Are you a follower or a fan? How storytelling can create deep-connect with brands

What happens when in the new year’s week, you get an attractive piece of communication that talks to one of our favorite new year resolutions like getting fit?  Even better, what do you do when someone talks to those of us who are passionate about an outdoor sport about things you can do to enjoy your sport more during the year? The answer is a no brainer! 

Albeit, two different business models, two French companies Decathlon and GoSports have been redefining the market in this country… traditionally not very well known for its fitness and sporting traditions at the household level. While both are about sports gear, GoSports also sells top brands, while Decathlon has carved out its own niche where it has been giving the likes of Nike and Adidas a run for their money. The one thing that is common between the two is about “inspiring” everyone to play a sport.

What makes them tick? Why is there an ever-growing fan following? I am not talking about a smart one-off brand campaign timed very well. The idea here is to look at how in India, we are witnessing some amazing examples of brand building that is based on creating a whole new culture of sports and fitness. 

So far, the market was being led by brands that were more ‘lifestyle’ oriented, based on being fashionable, celebrity-centric and pricey. But now the paradigm seems to be shifting with those who offer fantastic quality, great affordability and of course attractive designs. Sporting gear is now becoming more accessible & more democratic, making it possible for literally everyone to pursue their outdoor passion or to develop one. 

At this stage, allow me to nail down a premise. I tend to believe that words like perception or image that are so intrinsically woven into our lingo while talking about brands are stepping-stones to a great Reputation. Simply put, perception building intrigues customers and gets them to follow, while Reputation is a value that makes them stick as fans. It is a qualitative shift that happens as the brand commits to live by the culture that it propagates – day in and day out. When that happens, the journey throws up many stories of successes and failures, examples of passion and challenges that are real and touching. Defined by a purpose, such stories become the ones that resonate with the audiences effortlessly. Crafted well, these stories become the fulcrum of communications and eventually marketing – Human/Cause/Social impact, whatever we might like to call it.        

What impresses about these two brands, particularly the senior player in the market Decathlon, is how such stories are being told by customers, sportsmen, employees, partners, storekeepers – all about their experiences with the brand. The other player, GoSports can be seen to be contributing to the national agenda of encouraging and celebrating sportsmen in the country through the GoSport Foundation -a non-profit venture working towards the development of some of India’s top talents in Olympic and Paralympic disciplines, through their athlete scholarships and knowledge building programmes. 

So how does great storytelling help these brands make fans out of their customers and employees at the very least? How do they transcend the agenda of mere product sales to standing for a purpose where sports equipment is something that customers will go for anyway. Here is an example of how customers and employees tell their own story – the Decathlon Anthem. Here is another example of how mothers and children, landlords and business heads talk about their Decathlon experience with pride and panache.

On the other hand, the GoSports story is about making India’s dreams come true as a force in the international sports arena. But does that mean, its only for those career sportspeople such as this example here? The answer can be found in the company’s efforts to promote cycling or trekking trails for people like you and me…the non – career hobby sports enthusiasts. Again, told from the perspective of real people, sports and fitness becomes a possibility in everyone’s lives! Add to that a dash of pride in nurturing India’s sporting talent to world class competitors…what can be a better message for a sporting gear company? 

Brands like Patagonia and North Face have set the gold standards when it comes to outdoor brands with cult following, built through carefully calibrated and inspired storytelling. But making it happen in India, in my view, is hugely more challenging as we see these brands build their reputation, based on stories that Encourage, Inspire and ring true to an increasingly growing set of audiences, who do not hesitate to call themselves followers and fans!   

Devdarshan Chakrabortyy
Founder at Strongkofee
Founder at Strongkofee Leadership Communications
Dev has spent nearly 27 years in advising corporates on their communication and brand strategies and working with CEOs and business leaders in the area of communication skills development. He has worked with some of India's largest advertising and PR firms such as Ogilvy & Mather, Perfect Relations and Mudra in leadership roles and across various sectors.
A communications strategist and storyteller, Dev also leads the business storytelling and leadership communications coaching practice in Strongkofee. An alumnus of the Indian Institute of Mass Communications, New Delhi, he is a speaker and part-time faculty with leading management schools and a mentor for startups in solving their brand and marketing coms challenges.

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