Home Depot Documentary Exemplifies Authentic Storytelling About Values
Brand stories often focus on customers and clients. They also can show employees putting an organization’s brand values into action.
A brand journalism blog by Ragan Communications highlights a 17-minute, professionally produced mini-documentary titled Hope Builds that celebrates Home Depot employees helping communities rebuild after natural disasters.
The film puts employees forward, not the brand. “When one associate is asked why she’s helping residents following a natural disaster, her unrehearsed response, without missing a beat, ‘Because I still have a home and these people don’t.’” Another associate talking over archival footage of employees involved in rebuilding efforts says, ‘When things are at their worst, we’re at our best.’” You couldn’t write a better script – or brand story.
The documentary was debuted in Joplin, Missouri where a, EF5 tornado in 2011 ripped through homes, killing 161 people and causing $2.8 billion in damages, including destruction of a Home Depot. Several associates who weathered the tornado and participated in rebuilding efforts were featured in the film and attended the debut.
Lou Dubois, a Home Depot senior director responsible for creating rich-media content, said the project’s goal was to “show, not tell our values”. “The Home Depot’s film lets the sincerity of its employees speak for the company,” he says.
“My colleagues and I drove around town, went to the disaster memorial, hosted the mayor, police chief, former and current store associates and other local heroes at the premiere,” according to Dubois “It was very clear as we talked to all those people how big of a deal Home Depot plays in these communities. And that’s what we tried to bring through with the messaging.”
The film featured eight Home Depot associates, who were culled from more than 110 interviews with associates and community members, Dubois said, emphasizing Home Depot didn’t provide scripts or media training for associates who appeared on camera. “This was just who they are.”
Brand stories about brand values are scalable to the size of an organization and the depth of its story.
Many organizations eager to tell their brand story don’t have directors of rich-media content or the resources to produce a mini-documentary. The concept is scalable to the size of an organization and the depth of a brand story.
In the blog, Dubois offered technical advice for producing brand stories featuring employees. He recommended interviewing as many people as possible, taking and preserving archival footage and sharing the final product internally first. It’s also important to pick the right moment and have the right motive.
“It was critical for us to get this film in front of employees before we even thought about what we were going to do externally and, frankly, before we even started this project,” Dubois said. The project was deemed worthwhile by Home Depot executives even if it never was released publicly.
“The point of this was that disasters are not going to stop coming,” Dubois said. “They’re going to keep coming harder, faster, bigger and more than ever before. And we as a company, as individuals, as humans, we have a responsibility to help the people around us that are in need.”
Creating Your Brand Story
In a scaled down brand story production, the number of interviews may not be as important as the breadth and diversity of interviews. For a brand story to come across as authentic, it needs a range of voices reflecting multiple experiences, a bottom-up perspective.
Initial interviews should be conversations to gather ideas and identify potential pitfalls in the brand story concept. These insights can inform the approach to telling the brand story, as well as the formats where it will have the most impact.
Home Depot had a library of archival footage illustrating its brand story’s message. Most organizations may not have a library of visual resources to tap. Photographs, diary entries, customer testimonials and other assets with visual value may work just as easily and perhaps with more poignancy.
Decisions about what you will produce and where you will share it should reflect your target audience’s preferences. You will only know if you talk to some of them, especially those with some connection to or interest in the brand story you want to tell.
Listen before deciding the form of your brand story to how it can be presented to greatest effect, both with your internal audience as well as your external audience. Brand stories don’t have to be limited to a single form or to a stale format. For example, an employee recognition poster or social media post can be turned into a brand story by adding a description of why the employee has been singled out, possibly quoting the words of a customer or client.
Dubois’ advice to avoid salesmanship is the difference between an ad and a brand story. Subaru incorporated information about charitable giving through its foundation in recent TV advertising. It’s effective advertising, but not a brand story.
Brand stories can cultivate customer and client loyalty. They also can reflect brand values that are true to the moment and leave an even deeper impression on communities.