Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Behind most successful brands there is always an interesting storey.

I love a good brand story, especially ones that go to the roots and essence of a successful brand; because these stories nearly always reveal key lessons for brand building in general. The Oakley story is a case in point.

History of Oakley from Defgrip on Vimeo.
From . From bike grips to eye-wear.
According to Wikipedia, Oakley was founded by Jim Jannard in 1975 with an initial investment of $300. The name came from his dog, Oakley, an English Setter. Oakley-the-brand began making handlebar grips during the BMX biking  and Motocross boom of the 70´s and 80´s, but not just any grip. As the video points out, right from the beginning Oakley was obsessed with design, product quality, connecting with their core users and incorporating feedback into their designs. (Eco's of the Nike brand essence?).

Protective biking goggles soon followed. 
Today Oakley produces a wide variety of sports equipment and eyewear: sunglasses, prescription glasses, sports visors, and ski goggles , as well as watches, clothing, bags, backpacks, shoes, American football and hockey eyewear, golf gear and other accessories. Oakley currently holds more than 600 patents for eyewear, materials and performance gear.

Naturally, as a front line equipment brand, Oakley has signed up many leading athletes for endorsements and collaboration. Of these the association with cycling legend Lance Armstrong was probably the most successful in taking the brand to a wider global audience, as the fame of the seven-time-consecutive Tour de France winner spread internationally. 
Lance Armstrong is also a cancer surviver and fundraising activist,  through the Lance Armstrong Foundadtion.  Launched in 1997, the LAF has raised $325 million, including sales of the yellow "Livestrong" wristbands. 
Those yellow wristbands signified a powerful human story. By including a matching yellow grip in the product design, the Oakley brand became part of both sides of the story: the yellow jersey - the, competitive, winning side and the yellow wristband - the story of resilience and human fortitude. The Oakley advertising at the time reflected this compelling chapter of the brand story in an involving, understated, tone. (Let the picture tell the story). 

Fast forward a few years and Oakley had evolved into a truly youth-fashion-icon, brand. The brand's core values (design, functionality and contemporary sheik) are carefully crafted into the advertising. (Think Apple?).

In November 2007, Oakley Inc. was acquired by the Italian Luxottica group for a reported $2.1 billion and became a part of the Luxottica eyewear brand portfolio along with Ray-Ban, Persol and Vogue.

Some brands tend to loose their luster when absorbed into a global conglomerate and their brand stories and mythology fade from contemporary consumer culture (a wordy way of saying - irrelevant). 
In 2010 thirty three Chilean miners emerged, from their 10 week ordeal in total darkness, into the glaring sunlight and global media attention. Oakley had donated sunglasses with specially selected lenses to protect them from the glare and the Oakley brand became embedded into that incredible rescue story.  
Opportunistic, crass, publicity? Or or a continuation of a great brand story? The story wins out, as an "earned-media" coup, because of its human connection that resonates with consumers at a higher level than product attributes alone can ever do (resilience and human fortitude - the "Livestrong"  yellow wristbands again). 

How to generate authentic brand stories:
Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith of the The Dragon Fly Effect, outline 3 practical ways to collect and spread brand stories. 
  • Create an internal storybank, or database of stories, where employees and even customers can write and submit stories complete with titles. (Don't forget the pictures and videos!)
  • These stories are then keyworded, so that people looking for stories can easily find them. Employees looking for stories can reach out to the authors. 
  • Nike, Apple and eBay harness stories as tools to crowdsource ideas, such as what consumers are really passionate about. They do this as a way to give employees language and initiative to tell personal stories of meaning, and to amplify and distribute brand initiatives in story form.
Feel free to comment on Oakley or your own favorite brand stories.