A Lesson in Branding from General Mills

branding content

Whether you are an old stalwart of content marketing strategy or new to the game, you probably know this: storytelling is massively impactful in building and establishing your brand.

Here is what usually happens. A company hires a writer or a strategist or implements the process in-house. They create a narrative with a sexy mystique or a fun story that fashions the voice of the brand.

Here’s a nice little brand story that I like to use as an example. MVMT Watches. They have a link on their page with a button that says “Our Story.”After clicking that link, you can read about how Jake and Kramer, two college kids, got together to make a watch company. Here’s that story, directly from their website:

“In 2013, two watch enthusiasts (Jake Kassan & Kramer LaPlante) dropped out of college with the dream of reinventing the watch industry. Tired of big brand markups, the duo set out to create a direct to consumer model. Due to enormous fan support, we became the second highest crowd-funded fashion brand in 2013. Through the amazing engagement of our fans we have established a growing community on social media amassing 1.5 million followers.”

Pretty good, right? Instead of just saying “MVMT watches have cut out the middle-man to provide high quality time pieces at affordable price points” they have put faces on the plate. Hey, it’s Jake and Kramer! They have a hip startup story. They have a nice website design and a solid and viable model. That’s some good brand-based storytelling settled nicely within a forward thinking structure.

It’s not easy to do that but here is where a lot of brands fall short: they create a lovely origin narrative and then they stop creating stories and start focusing on shooting content to different levels of the funnel that they haven’t earned access to yet. (I’m not saying MVMT does this. I just used them as an example for a great origin concept.)

So how does a company continue to tell great stories to keep prospects engaged while moving them deeper into the buyer’s journey? They don’t do it by reinventing the origin narrative. That is something that should be written in stone and adhered to.

There is a way to continue to generate memorable storytelling that mashes with a company’s brand and mission while still driving momentum-based engagement. And it’s not a magic trick. It’s simply a matter of ingredients and a recipe.

And the secret sauce? Create stories about your campaigns.

One only needs to check out a recent viral ad campaign brought to us by Honey Nut Cheerios.

Don’t act like you don’t know what those are.

Recently, Honey Nut Cheerios launched a new content marketing campaign that tells a delightful story. And the story isn’t based around the brand…it’s based around the campaign.

We all know the brand story about Honey Nut Cheerios, don’t we? They are made by a company called General Mills, which was started back in WWII because General Mills wanted to create more tasty and healthy breakfast foods for his soldiers.

I’m kidding. I highly doubt that is the General Mills story. But you are still reading this, right? I have to do what I can to keep you hooked in for the big payoff coming up.

Let me just give you the high concept of how viral this recent Honey Nut Cheerios campaign is. I didn’t go find this story. It showed up as a news alert on my phone from CNN. That is like ninja-level viral. It found me.

You probably saw the story too. I’m not going to go on a rant about how click-baity everyone, including CNN, has become. But still, their headline was pretty click-baity. It was something like “See Why Honey Nut Cheerios has Pulled Their Mascot.”

When I saw this I immediately thought “Oh no. What has Buzz the Bee done? Did he pose for pictures in questionable attire?” I hate clickbait and the main reason I hate it is because it still works. Yes, I clicked on the link out of curiosity. Thankfully, instead of a buzz kill, I was led into a well structured ad campaign.

Here’s the actual “story”…

“Buzz is missing because there’s something serious going on with the world’s bees,” read a statement on a Cheerios website dedicated to the issue. “Bee populations everywhere have been declining at an alarming rate, and that includes honeybees like Buzz.” In partnership with Veseys Seeds, Cheerios launched the #bringbackthebees campaign hoping to spread 100 million wildflower seeds around the United States in an effort to reconstitute collapsing bee colonies.”

That’s brilliant. As SMBs and tech startups, I get that we don’t have the same resources as the good old General and his family may have in their upstairs attic coffers but we can observe and then capitalize on what they did. We can incorporate the general (sorry!) concepts and apply a tenet that not a lot of content marketers are aware of: corporate dollars can be efficaciously replaced with ingenuity.

Let’s look at the ingredients of General Mills’ campaign and see if we can re-create the same level of kick-ass storytelling. (Spoiler alert: yes we can.)

Topicality: Somebody at General Mills realized that there is a lot of buzz going on about the sustainability of bumblebees. That ties into conservation issues which, not to get political, are a hot button right now. Not sure who that “somebody” is in the GM company, but they had one of those eureka moments and realized: “Wait. This bumblebee thing is getting pretty big. And we HAVE one of those!” A topic popped up that tied in with the brand.

Story: The topic is hot and ready to work with. Now it’s time to create a story that is symbiotic with both the brand and the theme. When these two components are well blended, then the result can be as comforting as a nutritious bowl of cereal on a harsh morning at a WWII battleground on a blustery day.

Implementation: This is where it all comes together. After a brand-friendly hot take has been discovered, and a well written story is created that ties the topic and the brand together, it’s time to implement a call to action that can be tracked and monetized. General Mills is incorporating wildflower seeds (and probably no shortage of big ad buys). For an SMB or a startup, remember how we can replace dollars with ingenuity? Well a hashtag program with discounts on Twitter can be a viable solution. A take-a-pic-and-share Instagram or Snapchat routine can work. You could even go old school and wrap your campaign into an email list building/sign up model.

At the end of the day, there are some suasive push-button archetypes that can be forged into your content marketing efforts by replicating the antics of Buzz the Bee and his cereal General:

Always be telling stories that align with your brand. It’s not over after the about page has been published.

Create a CTA that not only drives engagement and action, but is also so much fun that your customers share it with their friends and family.

And finally and probably most importantly…

Leverage social consciousness and topical awareness to make the campaign rise above the brand to be about something much larger.