Georgia-Pacific’s CMO explains how his ‘not big’ and ‘definitely not cool’ company has driven growth through storytelling

ANA Masters of Marketing

During a talk at the ANA Masters of Marketing Conference in Orlando, Georgia-Pacific’s chief marketing officer Douwe Bergsma explained how the company’s focus on storytelling has helped its portfolio of brands, which include Brawny, Angel Soft and Dixie, experience strong growth over the past two years.

About two years ago, the paper products company began to get serious about its storytelling capabilities when it hired Droga5, Cutwater, Deutsch and The Martin Agency to work on its brands. Since then, the company has moved away from product marketing to focus more on brand building efforts, which has resulted in campaigns like Dixie’s ‘Be More Here’ initiative – which encourages people to enjoy meals with friends & family without the distraction of texts, apps and calls – and a series of Angel Soft videos that celebrate unconventional families.

According to Bergsma, this approach is part of Georgia-Pacific’s strategy to “stand out with less” in today’s increasingly cluttered marketing environment. According to Bergsma, the company has not increased its marketing investments over the past two years and has actually decreased its marketing resources.

“For us the challenge was, ‘how in the land of more do we stand out with less?’ Cause on the one hand, we’re up against private label, and they have more influence over the in-store positioning. And on the other hand, we compete with great companies like Kimberly-Clark and Procter & Gamble, and they have more resources and more investments.”

To achieve this, the company and its agencies have focused their efforts on becoming what Bergsma calls “story orchestrators.” According to Bergsma, story orchestrators don’t just tell stories for a brand – they also establish a “story framework” that holds that brand’s human truth, purpose and conflict.

Bergsma explained that a brand’s human truth is what it believes in and its purpose is to bring that belief to life. And since every good story has a conflict, Bergsma said it is vital for brands to figure out what their conflict is, or else there won’t be a story to tell.

“Beneath the water, the part that the audience and consumer does not see, is story framework. And the story framework is the part that gives you the meaning of your story and provides you with the tools. And nowadays, story framework is becoming more and more important. We had to learn to embrace conflict, because the conflict is the engine of the story,” he said.

He used to example of Brawny to show the audience how this approach played out in a recent campaign for the paper towel brand. In partnership with San Francisco agency Cutwater, Georgia-Pacific determined that Brawny’s “human truth” is manifested in one of Theodore Roosevelt’s iconic quotes, “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far,” with its purpose being to “inspire people to overcome life’s challenges with strength and resilience.” The agency brought Brawny’s “tough vs. gentle” conflict to life through a campaign called “Stay Giant” that launched last year and features the brand’s iconic Brawny Man as a sort of “gentle giant” character who encourages people to be resilient in the face of life’s struggles.

The brand extended the narrative to International Women’s Day this year by shining a spotlight on “strong and resilient women who are fostering female leadership and advancement.” The campaign featured women who have excelled in traditionally male-dominated fields, including Linda Alvarado, a commercial general contractor and the first Latino owner of a Major League Baseball team.

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