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  • Writer's pictureFrancisco Mahfuz

E16. Storytelling at Nike and UnderArmour with Adriano Serff

Below is an AI-generated transcript and therefore it may contain errors.

Francisco Mahfuz 0:00

Do you remember your first time? Well, I don't have to remember because this was mine. As far as times go, it actually went pretty well. We were both a bit awkward at first, we weren't 100% Sure we knew what we were doing. But we had enough fun that I wanted to do it again. This was the first podcast I ever recorded. Before I found out about the importance of a good microphone, or that I should avoid an echoey room. But it was a great conversation. And at the end those insights into how big sporting brands are storytelling is well worth listening to. So please forgive the sound quality and enjoy

Welcome to the story powers podcast, the show about the power of stories that people who tell them and why you should be doing it too. I'm your host, Francisco Foose. My guest today is Adriana self was one of the marketing heads at the yoga giant unknown has been ears at Nike and Under Armour. So we'll talk about how storytelling has been used by the sporting companies to develop their brand image, attract and retain customers. And while that might not be so easy for every company out there to imitate, I had a lot of fun. If you do too, please leave us an iTunes review. And let me know what you think. It'll really help make this show a fun listen for someone other than my mom. Ladies and gentlemen, Adrianna ssef. The no thanks for being on the podcast today. How are you doing? Sir?

Adriano Serff 1:30

I'm verifying challenging times. But doing great, thanks for having me. It's an honour and a pleasure.

Francisco Mahfuz 1:37

For the people listening to this many, many years in the future. It's probably worth explaining that the challenging times is that we are on week two of completely lockdown caused by a world pandemic. And I very much hope that if anyone listens to this five or 10 years in the future, it sounds as crazy to them. As it sounds to us right now.

Adriano Serff 2:01

I don't even know exactly what you're talking about. The only thing I know for sure is that my go here, my three and a half year old girl is not going to school today. And that's my internet. My OpenELEC. So Trotsky is crazy.

Francisco Mahfuz 2:15

It's worth saying that you and I know each other, we were actually friends. We're friends, right? Yeah, we're friends, we've been friends, you can never be too sure about these things. But the reason I wanted to have you there was under having a show is because you worked for more than five years at Nike, who is widely known as one of the first and most successful companies and using storytelling to guide their marketing and tell their brand story. You and I talked about it briefly. But we were more interested in drinking that day, then then getting into the subject properly. So I wanted to have you here and have a bit of conversation. So what was what was your first contact with with this idea of storytelling when you were at when you were at Nike?

Adriano Serff 3:00

Well, Nike, it's always always always concerned about the story. Nike, Nike thinks about the consumer, the consumer is at the centre of everything they do. But the way they communicate with their consumers, it's true stories that they keep doing over and over. So it might be a new product, and no product and athlete, a huge sports event, whatever it is, they'll build a story around that to present that to consumers in a way that they will still be engaged from the start through the end of that chapter 90. As other big brands that are very focused on stories. It's made by it's like a big book made by many different chapters. So every chapter, there's a start and there's an end. And that it's easier, it's an easier way to get consumers through the entire book. So throughout my five years, we have many, many different chapters, especially with the categories that it was focused on. So it could have been about a very incredible running shoe that we were launching, or it could be about getting children that didn't have access to sport starting to run in their poor communities. So all that if if one one in one asset was focused with the consumer buying issue, or in the other in the other aspect was getting a community around an idea they were all made with a story is the backbone of of what we were doing. So

Francisco Mahfuz 4:33

Ingo, you just had, you know that there are there's a book and there are chapters I take it that this is how they described it at Nike.

Adriano Serff 4:42

Yeah, it's been changing throughout the years. But But yes, you'll hear a lot of marketeers from Nike and from other big brands, like Apple or Under Armour still in the in the sportswear world, though use that legal saying It's a it's a full book every and there are many chapters. So yeah, it's a, it's a known way of speaking internally,

Francisco Mahfuz 5:08

when you join them. Were you aware that this was the case? Or this was something that people that Nike started talking about, and you had about what, what is this? What are they going on about stories?

Adriano Serff 5:20

Yeah, Nike, Nike is a place that is really, it's really focused on their learn by doing. So they, it's not that you, you get there, and they'll make you like a huge presentation of like, Hey, this is how we work like there. There's this 11 Maxim's that kind of guide them through the way they do business, none of them. It's about the story itself. It's more about their principles and how they, how they do business. But that's something that is so inherent to everything they do that you learn by doing. And if you are a marketeer like that, that has that sense of duelling story, you'll you'll probably find your place and you'll probably find yourself within the team and within the company. And if you're not, you're probably going to be expelled or you're going to find yourself not comfortable working there. And then even believe it's more of that, like the especially working at a country level, you'll get the control level when it control level, I think it's important just to, to explain like everything is at the global level, and then it's scaled down at the different countries, sometimes, depending on their relevance, throughout the years, they'll become more relevant, where they will be able to start the stories to start a new chapter. And some of the other countries don't simply just plug and play a chapter that has already been written, just making small adjustments and translations through their local audience. In throughout my almost six years with Nike, I had the opportunity to to be on both on both different modes, both with global creating everything and we just plug in play and adapt and translate and also creating and driving the story. But it's it's like that you you're going to get something that is already claimed in a way that you simply understand the story. And that also makes makes so much easier for for for employee to understand what what they're trying to achieve. So the story works not only for the consumers to get engaged in passionate about that brand, but also for a global team of marketeers of, I don't know, probably like five or 10,000 people globally, to understand what they're trying to accomplish. So it works both.

Francisco Mahfuz 7:42

It's one of the it's one of the beautiful things about stories is that now it's become a bit of a buzzword. And people love talking about storytelling and brand stories and things of that nature. But you understand it when you see it, if I'm not mistaken. The very first commercial that Nike had that brought the JUST DO IT logo was a story was it was 1988 I think, and it was an older an older man running, running, I think it was running something like 70 miles a day or whatever. And he was running across a bridge. And, you know, now if you if you want to separate the parts of that story, you can and you realise that the the hero of that story is a common person or someone that everybody can relate to. But you don't need to know that you just need to see it. So it's an old guy running across the bridge is not a famous athlete running across a track. Yeah. And I think that this is something that it's the surprising thing about storytelling. But also one of the most amazing is that you don't need to know anything about it for it to work. But having said that one thing I'm curious, you said they didn't present it that way for new people in the company. But if I recall correctly, you mentioned that they actually use storytelling or storyteller or something along those lines as a title for some other people internally, didn't they?

Adriano Serff 9:03

Yeah, actually there's there's one person that got that title. Speak about in just a second. I just wanted to say something that is really interesting about Nike is that of course when you when you talk and when you when you look at their commercials or that their their video ads, because most of them are beautiful examples of perfect storytelling, right? You see all the elements of beautiful story right there. But the interesting thing is that especially if you're within their target for some of their campaigns, you you'll get impacted by that storytelling. Many different ways that one of them will be a beautiful piece of video, but that story will be told by not only a beautiful piece of video, but also an event and then also a store experience and also social media posts and also an influencer that is attending an event so they build a story in a way that you get so many different Two packs that helps you to build that journey on your mind that that's what make consumers love them even more. Like I said, of course, when you have an audio visual piece such a video that is amazingly produced, that that has body has meat that you can really eat and digest that, but the way that they do it, it has all these different elements impacting people, as they as they go things. Just want to make that quick comment. And regarding your question about storytellers, there is one person that he is the person that is responsible for telling all Nike stories in turn, right. So beside that person, he tells a lot about the he explains to new employee to employee globally, how Nike was built and how they got from, from just two guys on a track to just regular dude dudes on the track to become a multi billion dollar company. And this guy has been a friend of them for over 40 years. And he has this title was not remember exactly the title, but it was like King of storytelling, something like that. It's something like that. And this guy is it's an older dude. Now he's probably he's 17 or something. But I and I heard I worked telling Nike story for for many years. And I heard he explained him in that making, like historic, how, like it was built for many times, and there's no one no one that could ever do that better than he can, he will engage you in a way that very few people could. But anyway, it's it's not something that people will explain you how to do it, they will not tell you the method to build a story. But it's it's it's embedded in everything they're doing. And it comes it starts with this like this, the role that I used to work at Nike it's called eKey, which is like Nike spelled backwards. And it's because people it's the people inside inside naked that can talk about like stories, makes a story from from backwards. So you'll, you'll hear Yeah, you'll hear from, from people telling telling the story in so many different ways. But these are the these are the responsible for spreading the story about Nike, which is part of why they're so successful. But no one ever taught me like, Hey, this is how you need to tell the story. Or these are the elements that that a good story should have. I learned some of those in university. But when you're at Nike, that's like I said in bed. So everything is built in that way. And then you start to learn by doing like I said, you really

Francisco Mahfuz 12:58

learn. It's interesting that because because now when you look into anyone that is trying to apply, apply storytelling to marketing, there's many different formulas so and this, but but one of the things that Nike does very clearly is this whole idea of they're not the heroes, the customer is the is the hero in the story. And I find it very interesting that they wouldn't make that explicit. Because for someone who's not, if you're not familiar with the with the technical aspects of telling stories, it might not be obvious to you, you might be looking at the Nike commercial, enjoying it, not knowing exactly why you're enjoying it. And it would seem, it would seem that someone else was risky, that they would say, you know, some people get it, and that they will be able to work well within that structure. And some people perhaps won't get it, but he's just, it's almost baffling why they would then sit you down and say, listen, here's the secret sauce is pretty basic, we twisted the hero's journey around a little bit in you see that everything or commercial works on the same parameter, you know, but again, you know, it has worked for a number of years. And and unless you unless you dig into it, you don't find this connection. It's not as if anyone relates the the word storytelling to Nike, unless you're into marketing, unless you're in storytelling, the customers I don't think have that idea.

Adriano Serff 14:27

Yeah, I read it to be to be fair and give proper credit. Nike always again, just like any other big company always worked with amazing agencies that do a lot of the heavy work. So a good a good professional and a Nike marketing team is someone that knows how to write the perfect brief. So a lot of market here job and Nike students is first to do a great plan. So you need to have a very Nuclear what are all the assets that you have you have available and then you, you're going to lay down the plane, the plan that you need to make whatever it is that you need to work. And that is talking specifically about advertising or trading. Again, this video is writing an amazing brief, and then picking the right partner that will be able to translate that brief into into amazing video. So Nike was always kind of at the realm of making sure that the story was was correct, or what was being told or the right way. But always, always, always with the supportive of amazing agencies. That's what that's one thing. And again, those agencies also have great storytellers, on their teams that will work together with Nike, one that knows everything that the brand stands for, and everything that they're trying to accomplish. And the other one knows more of the vertical aspects of creating a piece of video. But you said something that it's interesting as well, that is about the consumer, not clearly knowing or being aware that he's actually at the centre of what of whatever they're doing. And they do that even when they're talking about an athlete, like you might see an ad an ad about Lebron James. And it's just about LeBron James, and his accomplishments, whatever rink, new ring that he has got, but it's still it's still about the consumer, it's still to inspire the consumer, it's still to make sure that the 11 year old kid anywhere in the world see that and think that he might be him in the future and get him on the right path to dedicate himself to sports. And of course, as a consequence, to buy a new pair of shoes. But again, the consumer doesn't know that the story was built in a way with so many elements that you build that story on your mind, and you're going to put yourself on that place. That's and that's something you do that that is telling a story in a way that you're not necessarily seeing the story. And I remember listening to many of your stories that I've never seen neither a video or not even a PowerPoint. But I could still see myself in that restaurant in Dublin and watching everything that happened with you, your wife, and in other words, it was never there. So people people

Francisco Mahfuz 17:23

the last we say about Javier Bardem the better.

Adriano Serff 17:28

But people, people will have to look for you to know their full story. But But again, I think that's the thing, like it's a totally different way. But I, I've heard you down the story, probably two or three times. And now every time that I hear I kind of feel myself, somewhere in that restaurant, looking to everything happening there. In Nike and others, they will do this in a way that you'll see LeBron James there. And it's about Blue athletes not about the consumer or the unknown, older dude running through all the CD, but they want people to see themselves in that or at if as worse scenario is to imagine them there. So that's what that's really what they tried to do,

Francisco Mahfuz 18:17

just to finish the chapter with Nike. So you were there. Nike is a company that works in a very specific way, and their marketing works in a very specific way. And then you left Nike and you went to Under Armour. Now, how different was the experience of working at marketing at Under Armour and Nike? Were there any similarities? Are they approach it in a completely different way? Or how did that how was that

Adriano Serff 18:42

there are many similarities in one you one big difference. The I'll start with the difference, the difference, especially when I joined other, which was back in 2013, or 2014 14. Under Armour was not as successful as they became later on. They're, they're not right now. But they became very successful. They they had incredible growth in just a few years. But there was always always known as the underdog or the runner up so they nobody ever thought that he could do it. And they were making it. So while it was at 99 He was not even thinking on any other competitor. Of course they would pay attention to what other brands that were doing. But the only brand the only brand that they were really paying attention and concern. Every movement was Under Armour, although they were really, really smaller than the Nike. The fact that

was not that long of that one. They were well first because they were doing so many things right that consumers were starting to buy them so they they saw an approach that was different from what they were doing, and that's the the underdog approach, and I'll talk about that in a minute. And they also saw a different approach of what the what the dealers was doing for the last so many years. So they were the first big American brand that had a similar approach to them, it seems they're both American that were that was able to get closer, or make an impact on their business. So they're making they're making great product, they had signed great athletes in they were doing something that Nike was always known for, which was putting consumers at the centre of everything they do. So again, it comes back to their, their, the way they were telling their stories was the same way they were putting consumers, not without telling them, but they were putting consumers at the centre. So they would feel inspired, or they would see see themselves as far of the of that story. But But the biggest difference was things they were the the the underdog, that the premier was known as the underdog. And that was widely known, especially in the US, that was widely known. And people would relate to that, as they were also the underdog. So in a different way, the Nike was always seen as a bit cocky a bit. The positive way of seeing Nike is dominant. It's very, it's great at everything that they were doing, that the positive way of seeing things. And then there's the negative way, which was they were seen as cocky, like they, I'm always right, I never make a mistake. So both ways, right? What I learned was, the runner up was the underdog people were not expecting, and that's a lot, but people would see themselves. So like no one thinks that I can make it but I'll go and make it are there and we use that to position their selves and to find athletes that would connect with with that common value. And then they were able to connect with a different set of consumers or maybe even with the same consumers but in a different way. So I'd say that this is the biggest difference, the way that they they became became a bigger brand, put them in a in a position that they were able to tell their stories in a way that Nike never did, they were using the same tools in the same, the same aspect. So if you see a piece of video from from Under Armour, you will see that a lot of the elements and the methodology of making a video for instance, will will be the same, they will put the hero if we if we talk about the hero story, they'll put the hero in a different way that Nike would mostly because a lot of Nike heroes they were already very, very successful. Take the take two examples on basketball. Nike had LeBron James for many years and LeBron from from the very very beginning things from things draft, he was already known to be one of the best players that were that was going to be under armour. His best athlete is Stephen Curry on basketball. And he was always he was never known first. And second, he was skinny, not strong, not tall. He had none of the skills or or, or the profile of a great basketball player. But they believed in Him. They invest in telling the story. And to be honest, especially around the world, and especially in China, where he's now very famous. Most of the people are not tubular stall and look like a wardrobe like like Lebron James. Most people are is smaller than then Stephen Curry. So, but I feel like it's much easier for me to connect with Stephen Curry thinking and think that I can be Stephen Curry. They think that I can be Lebron James. So it's different way of staring down the stories but very similar props.

Francisco Mahfuz 24:07

And would you say that that that was a strategic? Did they go out and search for athletes that would more easily fit the role of underdog then or it's just that they couldn't get the top guys at the beginning. And it just so happened? That that some of the guys they got were more suited to the role that they were playing strategically,

Adriano Serff 24:29

to be honest, and i i Both at the time I wasn't with Nike and then when I joined an armour, I was able to really see that happening. So to be honest, was they were trying to find the ones that would have the perfect theme to what they were the underdogs. So they were always trying to find underdog athletes are more than fine. Finding the next great. They were more interested in finding the underdogs that of course they wanted to be the next great as well but they One of the the underdogs, however, is Tom Brady comes up with, with an opportunity to sign a deal. They signed it and Tom Brady's one of their athletes, and he was already very successful when they signed him. And then or he was already a great promise, he was already supposed to be one of the best ever. So they haven't both, but they were always more like, anybody. If you look at a brief of a sports marketing agent, with an hour, you know, you'll see if there is a checkmark to say, is there an underdog or not. And many times, we would assign athletes that they were not as successful, but they had an underdog mentality, attitude or story. I remember when, before joining our global team, I was in the Brazil, I was starting in Brazil business. And we signed his UFC player, UFC fighter sorry, that he, he was a from from very poor community, they will have a lot of access to training. But he was crazily dedicated to his training routine to his diet to how he would sleep and everything. And especially in a country like Brazil, that would resonate a lot because it's, it's the reality of a lot of people like, you don't have access to things. At the same time, if you were dedicated enough, you might be able to reach greatness at different levels. This guy never, he never won UFC biggest tournament, but he won many different things that made him very successful fighter in in, in his world. So finding further dots was always part of the brief for for, for Under Armour athlete tiny

Francisco Mahfuz 27:03

in having having worked with such very, very distinct approaches to marketing, you know, you went on to do to do other things and is now going to start working in a completely different type of industry. How much of that type of approach that has story as the basis, do you think it's something that can be implemented, or that you at least would try to implement it. In other jobs you're in,

Adriano Serff 27:30

I mean, I would try to implement in as many jobs as I can. And I think Nike and and, and other big brands are, are amazing marketing schools for or they shouldn't be amazing marketing examples for a lot of other brands, because they they nail the storytelling aspect of marketing, it's not easy to become such a powerful storyteller as Nike or as Under Armour as others because they they first they, they they have a lot of assets, they work with something that is very inspiring, that is a sport, or sports or inspiring. And even if you're not so much into sports, it's easy to get inspired by, it's something different from selling, I don't know a commodity or even water and selling in selling sports and I was talking we just we just explained what is happening with the world today and end of March 2020. For people listening to leave in 510 years, all sports, all major sports tournaments are cancelled or postponed even the Olympics is postponed. So Nike didn't realise and depends a lot on on sports moments. And they do that because there are so many people connected. There are so many people with high expectations of the athletes and the teams and Federation's performances. So people are ready. Ready create that expectation in their minds. So Nike uses a lot of that to create their stories around. So they use what is already on consumers mind and they they keep building on top of that. So that's why it makes so much easier for Nike to do that. So if you asked me if I wanted to replicate or to take those learnings and in use to sell waters, like you said, My next challenge coming next. Yeah, I will I will try to bring as many hours as possible to define your challenge, but to be honest, is totally different. It's it's much harder when you don't have all these assets that Nike or any other sportsman words, what what do you what one can do is to really take the platform will start demoing and identifying in a way identify what are the things that in any other business it can be used to build a story so say if you have an apple or if you have a federation? Or if you have a sports woven like the Olympics coming for Nike, what are those elements? For for your industry for your business? How can you get something that Nike did, and try to identify those in your in your world, and then work with people that are great storytellers to help you to build that narrative for you. Because in the end of the day, regardless of what you're selling, people will connect, and they will stay engaged with your brand, if you're telling something that they're interested in, if you're simply if you simply present a product, the product can be the best product ever. But that will be a short term engagement that you'll create with with your with your audience, whatever product that is, if you're able to tell a story about that product, and that story never ends. And it's connected to like we said in the beginning to a new chapter, I think that's when you can create ambassadors or brands you can create, you can take your, your consumers, your clients or your audience to the next level of loyalty. Nowadays, especially with the younger generation, they'll switch from rents much easier that older generations would, but they at the same time they want to be connected to through stories, they want to be connected to something beautiful to them. If you are able to identify what are those elements that you have that are relevant to your audience, that's when you you you have a lethal weapon to to use with consumers. That's what I what I think that I can definitely take my learnings from those companies that are very specialised and use storytelling at the best level and apply to any other business that I might be involved with in the near future.

Francisco Mahfuz 31:47

Okay. And on that note, I don't know. Thank you so much for your time. This was great. Thank you. All right, everybody. I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did. Thanks for listening. Take care of yourselves, and until next time

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