How Salesforce leverages the art of storytelling



From an idea to a billion-dollar company in under a decade. The story of how cloud-based software company Salesforce.com enjoyed rapid success can offer many lessons to aspiring brands. While its gamut of customer relationship management services and an array of enterprise applications that enable marketing automation, analytics, and application development have helped, the brand had something else up its sleeve as well.


What is your brand’s story?


Salesforce co-founder and CEO Marc Benioff was very careful about how he positioned his burgeoning business in the market at the turn of the millennium. He acknowledged that the market won’t care about yet another startup at a time when new companies were getting in on the dot com bubble every single day. Benioff wanted Salesforce to stand out from the crowd, so he told a classic David vs Goliath story to the media. He described his approach as, "We gave the media something different. We gave them something new. We always positioned ourselves as revolutionaries. We went after the largest competitor in the industry or the industry itself. We made our story about change. We were about something new and different that was good for customers and good for the community. We talked about the future."


Twenty years later, the media landscape may be different, but the need for content and stories that stand out is greater than ever. Good storytelling helps a brand elevate its relationship with its target audience from a transactional one to an emotional one. It also helps distinguish your brand from others and establish brand loyalty.


What does your brand do?



Source: Salesforce


A SaaS pioneer, Marc Benioff had trouble explaining what Salesforce did to an audience still making sense of the internet. So he used simple metaphors to say his piece. He would say things such as, “Salesforce.com is Amazon.com meets Siebel Systems." Later when Salesforce launched an AppExchange, he explained that as, “The eBay of enterprise software."


Such metaphors act as a lens to get the audience to consider ideas or concepts in new ways. It adds context to your brand by creating a mental picture that makes your brand easier to understand, easier to talk about, and easier to share. To craft a brand metaphor that communicates the intended message to your audience, keep the following in mind:


  • What do your products and services represent for your customers?

  • How do you deliver value?

  • What place does your brand fit in your customers’ lives or businesses?

  • How does your company behave differently from your competitors?


How strong is your brand?


Marc Benioff had a vision, and he staunchly believed in that vision. He said, "I believed that all software would eventually be delivered in the cloud. I had to believe in it passionately and be ready to constantly defend it." According to him, your conviction in your own ideas and the ability of your brand to deliver those ideas must be absolute, and that you must be “a little bit crazy" to see things through successfully.


It’s not just about having a story, but believing in that story and being able to sell that story. While tangible brand elements like product features, symbols, taglines will always be critical, internal elements such as reliability, consistency, and dedication will play an equally important role in the success or failure of a brand. All these elements eventually tie back together to portray the true image of your brand.


No matter what your brand does and what it stands for, standing up for your brand and communicating that to your audience is what can make all the difference in today’s world. As the example of Salesforce shows.


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