Passion + Purpose: Storytelling in the Digital Age

At Serious Business in New Orleans this January, Passion Squared’s Nina Kovner told hairdressers to brand themselves by creating powerful stories.

Nina Kovner, chief awesomeness empowerer at Passion Squared, is a quirky, larger-than-life personality with a passion for supporting creative small businesses. She spent many years as vice president of marketing at John Paul Mitchell Systems and was one of only two hairdressers to attend the UCLA Anderson School of Management Executive Program. Her executive experience in marketing combined with her training as a hairdresser gives Kovner a unique perspective on branding beauty businesses. Conference attendees packed into the large classroom where Kovner presented Passion+Purpose: Storytelling in the Digital Age, which focused on how successful businesses like Starbucks and Zappos create compelling stories about their brands that engage and inspire consumers.

So what does passion have to do with marketing? Well, as it turns out, almost everything. Kovner says it creates a vibrant business culture that engages consumers and employees. One way to get consumers to connect to your business is by generating excitement about your company and its products. Take Apple, for example. Steve Jobs, says Kovner, was a master at creating stories about Apple products, and people responded to them. “Think different” was the slogan that put Apple on the map. The campaign, which was so popular that it ran from 1997 to 2002, reflected the core values of the company. In an interview for PBS in 1994, Jobs explained that while most of us grow up being told that we’ve got to accept the world the way it is, he saw things differently. “Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is—everything around you that you call life—was made up by people that were no smarter than you,” he said. “And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.”

According to Kovner, there are several key components to a passionate business. The first is the look and feel of the product. It’s important to think about how a product’s image reflects the mission statement of a company. More specifically, what story is the brand telling? Kovner argues that service plus meaning equals a brand, but service minus meaning equals a commodity. Putting this into a beauty business context, she offered this example: Let’s say that you have two salons offering haircuts. Both services are similarly priced, and both salons are in a similar location. So what makes someone choose one salon over the other? The answer is simple: branding.

One of Kovner’s slides included this quote from Simon Sinek, an author who writes about leadership: “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” Companies like Zappos, Southwest Airlines, Apple and Starbucks, says Kovner, understand this idea. For example, Starbucks’ brand is about experience plus community. Their mission is “to inspire and nurture the human spirit.” What does that have to do with coffee? It’s true that Starbucks’ commodity is coffee, and Kovner believes it’s also important to create high-quality products, but that’s not why Starbucks has become a global phenomenon. It has achieved this status because of its branding, because of the stories it tells about its product.

At the end of her presentation, Kovner asked attendees to answer the following questions: Why would someone choose your brand, why should I choose your brand, what does your brand stand for, what is your brand passionate about? All of these questions, Kovner asserts, will help business owners clarify why they do what they do instead of focusing on the commodity that they sell. ✂ — Erin Munsch

Photography: Hairbrained.me

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