Marketing is about stories (and so are we)

We joined forces with BrandsConf as the event’s official media partner because we feel as though Jeff Pulver’s view of brands is very much in line with our own. Sparksheet is all about telling the stories behind brands and branding, and storytelling was one of the day’s most powerful and pervasive themes.

As brand strategist David Knies – the first of roughly 50 speakers ­– put it, “marketing is how you tell the story of you brand.” Get Storied author Michael Margolis suggested brands borrow a page from superhero comics and draw upon their “origin story” to carve out their niche.  As he put it, “Narrative is how you find the invisible lines of connection” between a company’s past and present.

Oxford Communication’s Ben Grossman explained how brands can humanize themselves without relying on any specific human beings to tell their stories. He suggested brands move beyond logos and icons to create avatars that engage consumers with nearly human qualities in the brand’s name, ala Quick Chek’s ‘Q’ avatar.

One of the day’s most surprising speakers was Sam von Trapp, a descendent of the singing Sound of Music clan who spoke about using his family’s famous story to market the von Trapps’ Stowe, Vermont inn.

Brands are created from the inside out

Most marketing conferences are all about how brands can tell and sell their stories to customers. At BrandsConf, several speakers pointed out that brands need to get their stories straight internally first. JWT Inside’s Robert Fieseler noted that we are living in a “post-WikiLeaks world,” in which “anything electronic is public.”

In other words, businesses need to foster a corporate culture that employees can buy into and that’s in synch with their own personal values and identities. The transparency theme was also explored by passionate marketing veteran Hank Wasiak who insisted that a brand should be an open book that’s open for inspection 24/7.

Care about your customers

From the onstage hugs to the backstage camaraderie, it was evident that BrandsConf was a warm and friendly environment. The people at Jeff’s conferences clearly care about each other so it’s not surprising that they also care about your customers.

Several speakers stressed that it’s not enough for brands to “reward” or “engage” customers. In one of the day’s funnier talks, Freshbooks’ Saul Colt suggested good branding is like a great first kiss – sometimes awkward but always unforgettable.

Wunderman’s Nick Moore talked about the need for brands to create “an affinity” with their audience before bothering to engage. Meanwhile, search marketer Ric Dragon suggested being the sort of brand “you’d want to take home to meet your parents.”

Find the customers who care about you

Of course, caring about customers isn’t just touch-feely stuff. It’s also really good for business. The idea is to win the hearts and minds of people who will go to bat for your brand. Business strategist and customer loyalty expert Carol Roth advised businesses to reward “the senders as well as the spenders,” that is, those influencers and advocates who won’t stop referring people to your brand.

Technology “tinkerer” Gilad Lotan showed the crowd how to use online tools like “data sculptures” to visualize “your invisible audience” and to identify the surprising relationships between its members. Likewise, CareOne’s Nichole Kelly explained how the debt settlement firm created community forums for customers to discuss their experiences and commiserate with each other.

Nothing beats face-to-face

For me, the highlight of BrandsConf was getting to meet the many incredible people who have contributed to Sparksheet in the last month or so, whether in the form of a Q&A, blog post, comment, tweet or fleeting online conversation.

Technology has made it easier to connect with people around the world than ever before, but there is still no substitute for connecting face to face. As IRL Productions founder Emily Gannett put it, “the most resonant conversations happen in real life.”

Emily explained how her agency has used real-world events and tools – from Foursquare-themed pool parties to QR codes – to amplify online conversations.

In a similar vein, social media strategist Lynne D. Johnson pointed out that brands need both interactive tools and flesh-and-blood human beings to interpret online data. And Tribal DDB’s Eric Weaver insisted that “you don’t need a social media strategy;” instead, brands should strive to make every element of their business more social.

Finally, we’d like to thank everyone who stopped by the Sparksheet table to say hello and leave us your business card. At the end of the day we asked Jeff Pulver to draw from our big box of cards and crown the lucky winner of a brand new iPad. Congratulations to Stephanie M. Cockerl of!