Humans love stories. They are how we shape our views of the world and transmit culture. And we know by now that every brand needs a story. But it also stands to reason that a story requires an author, otherwise we don’t know who’s talking to us.
Some brands take this to its logical and beautiful extension by telling us an origin story that has authenticity and meaning. One of my favourite places to buy Christmas presents is L’Occitane en Provence, which started as a small boutique selling hand soap in Voix, a village in Provence. The founder and owner of the store, Olivier Boussan, who was in his twenties at the time, found a ‘steam distillation’ process to extract essential oils from lavender and rosemary, and sold them first at local markets, then at his store. It has now grown into an empire that consists of over a thousand stores in 90 countries. Absolutely astounding. And in each of these stores, you’ll find a poster or brochure of Olivier holding that original bar of soap. Provenance. Meaning. Authenticity.
The recent American success story of Vineyard Vines is another great example. In the late 90s, two New England preppie brothers, Shep and Ian, quit their boring mid-level corporate jobs and decided to spend a summer in Martha’s Vineyard. Their uncle, who was an entrepreneur, encouraged them to start a business and learn how to sell, so they commissioned some brightly coloured, patterned silk ties and sold them on the beach to tourists. On the first day, to their great surprise, they sold over 300 ties. This soon led to opening up their first store, which tanked. But with the first lessons firmly in place they opened another store successfully, and now boast 55 stores and counting in the U.S., with rapid expansion into the South and soon southern California. Their ultra preppie ties, shirts and jackets are a hit on Wall Street, where people are dressing down and finding the upbeat “New England resort” feel of VV very appealing. Their Instagram following is massive, and prominently features Shep and Ian even to this day.
Anonymous, faceless brands are hard to trust. And they are quickly becoming a thing of the past. We want to know who we’re buying from, and who is making the claims and telling us the stories. Even if there isn’t an origin story as clear and original as that of Olivier or Shep/Ian, we want to know that there are real people telling and selling. Smart brands are, on various channels such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and even in traditional advertising channels, remembering to give us a real ‘author’ for the communication, not just an institution or a logo.