Bellroy and Beardman: Going from Story to Campaign

It’s all well and good to have our brand story lined out, but how do we then take that to market? How do we translate the brand narrative into an ongoing marketing operation? First, let’s acknowledge where most of us are starting. This isn’t our first rodeo. We’re already doing something in marketing, however small–even if it’s just a newsletter. But in fact, it might contain some highly valuable seeds that we don’t want to lose. In that case, we’re not necessarily replacing it–we’re augmenting it with our story. Here’s how that process might work:

Launching our First/Core Campaign

We’ve got to start somewhere, and the following type of campaign can form the core/baseline of our marketing–one of the first campaigns we’ll run with, while we’re building out our website, stocking up on assets, and refining our brand narrative. It’s an excellent place to begin, and we may run it for life.

Perhaps we start with a recurring cycle of email types sent to our mailing list:

  • Week 1: case study or success story about a client or constituent
  • Week 2: roundup of news–what’s happening with us internally (including that latest award or media mention)
  • Week 3: a thought piece (maybe with a video as illustration)
  • Week 4: a CTA–a specific call to action backed by a compelling case.

This campaign doesn’t depend yet on a particular brand story. When we develop one, that will inform and modify it. But this is simple enough that we can run it indefinitely, as long as we’ve got a functioning business or non-profit.

Ideally, we don’t stop there. Assuming we’ve got our brand narrative firm, our base messaging live, and have accumulated a stockpile or library of good assets, we’re ready to augment our roadmap with topical campaigns.

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Advancing to Topical Campaigns

The advantage of topical campaigns is repetition. In the Star Wars movies, the imperial death march and the Jedi theme are excerpted to recur again and again, in small increments, constantly emphasizing the battle between light and darkness. The jingle or phrase that sticks in our head, or the point that keeps being made so often that it blends with our own thoughts–those are the product of topical campaigns. In music, it’s called a leitmotif.

Let’s re-think that email campaign as if it were a topical campaign implemented across multiple channels. We need a concept. It has to be something better than “the need to be healthy” or “lower interest rates”. That stuff reflects an absence of brand story backing the ideas.

We Need a Brand Story Example

Here are several:

  • Beardman – the beardman’s uprising. Lead the charge against smooth, start a rebellion of beards, and change society–reconfiguring its definitions of manhood, individual personality, and self-expression.
  • Warby Parker – rebel against eyewear giants. Put a stop to artificial pricing, walk right past those annoying mall stores, and for goodness’ sake wear something cooler than those frames in all the optometrist windows.
  • Bellroy – a slimmer wallet. Bulk is killing us. Slimmer is smarter. Minimalist design and traveling light equals a better lifestyle. Ditch the man-purse.

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Thanks to ReferralCandy for this roundup of some of my favorites.

Our own brand story will evolve. It’s always an experiment, but each iteration also requires a degree of commitment. We won’t be changing it often and, when we do, it means also overhauling our campaigns. So let’s assume we’ve got a core story.

Now We Need a Campaign Example:

Let’s base it on the Beardman brand story. As a bearded man myself, I am particularly partial to their message. Brainstorming: Does a beard define me, or do I define the beard? How do other people respond to it (Damn, that’s long! It’s multi-colored! Is that a goatee or something else? Pats on the back–great beard!)? Beards as symbols (The wisdom of the bearded man. What’s the bearded man thinking?).

OK, so I’ve got some baseline ideas. Here are some campaigns I might run:

Campaign 1: Lifestyles of a Bearded Man. Habits: instead of shaving in the morning, this is what we do (beard oils, beard shampoo, beard grooming…). The bearded edge–sexiness, more self-confidence. We can reprise this idea continually in our marketing.

Campaign 2: Ask the Beardman. Stalemate in the meeting–let’s ask the bearded man! Need a tiebreaker–who do we know with a beard? Climbing the mountain to ask a question-what? The man has no beard?!? We can riff on this over and over again. One more…

Campaign 3: Don’t Quash Yourself. Are you truly yourself if you’re hiding, eliminating your stubble? Don’t quash the beard! Bearded men hang gliding, jet-skiing, zip lining down a mountain! Be fully expressed–in all your life. The beard is a symbol of that.

So Let’s Implement our Campaign:

We’ll probably have more campaign ideas than we can possibly run at once. Put some in the hopper. Implement 1-4 of them, depending on the type of organization, the number of practical marketing channels, the intended reach of the campaigns, and how much our audience can handle at one time.

We can pick just one for our example–or all three. Let’s do both:

One at a time: We’ll go with Lifestyles of a Bearded Man

  • Week 1: profile a famous bearded person (Henry Cavill, Claude Monet, Jeffrey Dean Morgan of Walking Dead, Ben Affleck, Sophocles, Karl Marx, Nixon’s Beard)
  • Week 2: an anecdote story from a bearded everyman (“So there I was in a hotel bar…”)
  • Week 3: a news roundup of only bearded news ()
  • Week 4: a how-to with CTA (best beard oils, how to groom a goatee, easiest beards to maintain, best beard type for your face, should you braid? can you pull off a Garibaldi?)
  • Week 5: featured beards (the ducktail beard, Van Dyke, imperial, Dutch beard, etc.)

All at a time:

  • Week 1: Lifestyles of a Bearded Man (pick any of the above)
  • Week 2: Ask the Beardman (a story–fictional or real–about the wisdom of bearded men)
  • Week 3: Don’t Quash Yourself (an adventure advocacy piece, that rolls in beardedness – taking on K2 with a full beard, hiking the Kalalau trail without a razor, and so on)

Instead of these representing just an email list, however, this can be the focus in all our marketing channels: e.g. email, social media, blog, and ad campaigns. Once we have a unified theme for deployment, it’s a lot easier to put together a very simple marketing calendar and know what we’re looking for in time for deployment. We don’t have to be rigid, either. Don’t have anything for Week 2? Fine, switch it out for Week 3, and so on. Repetition is fine–it’s the point–just not exact repetition. That ad we just did with the bearded man rock climbing? Let’s use the same slogan, but this time he’s about to parachute over a volcano! It doesn’t have to be weekly, either–that’s just a convention. Ads are going to run on a longer schedule than say social posts, which are single-use.

Stockpiling our Marketing Assets

“We’ve just gotten a media hit, how do we promote it?” “We just made a video, what do we do with it?” The normal answer involves posting it to various places–social media, our blog, letting our email list know. There’s nothing wrong with that stuff, but it’s not the most strategic way to take assets to market.

A more strategic approach is to first: develop our core story, second: riff on that story to develop campaigns, and third: then use assets (links to articles, videos, etc) as part of THOSE ongoing campaigns, where the assets fit them and make sense.

Often the best answer to the cart arriving before the horse is to wait for the horse. There’s no rush to do anything with it. Our newest award may be burning a hole in our pocket but it isn’t going to ‘expire’ if we don’t blast it out right away. If we’ve already got a running campaign with a core concept behind it that the asset serves, great. If not, store the asset–it usually won’t go stale. Use it when it applies, so we haven’t used it up on a one-hit “look at this” post or a “patting ourselves on the back” email.

The exception is when we’ve got a news and pats-on-the back campaign already running. If that’s part of our initial/core campaign (e.g. the company news roundup in the first example we gave, or even just our default “newsletter”), then we’ve already got a place to add that stuff. Campaigns don’t have to be topical (a “push ’til it hurts” campaign or a “climb the bigger hill” campaign). But without some kind of campaign, the asset is wasted on a one-off.

Assuming we ARE running topical campaigns, the asset either fits or may need to be stored for a future campaign, or it doesn’t integrate well anywhere, in which case sure maybe post it to social but we don’t have to actually use it right now. Save it until the need arises. Not everything has to be pushed out to the public. We want proactive, not reactive campaigns.

Trusting the Process

Going through this process: initial campaigns, nailing down the brand story, crafting and selecting campaigns, and then implementing those campaigns is going to be met with successes and failures. Stay in it for the long game. We can’t get an audience ‘hell yeah’ every time. That doesn’t mean we need to start over and rethink the entire meme or process. We need a long enough run to get real data on campaigns and see what causes the audience to engage. Our first experiments may well flop. That doesn’t necessarily mean the story is wrong. It means we’ve ruled out some versions of the telling of it, and we need to keep coming up with those ideas.

MadPipe leads this process for brands that want to find and/or tell their story. Reach out, and we’ll help.

Daniel DiGriz

Daniel DiGriz is a corporate storyteller and Digital Ecologist® at MadPipe, which provides leadership in marketing, educational programs, and organizational transformation for brands that want a stronger connection with their audience. A Digital Ecologist® applies strategic principles from both natural and digital ecologies to help organizations thrive across multiple ecosystems. Daniel hosts podcasts, writes a Forbes column, speaks at conferences, and his ideas have appeared in Inc, SmartBlog, MediaPost, and Success Magazine.

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About once/month, Corporate Storyteller and Digital Ecologist® Daniel DiGriz weaves together interesting stories around organizational transformation, education, and marketing.

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