David Altman
CEO | MarketShare Advisors International

See David’s full presentation on storytelling at Cosmoprof North America on Sunday July 13th “Storytelling: Tell Me A Story, Sell Me Your Brand”


 1. Great storytelling is about emotionally connecting, which in turn will help companies sell product.  What happens when you know you have a great product but the story needs work?

We tend to have better recall and deeper connections when information is presented in a narrative or story form.  From childhood to adulthood, storytelling is part of the human experience. Customers have grown weary of the hard sell – they want to believe that they share values and beliefs with their brands.  Talk less like a company and more like a human.  The days of B2B and B2C have been replaced by H2H (Human to Human).It has to start with the product or service – this is key to the overall business.  It’s almost impossible to tell a meaningful story without a strong platform.  On the flipside great products or services make great stories.  They go hand in hand – best to put yourself in the customer’s shoes – how can we improve their lives.

Ask yourself what makes a good story?  Talk about what they want to talk about, not what you want to tell them.  Speak from the mountaintop with clarity, conviction, simplicity and honesty.The best storytelling encompasses 4 characteristics:  immersive, interactive, integrated and initiative.  This is what makes the story authentic and meaningful.

2. How do you know when you have a great brand that is poised for success?  What is usually your time frame from beginning to end?

Bold is a brand requisite and vague is a liability. Best brands are authentic, clear, simple, differentiated, remarkable and for the most part don’t compete on price alone. Compete and win on innovation (Apple), speed to market (H&M), simplicity (Uber), sustainability (L’Oreal), storytelling (Shinola), service (Nordstrom) or necessity (freshdirect).

Be outwardly focused – be critical of yourself and praise others. Most of us tend to be critical of the competition; we can learn and improve by doing just the opposite.There’s no real time table – it can happen overnight, it can take longer. Regardless of the timing it’s got to be authentic and natural in its progression. It can’t be forced – today’s customer can smell fake. They know what’s real; they know when they’re being fooled.

3. Best in class brands have a story that is the foundation of a strong marketing strategy. What other important factors would you advise brands to pursue?

Sustainability is not just for small brands and it’s not an either or between sustainability and profitability.  Global brands including L’Oreal and Unilever have sustainability firmly entrenched in their brand DNA.  They believe and have proved that there is a correlation between “doing well” and “doing good”.  Have it run deep in the company culture – not just a patina that’s whitewashed on the exterior and part of the marketing slogan.

It’s been said that if the last 10 years of shopping were about Search, the next 10 years can be about Discovery.  Grown weary of the endless aisle, we are now excited about the thrill of the hunt and discovery.  Bring forward goods and services that we didn’t know we wanted.  Remember the art of retail – it’s about wonder, excitement, discovery and imagination.  Big Data is important tool for anyone analyzing a business, but it’s no silver bullet or replacement for the intangible art of retail.

Cultivate trust through transparency – we will follow you if we trust you.  We will trust you if we know the truth.  Whether it is sourcing, ethics, values, pricing there’s no hiding the truth. Failing fast and failing forward, although painful at the time, can lead to success.  Get out in the marketplace with a minimally viable product (MVP), test & learn to gain insight and refine all elements of your brand and your story.

4. What are some ways brands can get consumers to experience their story?

 Connect & co-create with consumers in today’s collaborative marketplace.  The days of brand management are over – we’ve moved into a world of brand stewardship.  As leaders we should open up our brand, allow the consumer to play an active role in the development and evolution of our brands.  They will happily become part of the process with brands they’re passionate about – welcome the involvement, cherish the relationship and amplify their voice.

Follow the customer.  Be where they are.  Gone are the days of distinct channels of distribution.  Wherever your customer is, you should be there too.  Find out what’s important to them and invest accordingly.  Think about your distribution and communication strategies in new ways – pop-up shops, Instagram, vending machines – all viable in today’s marketplace. Think about digital in a broader way.  The consumer journey originates online today – digital is more than just a cash register, it’s the hub of your brand and should be treated as such.  We’ve seen the rise of the Chief Digital Officer that sits at the right hand of the CEO, manages all things digital and drives innovation across the enterprise.

5. What is your advice to start-ups on the topics of storytelling & engagement?

 Customer’s needs are situational as well as contextual – they have different needs at different times.  Best brands are focused on uncovering what their customers are looking for and providing the goods and/or services in personalized way that will best fit the situation and the context at that moment in time.

It’s paramount at the start to have crystal clear vision about who or what you want the brand to be – what are you going to be better at than anyone else and then be better at it than anybody else.  Seek clarity and alignment at your “Best at”, “Win at” and “Play at”.  Next think about where do you want to play – what channels, what geographies, and what media.  Once you have that figured out then identify what do you need to do to get there – what infrastructure, what people, what tools, what capital?


About David Altman:

Where transformation, digital & customer experience intersect, David Altman is respected for his expertise at multi-billion 
dollar global brands: Bath & Body Works, Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus and Victoria’s Secret. Through cultural and 
functional transformations he guides clients to superior long-term performance by doing well by doing good. In his 
words, “OneCustomer · OneRelationship · OneStrategy · OneLine℠

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