Brand Purpose Emily Culp

Ask The CMO: A Conversation With Keds CMO Emily Culp On Digital Transformation And Brand Purpose

There are many forces driving seismic paradigm shifts inside the marketing departments at leading organizations across the world. We are in a period of significant business change, catalyzed by the digital transformation that is upon us, which is requiring leading brands to deliver winning cross-channel experiences to consumers, where they live, work and play. With this in mind, I have decided to launch an “Ask the CMO” series where I talk to some of the top marketers in the world to uncover the leading issues and trends driving change in the marketplace.

For my inaugural piece in the series, I had the privilege of speaking with Emily Culp, digital pioneer, change agent and current CMO of Keds, to get her thoughts on the key strategies that marketers, regardless of size or industry, should be aware of to effectively compete in our challenging and complex environment. Below is a recap of our conversation:

Billee:  Right now I’m looking at two big things: one is the digital transformation of business and its impact on marketing and the other is the intersection of creativity + technology and the impact it is having on an organization’s go-forward strategy. So maybe we could start with what your thoughts are on digital transformation and its connection to marketing?

Emily: For me a core part of marketing is digital. In fact, over 21 years ago I started my career in digital/eCommerce and I did that because it appeared to be a unique way to engage with consumers. It was a completely new and unchartered revenue channel. Fast forward to today, I believe if you are a consumer centric company you have to embrace digital as part of your core business.

Billee: Wow. That’s amazing. A true digital native. Can you tell me a bit about your focus on using digital as a catalyst for change and meaningful transformation?

Emily: A key element of transformation for many companies is pivoting from a wholesale or manufacturing centric business approach to one that is fully focused on direct to the consumer. A critical component to rapidly achieve this pivot is to focus on where the consumer is – and that is the digital/mobile world.  I also inherently believe that by having digital as the backbone of my career it has enabled me to be extremely receptive to the unprecedented rate consumers change behaviors because of the rapidly evolving omni-channel world they live in.

Billee: Can you give me an example of keeping digital as the backbone of a consumer centric approach?

Emily: You actually put your consumer at the center of everything you’re doing and see what untapped potential exists. You have to understand the whole ecosystem where your consumer lives, works and plays. Simply put, what I do is I come in and I unite all channels to then unlock revenue growth.

Billee: Well you definitely have a unique perspective. Is there any way of crystalizing your point of view on the need to have digital as a centerpiece of business strategy as opposed to a single channel approach for our audience that might still be grappling with a comprehensive digital strategy?

Emily: Most businesses, especially B2C, are focused on consumer engagement. If you look at how your consumer lives their lives you’ll see that they are engaging with digital experiences across multiple channels. As you said, it’s not just about focusing on one channel. It’s understanding what people are actually doing in the digital space and how that space connects with all other channels.  I teach at both Columbia and Stern and I make this analogy.  No consumer says: “I’ll leave my phone in a black box for two hours, and experience the store purely as you want me to.” That’s just not how they live.

Billee: Love the analogy. So, simple, yet spot on. So, what’s the best strategy for marketers needing to instigate these kinds of shifts effectively?

Emily: Getting the organization to pivot is most important. A core aspect of change is understanding the “why” and “how” a new way of working will ensue. Hence omni-channel education is critical, as is a culture that embraces innovation, smart risk and speed.  It is hard to change but if people have a clear vision, knowledge about new skills needed and a strong culture—anything is possible.  Additionally, the fastest way to implement shifts is by changing the organizational structure and bonus program. These two elements can powerfully re-align talent to focus on the consumer, which in turn will unlock revenue. Part of the work is not just giving people new titles and goals, but it’s also finding the fastest way to change behavior within a company while shifting to meet the changing needs of the consumer.

Billee: Let’s shift gears for a moment to pivot to internal culture as you mention needing to change behavior to keep up with the current vision of the brand and consumer behavior. There has been much talk of brand voice meeting culture and CMOs needing to begin to shape employee experiences, less HR focused, more so very similarly to how they do so for consumers or customers. What are your thoughts?

Emily: Internal campaigns exist to drive different factors, but in my opinion there is a distinct reason why. Yes, I absolutely have branded #LadiesFirst water bottles and T-shirts which I know are very tactical elements, but my point is by creating a whole experience for our team, I’m finding I’m retaining talent and I don’t have to be distracted by the brutal activity of looking for new talent. Finding amazing talent is akin to finding a purple squirrel. I will hold out if need be for 9 months for the right fit for one director position. I know what it takes to get the right talent and ingrain them into not only the company culture, but also what your brand stands for; because in every interaction they have, whether it’s engaging with the founders, or with consumers, they need to live the brand. The DNA of your brand needs to become a part of your team and you must absolutely market internally to them. Everything we do is designed to build culture and establish what our brand stands for.  A solid grounding in understanding the day to day purpose of our brand frankly helps me motivate my team.  That work helps all of us do our jobs better and helps us stay passionate about our consumer.

Billee: I totally agree and think your point is spot on. So, you know a lot of what you just talked about goes to a sense of brand aspiration. A lot of people are talking about infusing purpose into brands, which I believe is a result of the chaos of the country and the society that we’re living in. But, taking a step back, you know people sometimes think that purpose is about sustainability or being green or doing this or that when in reality, I believe that it is just feeling a sense of aspiration that a brand, like Keds, is about female empowerment, as much it is about sneakers. Simply put, it’s as much about the who and the why as it is the what… how do you feel about that?

Emily: I fully agree with that. It’s about authenticity. Our brand was founded on the idea of empowering women through accessible, fashionable footwear back in 1916. This history makes the female empowerment movement a very sincere and authentic effort for the brand that we communicate both to our consumers and internally. Everybody’s very clear on that. We also have environmental initiatives such as the recycled shoe boxes we produce, but there’s a certain point I don’t think we need to amplify every purposeful angle. I think it’s important to own what really makes you different in the marketplace and what’s really authentically you . And that’s where I feel very fortunate about this brand because championing female empowerment is authentically what the brand has done for 101 years.

Billee: I’m noticing that it’s almost like brands are feeling a greater sense of contributing to the world. And I’m not talking about their environmental footprint. I mean contributing to the world in a meaningful way, almost kind of stepping in certain places where maybe the public sector has dropped the ball. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Emily: I do. I actually think there is an amazing thing that’s happening at a macro-level surrounding championing women and Keds’ authentic role in this conversation. For example, on International Women’s day we did a panel with an amazing group of women: Allison Williams, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Reshma Saujani and ShiShi Rose we were talking about how you can be bold for change. We live streamed this on Facebook and had half a million views around the world because of this powerful message. So, I think going back to your original point, there is a place for brands to bring information to consumers.  What they do with that information is up to them, but we give them the opportunity to then vote with their wallet, and that’s most important.

Billee: Last question…connecting to consumers voting with their wallet. How do you use AI to be additive and create winning experiences that elicit positive reactions like that as opposed to being polarizing? What is the right balance?

Emily: I think AI is one of the most misunderstood things right now. AI to me is truly fascinating. The best way I explain it to everybody is that its powering everything you already do! Guess what?  If you want to use real time translation or anything like that, you’ve been using AI.  By demystifying it, AI becomes less of a scary thing. In terms of how AI helping business, it goes back to business rules. The amount of consumer data we now have access to requires a team of purple squirrels to use this information efficiently and responsibly. Frankly, I think the most important part is the talent, with sound judgement to manage the AI. I believe that’s even more important than just the technology capability right now.

Note: This article was first published on Billee’s Forbes blog.

brand purpose

Optimize Customer Experiences Using Brand Purpose + Data Driven Storytelling

The old rules of business were ruled by what GE dubbed TQM or Total Quality Management. Winning companies would win or lose based on their ability to deliver a quality product, seamlessly and consistently.  In their view, TQM would sustain customer loyalty and assure a category or market leadership position.  For the past decade, we have rapidly left that notion behind in lieu of the age of TEM – Total Experience Management.

As mass commodification has impacted all industries, it’s become harder and harder for a brand to stand out. Consequently, storytelling and the authentic content experiences it creates, has become one of the leading ways brands can engage with customers to drive distinction and competitive advantage.

The big news out of 64th International Festival of Creativity in Cannes, was that the current approach to content development, where storytelling is still pushed to the end of the supply chain, is missing authenticity – a brand voice.  This explains why many customers are moving from big brands to smaller ones as they tell better stories, infused with purpose and authenticity, to create winning experiences.  Simply put, if you want to compete in today’s marketplace you need to embrace TEM through a lens of purpose.

The bright and shiny objects no longer win, unless they are married with insights that make experiences go from good to great through personalized, emotionally engaging moments that set you apart from the pack.  Emotional engagement is based upon the stimulation of the heart.    In today’s experience economy, emotional engagement is proving to be a critical factor in achieving winning results throughout every customer journey, and effective, data-driven storytelling is at the heart of this movement.

With all this in mind, thinking about how to gain competitive advantage in the marketing realm today – inside and outside of the organization – marketers must capture key insights and then apply the principles of needs-based, experience design, combined with an understanding of the levers that impact each experience differently, in order to bring the brand to life for each customer.  No longer can a CMO do this from pure instinct, or in a silo.  They must listen, analyze and interpret data across all customer touchpoints, online and offline, and then use these insights to inform experience development.

brand purpose and storytelling

The formula for success in today’s CMO is simple:

Brand Purpose + Data Driven Storytelling = Optimized Customer Experiences

Note: Take this short survey for a free audit of your brand’s approach to purpose driven storytelling: Free Brand Purpose Storytelling Audit

Organizations that use artful storytelling to create winning experiences are the ones who are leading our new era of collaborative commerce forward – and moving product, improving engagement and retaining employees.  What follows are optimized experience frameworks that help bring this equation to life for each customer – B2B, B2C and B2E – and real-world examples of how purpose-driven thought leaders are bringing such experiences to life today.

1) B2B Experience

Pivoting from a product centric approach to one that is experience-based, B2B companies are harnessing creativity and technology to tell winning stories that will help educate, inform and activate necessary change in this period of business transformation. The following are the spheres of influence shaping an optimized B2B experiences that can be sharpened through an informed purpose-driven thought leadership platform:

Sphere 1:  Economic

Develop products and services stories that demonstrate contribution to positive earnings and to long-term value to shareholders.

Sphere 2:  Innovation 

Deliver innovative content solutions that capitalize on the strategic marriage of creativity + technology.

Sphere 3:  Agility/Transformative Ability 

Demonstrate necessary pivots that deliver competitive advantage and change.

Sphere 4:  Aspirational Motivation

Enable contribution to the world (and business) as much as the bottom-line and create moments that are aspirational and give people a reason to believe + engage.

Sphere 5:  Brand/Engagement

Develop engagement across all key constituencies to optimize the customer journey and improve financial performance.

A B2B Experience:  GE

GE focuses on telling engaging stories that make sense for businesses.  They invite customers in to see ‘Imagination at Work’, and give customers a reason to believe and engage with their innovation that builds, powers, moves & cures the world.  By harnessing storytelling, creativity and technology via content on digital platforms, including Instagram, Tumblr and YouTube, GE is delivering on their desired business outcomes:

  1. Increase audience awareness of the scope of what GE does and highlight positive experiences with the brand.
  2. Support pipeline for young engineering and business talent.
  3. Drive interest among the next generation of potential shareholders. The company needs to attract the next generation of shareholders.

2) B2C Experience

Consumers today want to be a part of a brand that does more than give them immediate gratification from a product or service. They want to become a part of a brand that they believe in – a brand voice –  one that can enrich their daily lives in ways that create meaningful and impactful engagement.  Conveying the cornerstone of your company’s purpose-driven thought leadership in ways that bridge to the world at large, beyond the bottom-line, is critical to success in today’s environment. Today’s best B2C experiences are defined by telling informed stories that impact the following spheres of influence and create emotional engagement:

Sphere 1:  Aspirational Motivation

Offer people the opportunity to believe in the brand through meaningful interactions.

Sphere 2:  Trust

Work to build a connection between the customer and the brand by showing that you care about what your consumers care about.

Sphere 3:  Personalization/ Loyalty 

Capitalize on real-time, predictive data, analytics and insights to create the experiences consumers want, before they know they want them, which will enhance consumer loyalty and advocacy.

Sphere:  Empathy

Fortify trust and a reason to believe by humanizing the brand and bringing a purpose-driven Living Brand to life.

Sphere 5:  Education

Build meaningful differentiation from competitors through empathic and
purpose-driven stories that inform, entertain and delight and heighten impact and effectiveness.

A B2C Experience:  Casper

Casper’s founders believed if you’re going to convince consumers to trust you that sleep is a pursuit as worthy of obsession as exercise or eating, you have to approach (the story arcs of empathy and education) differently.  Casper is combining science, design thinking, branding, and a winking sense of humor to redefine the humble mattress into lifestyle stories with a new cohort of evangelists proselytizing that the key to productivity and overall health stems from maximizing the quality of our slumber. Casper also upended some fundamental assumptions about consumer behavior that word-of-mouth sales would be impossible to generate because nobody talks about their mattress, a notion that was shattered by an immediate boom in viral unboxing videos that captured the exciting experience.

3) B2E Experience

According to HBR, 89% of executives surveyed said a strong sense of collective purpose drives employee satisfaction; 84% said it can affect an organization’s ability to transform; and 80% said it helps increase customer and employee loyalty.  To operationalize your purpose-driven narrative into mantras that bring your brand purpose to life inside your organization, consider how the following spheres of influence can help you create an authentic B2E experience that delights, informs and engages:

Sphere 1: Aspirational Motivation

Work to inculcate storytelling directly into culture through training and a process of

Sphere 2: Leadership + Core Values:  Trust

Develop mantras through a lens of inclusion to be truly authentic and representative of

both brand and employee values.

Sphere 3: Reward + Recognition

Create appropriate reward & recognition strategies to reaffirm purpose-driven behavior.

Sphere 4: Education 

Facilitate workshops and build a Living Brand content hub where all physical content is made digital and showcase employees bringing the mantras to life.

Sphere: Immersion

Create distinct opportunities to “live the brand” for all of your employees such as
hyper-localized community giving programs or branded internal events that celebrate your employees.

A B2E Experience: W.L. Gore

The executive team began to see trends that employees were anxious that slow decision-making and a lack of risk taking might be weighing on Gore’s entrepreneurial endeavors.  At Gore, the risk of an innovation slowdown was particularly serious. Strong leadership, rooted in the company’s core values, worked quickly to streamline decision-making, encouraged the formation of small startup teams that were motivated to explore new ventures and also created an in-house team called the Innovation Center of Expertise to shepherd (and reward) promising employee ideas.

Todd A. Myers is the Chief Strategy Officer at BRANDthropologie Media. He will lead client engagements to directly connect purpose positioning to value creation and content solutions. You can follow him on Twitter at @ToddMyers123 

Note: Take this short survey for a free audit of your brand’s approach to purpose driven storytelling: Free Brand Purpose Storytelling Audit

Future Of Marketing

Creativity + Technology = The Future of Marketing: Why AI Must Become the Partner to Today’s CMO

I have worked with CMOs for the last twenty years in the realm of corporate storytelling and meaningful engagement and I can tell you that there has never been a more challenging environment for marketers, or one that demands the highest levels of collaboration as responsibilities in the marketing department continue to grow.

Last week, on behalf of IBM as a member of their Futurist team, I attended MarTech, a conference dedicated to examining how technology will continue to impact the marketing function at organizations around the world. My fellow futurists and I, Joel Comm and Stan Phelps, two globally renowned marketing influencers, were blown away by the many issues and trends emerging around building the best-in-class marketing stacks of the future.

Whether it is personalization, on demand services, authenticity or removal of friction, the heat is on for marketers to figure out how to create the best customer journeys possible with an eye on defining distinction and competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Beyond all the latest and greatest technologies at the event, the other key topic to emerge was the growing need for a seamless partnership between today’s CMO and CTO, and the arrival of tomorrow’s Chief Marketing Technology Officer. In my book We-Commerce I examine how collaboration must move from mere activity to critical driver of day-to-day business strategy, and this notion could not have been more apparent at MarTech.

In the spirit of collaboration, Catrina Boisson, a Worldwide CMO Evangelist for Watson Customer Engagement and I hosted a session at the conference dedicated to exploring these issues and how creativity and technology must collaborate to imagine the future of marketing. We also took a deep dive into why AI must become the partner to today’s CMO. Below is a recap of our conversation:

Q.: I know that you are always out in the field working with clients. What are you seeing marketers focused on? What are the latest trends you are seeing?

A: You said it yourself – there has never been a more challenging time to be a marketer. And as I talk to marketing teams around the globe, there are a couple of themes that emerge. First is the way that marketers are viewed by the organization and view their own roles. I think historically marketing tended to be viewed by a lot of the organization as “arts and crafts” – creative, hard to measure, not necessarily strategic. Today, the practice of marketing is as much about science as it is about art. And that is giving us greater respect from our C-Suite colleagues, but also greater accountability (66% of CMOs say that the primary measure of their effectiveness today is ROMI, but only 33% believe that they are able to consistently measure ROMI). Second is that the rise of the empowered, omnichannel, consumer has made customer experience the new battlefield for brands. Enlightened CMOs are taking that as an opportunity to extend their reach in the organization (according to Gartner, 89% of organizations say believe that in the future they will differentiate primarily on CX ), but that too is a major area of challenge – there’s huge gap between the experience brands think they deliver/want to deliver and what their customers expect/perceive. Third is the sheer deluge of data. The marketers I speak to are struggling not just to get their arms around it, but actually do something with it (some estimate that 90% of the data organizations collect is not being effectively leveraged due to data silos).

Q: So how can Cognitive or AI help marketers overcome these challenges/succeed in this new environment?

A: I should probably start by defining what we mean by Cognitive. Cognitive systems are systems that understand – ingesting huge volumes of structured and unstructured data and making sense of them in the context of a particular industry or business problem (e.g, a segment means something very different to an oncologist versus a marketer), they reason — forming conclusions or hypotheses or recommendations with varying degrees of certainty or prioritization, and they learn – capturing what happens at every interaction and taking that into account for the next situation. It’s really very similar to what we do as humans every day. For example – pretend you are in a new city and have been tasked with choosing a restaurant for a group of colleagues. You’ll learn by asking others for recommendations, reading YELP, talking to the concierge. And you’ll also weigh what you know about your colleagues – who is vegan or hates spicy food — and you might also consider distance from your hotel or the cost against your pre diem. Based on all that data, you come up with a favorite plus a couple of alternative recommendations and present them to the team. If you go for the favorite and it turns out to be a disaster, that’s a learning that you will store for your next visit. Understand – Reason – Learn.

So, connecting that back to the challenges that marketers are facing today, Cognitive is hugely beneficial when you think about data overload because these systems can help marketers generate, not just insight, but timely, actionable insight from data that goes well beyond the traditional sources of transactional and profile data — think behavioral data, and attitudinal data, unstructured and increasingly dark data, like EMOJIs in a social feed or video content.

Q: Do you have any examples?

A: Well, one example of data that I don’t think most marketers are focused is weather. How many of you knew that IBM bought the Weather Company? And how many know why? It’s all about the data…weather impacts so much of our lives – what we wear, what we eat, whether we take a cab to the office or walk — but it is probably not the first source of data that we think about as marketers, but I have an example of a CPG company that did just that. They were advertising soup and wanted optimize the effectiveness of their online advertising. They collaborated with Watson to figure out what soup weather means to different people. What they found is that it did not have to do with absolute temperature; it was about relative temperature. So the best time to advertise soup in Los Angeles was when it was 55 degress, but in New York it was 32 degrees.

Q: How about an example of how Cognitive helps marketers address the customer experience gap?

A: Sure. North Face is a great example there. When you go into a North Face store, you have an opportunity to chat with a very knowledgeable associate who can talk you through the best jacket to buy if you are doing mountain climbing in January in Banff versus skiing in Whistler. But that is not an experience that you can easily replicate on line with a bunch of drop down boxes and filters. So North Face leveraged Watson and its natural language capabilities to help customers get to the right outwear for what they were doing and where they were doing it, when. Customers can actually talk or type their answers to a series of questions, as if they are having an actuall conversation, and get to a recommendation personalized to them and their circumstances. The click through rates on Watson’s recommendations have been impressive.

Q: I like that example, because it feels like you are blending creativity and technology together seamlessly. Would you agree that to achieve not only optimal customer experiences but also desired business outcomes, creativity must be married with technology?

A: Definitely. Data and tech are huge enablers, but at the end of the day, we still need to be able to make an emotional connection to our customer or prospect. Red Bull is a great example of how Watson and cognitive are actually enhancing the storytelling process. Red Bull used Watson’s Personality Insights to analyze the social posts and video interviews of the athletes who act as brand advocates and social influencers to help them understand how they and the Red Bull brand where being perceived by their fans. Their agency partner Havas leveraged Watson in workshops to provide specific recommendations to the athletes on style, attitude, subject, and form which helped them provide more authentic “social voices” that better connect with their fans, building up their personal brands as well as Red Bull’s results.

Note: Take this short survey for a free audit of your brand’s approach to purpose driven storytelling: Free Brand Purpose Storytelling Audit

Q: With all of the complexities of the marketplace why is collaboration between the CMO and CTO more important than ever before?

A: Before I talk specifically about the CTO and CMO, I think it’s important to just underline how important collaboration is, period. If customer experience really is the new battlefield, then collaboration is an indispensable weapon. Many organizations, and specifically marketing organizations, are guilty of doing business the way they are organized – you have the social team, and the mobile team, and the email guys….the bottom line is that if you are doing business the way you are organized, you have no chance of delivering the seamless experience your customers expect.

And back to your original question — CTOs and CMOs — I think that we, as marketers, have a tendency to race off after the latest and greatest shiny object or silver bullet, but if we are not collaborating with our CTO colleagues, then we run the risk of buying a tool that we can’t fully leverage, or creates a new silo of data, or breaks something else that is in place. When I think about the most successful conversations that we are having about martech there are at least three players involved –the visionary who is setting the organization’s strategy for marketing or customer experience, the practitioner who will be hands on keyboard feeling the pain or delight and the technologist who understands how it all fits together in the larger data and tech schema. I firmly believe that marketing should be developing the business requirements, but IT has to be involved in the selection and implementation of the technology.

Q: In the past year, offerings in the marketing stack have grown by something like 83%. Can you explain how IBM and Watson can do more for marketers than other options?

A: The first important differentiator is that our solutions have been purposely developed to play well in that very complicated martech sandbox. We know that for marketers, time to value is huge, so we have made it very easy for them to integrate and share data across systems and partners, without turning it into an IT project.

But while that is hugely beneficial, of course, the really sexy part is Watson. What we have done with our solutions is actually embed the power of cognitive into key marketing processes. Watson is not just a branding gimmick for us. When you adopt Watson Marketing Solutions, tt’s like having Watson as another member of your marketing team. It’s the perfect example of AI as ASSISTED Intelligence, not ARTIFICAL Intelligence. So what does that mean? Here are just a few examples:

1. Cognitive can scan 100s of 1000s of sessions and detect where and why customers are struggling on your website and alert you to take action

2. Cognitive can alert you to high value customers likely to churn and advise you why they may leave so you can engage them proactively in ways that will be most relevant…it can even suggest the best content/offer/communication for that specific customer or segment

3. Cognitive can optimize your programmatic ad buying by factoring in contextual attributes and won-bid placements for a campaign and evaluating thousands of scenarios in in real time

Billee Howard helps brands use storytelling as a competency that informs business strategy, culture development and growth. She also wrote WeCommerce, a book on collaboration in the new economy.

Note: This article was originally published on Billee’s Huffpost blog

Why Taking the Brand Out Of Branded Content Is So Important

AdWeek just released a fantastic story about taking the “brand out of branded content” and I couldn’t agree more.

Eight years ago I left my post as head of the Global Strategic Media practice at Weber Shandwick for several reasons. Top among them was what I saw as the future of content: brands emerging as the leading studios or content purveyors of tomorrow.

Traditional PR and marketing has rapidly evolved since then from a transactional form of push communications to an interaction driven tool of quality engagement catalyzed by compelling content. However, it has taken us until, perhaps this moment, to realize that the best content created by brands is content that informs, entertains and delights , and has less to do with the brand producing it, and more to do with the experience it generates.

According to the AdWeek piece penned by Molly DeWolf Swenson:

“If a story is moving, no one is going to care that it’s brought to you by a brand. Rather, they’re going to be happy the brand brought it to them.”

I could not have said it better myself. For too long we have been listening to the phrase that for brands “content is king,” with few delivering on the promise. As we move into an age where leading organizations will be pushed to follow in the footsteps of brands like RedBull who have emerged as much as content brands as they have titans of their respective industries, embracing the need for not just content, but quality content, will be imperative….and taking the “brand out of branded content” equally as vital.

Just as all brands were pushed to become technology companies over the last twenty years, as technology became as much about day to day business strategy as means of infrastructure, a similar paradigm shift is ensuing around content. As a result, sooner rather than later, all top companies will be pushed to become as much producers of the world’s best content, as purveyors of top shelf products and services.

As this notion continues to take root, it is vitally important to understand how to harness storytelling as a powerful business competency, as opposed to mere tool of awareness generation.

With that in mind, following are a few quick and easy rules of thumb for any brand or entrepreneur to follow with an eye toward creating content that wins, and rivals any traditional network or studio:

1) Move storytelling to the heart of the innovation process. 

Historically, storytelling and other means of marketing and communication have resided at the very end of the supply chain. Products and services were created and then pushed down to the communications team to be shared with the world. Today, storytelling and content creation must sit at the inception of the invention process and be a critical tool in the day to day business strategy arsenal.

Case in Point: RedBull is known as much as a top media house as they are a producer of energy drinks. Through their deep cultural immersion with extreme sports, and the content that drives the platform forward via the RedBull Bulletin or RedBull TV, generating quality content is a driving force behind the brand’s business strategy and consistent growth as a leading consumer products company. In fact, they are viewed as one of the top brands in the world who has reached their level of prominence through little, if any advertising, yet a huge double down on storytelling and quality content.

Note: Take this short survey for a free audit of your brand’s approach to purpose driven storytelling: Free Brand Purpose Storytelling Audit

2) Infuse your content with purpose.

The dialogue on the need for businesses to step up and be more purposeful in ways that continue to serve the world as much as the bottom-line has grown louder and more forceful in recent months, and much of that is less about pomp and circumstance and more about real need.

As the public sector continues to struggle to activate meaningful changes that will help society better deal with the transformative times we are in, the private sector is being tasked with picking up some of the slack where they can. Consequently, brands who can produce quality programming that addresses challenges before us such as better inclusion of the disenfranchised in all we do, obesity, or even environmental issues, will create meaningful connections with consumers that transcend mere transaction and become memorable interactions.

Case in Point: Apple is known as much for its inventive marketing and storytelling as it is it’s amazing technologies. The Think Different ad produced by Steve Jobs two decades ago is still among the top pieces of content produced by a brand.

Why? Because it’s less about Apple products and more about the possibilities they offer to change the world. The new Apple content series called Designed For carries this legacy forward, showcasing inclusion at its finest, and is a terrific example of this notion.

By highlighting the multitude of different people Apple products are carefully designed for with an eye on giving everyone, regardless of race, creed, age, gender or physical ability the opportunity to use technology in ways that make themselves and the world better, the company sheds as much light on its new product and services as it does the emerging cultural climate of equality that is upon us.

3) Tell stories that connect emotionally.

The best content always elicits a deeply emotional response. When you remember your favorite movies, TV shows, books or ads, it is likely you recall the emotion attached with it, as much as the story itself. For example, if you ask women of a certain age about Terms of Endearment, they will be able to tell you how hard they cried at certain points, as much as they adored Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger in their iconic roles.

Case in Point: Dick’s Sporting Goods has produced some of the most terrific content created by a brand EVER, and none of it has anything to do with the cleats, bats, balls and sports attire it makes its money on.  Starting several years ago leading up to the 2016 Olympics, Dick’s has made us laugh, cry and understand the power of champion spirit and contribution that lies at the root of sport.

Whether it was their Who Will You Be  content push encouraging a new generation to be their best, or their Why Sports Matter series that showcases the great work done in impoverished areas to activate change through sport, Dick’s has both informed and  entertained us, with a hearty dose of empathy and emotion at the core of their content, and virtually no discussion of themselves or their wares.

So what does this mean for us as marketers and entrepreneurs in the weeks and months ahead? It means we all have the opportunity to say curtains up! and action! as the age of “executive producing your brand” is clearly upon us.

Billee Howard helps brands use storytelling as a competency that informs business strategy, culture development and growth. She also wrote WeCommerce, a book on collaboration in the new economy.

Note: This post was originally published on Billee’s Forbes blog