Stealing from Stuttgart

I’ve talked before about how big brands like Heineken have the funds to build shrines to their brand story. Most small businesses don’t have the kind of cash for that, but that’s no excuse not to tell your story.

So, steal a few ideas from two more marketing powerhouses and get to work…

Porsche – Tradition in Diversification

Even in 1948, the Porsche Roadster had a unique shape and identity.

I bet you think the only thing Porsche does is build really fast, really expensive cars, right?


Actually, the business started out as an engineering firm. Even today other businesses, including other automotive manufacturers, bring their toughest engineering projects to Porsche.

The design team is strong in so many fields, not just cars. They’ve designed engines for airplanes and Harley Davidson motorcycles, created a fold-up James Bond-style skiing machine, a motorized wheelchair with a complete suspension system, and a prosthetic leg, among other things.

Porsche designs cars, wheelchairs, prosthetic legs, and more.

With all that technical expertise, you might think that they’re eager to try to cram every shiny new gadget into their cars. On the inside, that’s probably true. They’ve experimented with every creature comfort I can imagine. But the outside of the car is strictly traditional.

If you look at the silhouette of the very first Porsche cars and then compared it to the Roadsters and Panameras of today, you’ll see they’re very much the same. Once they found a body style that performed, they stuck with it, creating the iconic Porsche look.

The lesson:

Focus on your core competency, in Porsche’s case design and engineering. But while you’re at it, don’t get tunnel-vision about your core set of customers. Porsche might not be able to sell a well-engineered two-seater hotrod to a man in a wheelchair, but they CAN sell him a well-engineered powerchair.

Mercedes – Luxurious Storytelling

Ride the train-capsule-elevator-thingy from the lobby to the exhibits.

Being a fan of American muscle cars (and taking a ribbing from our German pals that are super-fans of European automotive efficiency for driving a 4.6L V8 back home), I have to admit that Mercedes doesn’t get my engine revving.

But, I went to their museum with an open mind. It was actually really interesting and seeing the company’s story first hand softened my impression that the company was all about fancy cars for fancy people.

The lobby is futuristic, something unexpected from a company founded by the man that invented the first automobile (which was a motorized tricycle, BTW). But, when you take the bullet/elevator to the top floor, you’re transported into the past.

Audio recordings and displays bring the early days of the company to light with descriptions of the social, economic and political climate of the time. Sketches and patents on yellowed paper bring home the hours of labor that went into conceptualizing something never before imagined.

In front of the Popemobile sits Princess Diana's Mercedes. She returned it under pressure from her government that the royal family should only drive British cars.

As you move between periods of Mercedes history, the curving walls leading between levels depict the history of the time, even if it doesn’t relate directly to Mercedes. There were pictures of Elvis, newspaper clippings, old worker injury reports, information about political leaders and pictures of social and cultural changes.

Then, when you stepped into a new exhibit, your mind was centered in the history of the time and you could better understand how what Mercedes was doing – anti-lock brakes and airbags, for example – was groundbreaking.

The lesson:

It’s not all about you. Telling the story of your brand, like telling any good story, requires context. You’ve got to set the scene for your audience. Remind them what times were like when you first started out. Help them reminisce about something in their own past and connect it with yours. Use your brand story as a way for them to relate to you and use that to build a sense of shared history – that you both lived through something, enjoyed something, shared something together – and earn their trust.

So, how do you tell your company’s history? How do you use it to build rapport and trust with your customers?