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Storytelling key to great advertising

Published on .

Some popular American consumer brands enmesh themselves in romantic iconography, like the sporting elegance of Ralph Lauren fashions or the rugged, open-road individualism of Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Romance doesn't play nearly as well with buyers of industrial wares, but b-to-b marketers still need to spin engaging stories around their brands unless they are content to simply push a commodity. Unlike branded products and services, commodities usually can't command a premium price in the marketplace. Stories about the attributes of a product or service—such as reliability, quality, availability, deft engineering or flawless logistics—are what business decision-makers want to hear. Let's take a look at how three iconic b-to-b marketers support their brand through the powerful storytelling medium of TV advertising. General Electric Co., which has been telling stories about its innovative prowess since the 19th century when it was known as the Edison Light Co., taps actor Hugo Weaving to reprise his role as Agent Smith from “The Matrix” to illustrate how the industrial giant is using Big Data and brilliant machines to reduce wait times in hospitals. Agent Smith moves menacingly through a hospital emergency room, noting: “I found software that intrigues me. It appears to be an agent of good.” With the audience's attention secured by the opening scene, Agent Smith delivers the unique selling proposition: “GE has wired their medical hardware with innovative software to be in many places at the same time using data to connect patients to software to nurses to the right people and machines.” Using Agent Smith, who's capable of being in many places at the same time, was inspired, further underscoring the capabilities of the GE offering and reinforcing its brand reputation for innovation. Agent Smith delivers the payoff near the end of the spot by noting that GE is helping hospitals reduce wait times, or as he puts it: “Now a waiting room is just a room.” IBM Corp. over the years has morphed from being the dominant maker of mainframe computers into a more nimble company that can deliver a raft of services. In a well-produced, 30-second spot that uses a series of quick cuts, it tells the story of how it's analyzing Big Data to help its customers make savvier decisions. Voice-over says: “Our leaders say they make the wrong decisions about a quarter of the time. So how can they be more right more often? But on a smarter planet, analytics can help predict trends down to the customer; sales down to the shelf.” At the conclusion, voice-over then asks: “So what can Big Data and analytics do for you?” Cut to a friendly-looking IBM representative who says: “That's what I'm working on. Let's build a smarter planet.” It's a concise story, well told. United Parcel Service of America in recent years has been telling the story of how it's more than just a package delivery service. It's about logistics, offering a finely tuned package of many services that can help a business run more efficiently. UPS uses a simulated chalk talk by Billy Donovan, the University of Florida men's basketball coach, to his assistant coaches and players to make the point that logistics is the name of the game. With his game face firmly in place, Donovan, one of the college game's winningest coaches, says: “OK, guys, what do you call the process of getting all the little things right?” They answer in unison: “Logistics!” With impeccable timing, a UPS delivery man steps into the room and says, “Excuse me. I'm looking for Coach Donovan.” The coach glances at the UPS man in his trademark brown uniform and says: “That's what I'm talking about.” This spot is as well-executed as a no-look pass.
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