Once Upon A Time…

The idea that any good brand story should have a beginning, a middle and no end, is not a new one. In fact, the return of the ‘story’ has been a strong play in the wine world of late, from generic country brand positioning through to keynote speeches to MWs from advertising legend, John Hegarty.

The trouble is, not everyone can spot what a good brand story is, and, at times, that also includes the consumer. Equally, and even when given the opportunity, not every brand owner convincingly understands what is most compelling about her estate.

Few wineries will ever have the advertising or media muscle to dominate the consumer conscious in the way that either mass market staples or high profile luxury brands can. The simple faith in a true story well told is an effective enterprise, and one that in a world of social media extension, can quickly gather momentum and generate profile.

However, there does now seem to be a risk that every winery dog, cellar-door hand or oddly-shaped root vegetable is currently auditioning for ‘story content’ in a contrived attempt to introduce narrative that wouldn’t be out of place in the early rounds of Australia’s Got Talent. The fact of the matter is, if you are looking that hard for your true story, it probably isn’t really there at all.

My favourite brand story is not the definitive account of a person, place or experience, but rather an ‘episode’ about the recording of a live album – Keith Jarrett’s Koln Concert. Jarrett, a brilliant but often mercurial musician, arrived in the city for the sound check, feeling ill, truculent and not at all happy with the piano that had been supplied for his performance.

What transpired was one of the greatest pieces of improvised music of any genre, as Jarrett riffed for two hours, steadfastly ignoring the lower and upper register of the piano, and concentrating his focus on the middle keys. His whoops and hollers of excitement are captured on the recording, and add to the authenticity of the rendition, making it truly sound like a spontaneous conversation that you – the listener – can repeatedly hear for the ‘first time’, without losing any of the anticipated excitement of a unique, one-off performance .

It strikes me that in this improvised journey – quite literally, without an obvious beginning, middle or end –  lies a more honest account of how we should seek to create authenticity, credibility and engagement around our brands. A true story is a wonderful place to start, but sometimes it is the gradual realisation of what it takes to deliver that story – the endeavour, rather than the original inspiration – that is the compelling hook.

In short, the real brand story should be in the ‘telling’, not in the narrative or content.


About Paul Henry

Paul Henry: founder and principal strategist at winehero consulting ltd; 2010 WCA International Wine Communicator of the Year; 2007 Len Evans Tutorial Brokenwood Scholar.
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5 Responses to Once Upon A Time…

  1. Ric says:

    I think we sometimes forget that the best stories (particularly “true” ones) aren’t MADE … they happen. They don’t have neat and tidy delineations, they are serendipitous, and they’re REAL. That’s very difficult to emulate with a PR or advertising campaign (although those things can and should take full advantage of the story, those things aren’t the story, they are part of the way it gets told).

    And staying with the music theme for good stories – did you see this video of Paul Simon inviting a fan up to play with him, when she said she’d learned to play the guitar on the song “Duncan”? : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXBlY5CImUU

    • Paul Henry says:

      Hi Ric,

      Thanks for the visit. Your comments around authenticity and truth are well observed. I also enjoyed the Paul Simon excerpt – really humbling to see quite how overwhelmed (check out the uncontrollably shaking hands) the fan was. Great generosity and spontaneity. As you would say, ‘REAL’.


  2. Tim Kirk says:

    Nice one Paul.
    Keith Jarret’s Koln concert is one of my absolute favourite pieces of music. I still find it moving even after hearing it so many times. I hadn’t heard that back story. Even better!

    • Paul Henry says:

      Excellent, Tim – glad you enjoyed the thought. Jarrett’s concert attests to the fact that sometimes instinct, improvisation and a certain faith is better than strategy, learning and practice. Building a whole piece around the piano’s middle keys was a spontaneous response to a challenge that he felt would otherwise compromise him too much. As a musical performance it is extraordinary and breathtaking. As a metaphor, it is a monument to possibility, and the witness of an artist playing from the inside out.

      Thank you so much for visiting! ph

  3. Dudley says:

    New story to one of my oldest most favorite recordings. Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a metaphor?

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