

How great marketers tell stories

April 18, 2014: 8:00 AM ET

Former P&G marketing chief Jim Stengel says that the best companies tell two types of stories to build strong and enduring brands.

How a Louisville Slugger is born

How a Louisville Slugger is born

This is Part 5 of a series for by Jim Stengel,  former global CMO of Procter & Gamble and author of Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World's Greatest Companies. In today's Guest Post and his final Guest Post next Friday, Jim digs into the best practices of the best ideal-based companies and explores how they outgrow their competition.

FORTUNE -- Stepping into the temperature-controlled vault, we felt like we were in the presence of baseball's immortal greats.

We were inside a hallowed sanctum at Louisville Slugger: an archive of bat models, each custom-designed to the specifications of a pro. The models fill horizontal racks that line the walls. Reaching to a slot marked R43, Marketing VP Kyle Schlegel reverently withdrew one. "This was the template for all of Babe Ruth's bats," he whispered.

According to legend, the iconic Louisville Slugger bat was born in 1884, when a 17-year-old baseball fan invited a major league player to his father's woodworking shop. The star of the Louisville Eclipse was mired in a hitting slump and had broken his bat. The teen handcrafted a new bat to the player's specifications. The next day the Louisville star got three hits.

The Brand Ideal, or Purpose, of Louisville Slugger is "to make players great." That statement could sound like puffery, except that the stories surrounding the brand make it plain and true. This is the case for most Ideal-driven businesses. Stories make the Ideal wheel spin.

Much has been written about the importance of storytelling in marketing and management, but nowhere do tales have a taller order than inside the walls of Ideal-driven companies. They bring definition to the Ideal. They authenticate it and animate it. They inspire and direct its activation.  They reaffirm the course and perpetuate the narrative.

In our year-long journey visiting Ideal-driven companies, we uncovered two types of stories that are particularly nutritive to the Ideal agenda.  The first is what Jonah Sachs, author of Winning the Story Wars, calls "genesis stories."

Genesis stories illuminate the motivation behind the brand or the company at its founding. Like the baseball fan milling a bat for a pro, every great business is a response to a real and specific customer need. And the genesis story clarifies this.

At Unilever, the genesis story provides inspiration and direction for CEO Paul Polman. In the months before he took charge in 2009, he studied Unilever's genesis. As an outside hire, he made it his business to know the heritage story better than most anyone else.

That story began in the 1890s with William Hesketh Lever, who sought to use his new Sunlight brand soap to "make cleanliness commonplace" and mitigate hygiene-related problems that plagued Victorian England. In late 19th century Britain, one of every two babies would not survive their first year.

According to Polman, Lever would ask himself, "How do I grow, grow, grow so that more people get the benefit?"

Today, Polman says, "the issues have just moved to sub-Saharan Africa and India" -- where another of William Lever's creations, Lifebuoy soap, is there to help the cause. "Lifebuoy is exactly what the name says."

The second type of story we observed is the customer impact story. This narrative documents the life-improving effects of an enterprise. For example, last year, Unilever's Lifebuoy team created a three-minute film to promote hand washing in India.  The video depicts a father giving thanks for his son's fifth birthday.  The closing sequence reveals that the son is the man's first child to survive his fifth year.

The Lifebuoy film has been viewed on YouTube almost 19 million times.

Customer impact stories don't have to recount saved lives to be powerful. Edmunds, which provides online services for car buyers, used video testimonials to share what its Brand Ideal—"Simplifying life's big decisions"—means for its customers. One video shows how the Edmunds website empowered a 74-year-old woman to purchase her "ticket to independence." Another celebrates a mother's new-found mobility.

Edmund's President & COO Seth Berkowitz says, "The videos reflect exactly what we would like to think we're all about -- and the mission we're trying to live."

For seven years until 2008, Jim Stengel was the chief global marketing officer at Procter & Gamble (PG), where he oversaw an $8 billion advertising budget and 7,000 employees. Now heading a consulting firm/think tank aptly called The Jim Stengel Company, he advises companies on how to grow globally by driving ideals. He's the author of Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World's Greatest Companies, which uses a 10-year study involving 50,000 brands to show how at the best companies, financial performance relates to an ability to connect with fundamental human emotions, values and greater purposes. Stengel, 58, is also an adjunct professor at the UCLA Anderson School of Management and on the board of directors of AOL (AOL). He's writing this series for with Chris Allen, the Arthur Beerman Professor of Marketing at the University of Cincinnati.


  • Samantha Power on bringing the war front home

    Ambassador Samantha Power joined Fortune's Most Powerful Women community in New York for a discussion on Ukraine, human rights and raising two children while working with President Obama. 

    FORTUNE -- It is a busy time for Samantha Power -- to say the least. As the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations and a member of President Obama's Cabinet, Power is currently fighting the escalating conflict in Ukraine, dealing with a report from the United Nations of the routine MORE

    - Apr 16, 2014 10:28 PM ET
  • A Coke exec's lessons from an unlikely visitor

    One of Coca-Cola's top marketing executives found unexpected lessons about work and life from her Zimbabwean mentee.

    FORTUNE - Wendy Clark, SVP of Coca-Cola's Global Sparkling Brand Center, is a participant in this year's Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women's Mentoring program, which brings rising-star women from developing countries to the U.S. each year to shadow participants of the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit. Since the program launched in 2006, more than 250 MORE

    - Apr 16, 2014 8:00 AM ET
    Posted in: ,
  • How investing in curiosity pays off big at Discovery

    At cable TV giant Discovery Communications, believing in a Brand Ideal -- and betting big money on it -- has helped quadruple the stock.

    This is Part 4 of a series for by Jim Stengel,  former global CMO of Procter & Gamble and author of Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World's Greatest Companies. In today's Guest Post and in two more over the next two Fridays, Jim digs into the best MORE

    - Apr 11, 2014 8:00 AM ET
  • Murdoch talks about wooing DreamWorks chief to Fox

    Is DreamWorks movie boss Stacey Snider headed to 20th Century Fox? If Rupert Murdoch has his way, she will be.

    FORTUNE -- Rupert Murdoch, in an exclusive interview released today in the new issue of Fortune, confirms the rumor churning through Hollywood: He is trying to lure Stacey Snider, the co-chairman and CEO of DreamWorks Studios, to 20th Century Fox.

    "I'm a great admirer of her. And I've had long talks with MORE

    - Apr 10, 2014 3:25 PM ET
  • Rupert Murdoch on his divorce, succession, and his empire's future

    In his first wide-ranging interview in five years, Rupert Murdoch talks about remaking his business, luring back his son Lachlan, divorcing Wendi Deng, and moving beyond a very trying past few years.

    FORTUNE -- "I had a very bad month in January and February. I had a fall in San Francisco. I fell on my head," says Rupert Murdoch in an exclusive interview with Fortune Magazine that covers the gamut of the media titan's MORE

    - Apr 10, 2014 7:33 AM ET
  • How Motorola found a new way to grow

    Motorola Solutions, which played a historic role on D-Day and in the first moonwalk, found new growth by rebuilding around clear ideals that everyone can relate to and be proud of.

    This is Part 3 of a series for by Jim Stengel,  former global CMO of Procter & Gamble and author of Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World's Greatest Companies. In today's Guest Post and in four more MORE

    - Apr 4, 2014 8:00 AM ET
  • How women can make the VC money flow

    Masters of the venture capital universe tend to be male and biased toward funding guys with decent business plans and big dreams. How can women entrepreneurs compete?

    Guest Post by Mary Civiello

    FORTUNE -- If you're a woman entrepreneur looking to raise money, chances are high that you're pitching to men. Fewer than 10% of venture capitalists in the U.S. are female, and gender biases prevail. Academic and anecdotal evidence indicates:

    - VCs MORE

    - Apr 2, 2014 8:30 AM ET
  • Method is the new green giant in Chicago

    The fast-growing, eco-friendly company is building an innovative manufacturing plant on Chicago's ripe-for-renewal South Side.

    This is Part 2 of a series for by Jim Stengel,  former global CMO of Procter & Gamble and author of Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World's Greatest Companies. In today's Guest Post and in four more over the next four Fridays, Jim digs into the best practices of the best ideal-based companies MORE

    - Mar 28, 2014 8:05 AM ET
  • DC power players talk compromise and Hillary in 2016

    Senator Patty Murray and former Pentagon star Michèle Flournoy share anecdotes about navigating their political careers.

    FORTUNE -- Tuesday night's Fortune Most Powerful Women event in Washington, D.C., began with a moment of silence. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) asked that the audience remember victims of the landslide that brutally upended Washington's Snohomish County on Saturday.

    The natural disaster has already killed 14 citizens and 176 people are unaccounted for. Oso and Darrington, the MORE

    - Mar 25, 2014 11:23 PM ET
Fortune's Most Powerful Women
Fortune's Most Powerful Women For the latest on the most influential women in business, philanthropy, government, and the arts, like us on Facebook.
Guest Posts
Fortune Most Powerful Women Fortune Most Powerful Women The rolodex that redefined power
Profile in The Washington Post
Sheryl Sandberg: Sheryl Sandberg: Don't leave before you leave
COO of Facebook
Wendy Clark Wendy Clark Exec learns firsthand how the homeless live
SVP of the Global Sparkling Brand Center at Coca-Cola
Marissa Mayer's 3 biggest decisions as Yahoo CEO With company stock up over 100% since she began running the company 16 months ago, Mayer reflects on her choices to date. Watch
Chelsea Clinton on running for office: 'I don't know' The vice chairman of the Clinton Foundation talks about her diverse career path and growing up in the spotlight. Watch
MPWomen go Global

The Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership brings rising-star women from countries around the world to the U.S. for three-week mentorships with participants of the annual Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit - among them Ursula Burns of Xerox, Laura Lang of Time Inc., Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, and Tory Burch.

Read more

Current Issue
  • Give the gift of Fortune
  • Get the Fortune app
  • Subscribe
About This Author
Pattie Sellers
Pattie Sellers
Senior Editor at Large, Fortune
Executive Director of MPW/Live Content, Time Inc.

Pattie Sellers has written more than 20 Fortune cover stories including "Marissa Mayer: Ready to Rumble at Yahoo," "Muhtar Kent's New Coke," "Oprah's Next Act", "The $100 Billion Woman" (Melinda Gates), and "Gone with the Wind" (Ted Turner). She co-founded Fortune Most Powerful Women and oversees the Fortune MPW Summit, the preeminent gathering of women leaders in business and beyond—and programs such as Fortune MPW Entrepreneurs and the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Pattie also develops Live Content across Time Inc. Her blog, Postcards, is about how power players lead and navigate their careers. Pattie won Time Inc.'s prestigious MVP award for her performance in 2012.

Email Pattie Sellers | Welcome to Postcards.
Follow Pattie | email newsletter
Powered by VIP.