MANILA – December 2, 2013 – Twelve years ago, Maarten Schafer and Anouk Pappers met in a bar in Amsterdam. Talking about how they would spend their lives, Schafer said, "We were born and we’re gonna die, and let’s do something fun in between, and something relevant."
When Pappers made the suggestion to travel the world to meet people and brands, Schafer added, "Why don’t we travel the world, meet people with a vision and brands with a purpose and share the stories to inspire other people? In this sense, we have a purpose ourselves."
This led to CoolBrands NextWorld Storytelling, a storytelling project, in which the team spreads stories around the world via a network of influencers. They also work with curators, who are able to identify people the team should meet as well as cool stories that are relevant.
Since that conversation 12 years ago, the two have built a network of 25,000 opinion leaders and influencers worldwide, through which they share the stories they have found. The team recently visited Manila in an expedition that is taking them to Dubai, Mumbai, Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul, Tokyo, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Amsterdam, London, Paris, Sao Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro.
Pappers described their work as third party storytelling, in which they listen to a brand’s story and tell it from their perspective. "The idea behind it is that if I tell you a story, peer to peer on a horizontal level, it’s much more credible than when a brand tells us a story top down. In these times, we don’t really trust brand or top down communication anymore," she said.
Pappers added that through their work, they try to make brands realize and experience how storytelling can add value to their brand. "Because in this time of information overload, people are not looking for information. They want to have stories that they can relate to," she said.
CoolBrands also gives workshops to companies to help people think differently about communication in the workplace. "What usually happens is that when we are sitting in days and we overlook the story-telling. And as soon as you go into our office, we suddenly, we start transmitting information," she said.
Pappers added that stories are easy to understand, remember, and repeat. "This is how our stories work. It can influence our emotions and our behavior in long term," she said, adding that from a brand perspective, employees are the most important brand ambassadors. "You have to make sure that your employees know how to tell a story of your brand," she said.
As an anthropologist, Pappers shared that she has always been intrigued by brands. "We believe that brands or companies can really make a difference. And consumers can influence companies. It’s a fascinating world," said Pappers, who shared a story about GE, which integrated the triple bottom line – people, client, profit – into their core business.
Meanwhile, Schafer shared a story about Osklen in Brazil, where fish-skin is used for shoes and clothes. "First they start using waste material which was meant to be thrown away. Second, they will provide an extra income to the fishermen, and the good thing is that people from other fashion brands read this story and also wanted to use these materials. It’s a good example that inspires other fashion brands," he said.
According to Pappers, the biggest challenge is finding the wow-factor in the story. "People look from the inside which makes it hard to see what makes them different. We look with an external view to the brand, and ask the right questions to find the wow-factor," she said.
Schafer added that another challenge is that people are not used to storytelling. "The moment we started talking to business owners, or CEO’s and CMO’s, they understand story-telling. In lower levels, they think they should do corporate communication," he said.
Schafer added that what they look for is a brand’s purpose, as a brand that exists only to create shareholder value will not survive. "We think a brand should always have a purpose in consumers’ lives and create stakeholder value. Even if a brand is just providing jobs to people, is already something good. But there must be something more," he said.
For more information, visit the Around The World in 80 Brands website.