Here is an interview with Michael Perman, Senior Director of Consumer Insights, Levi Strauss & Co. who has trained over 7,000 on storytelling and who is conducting, with Pat Hanlon, the ARF Workshop, “Stories Inspire” on June 22nd in NY. The interview with Pat Hanlon can be found here.
Joel: Michael, you are a huge proponent of storytelling to convey insights, having said that “stories inspire”. What is your best story that shows this? A story about a story, so to speak…
Michael Perman: I arrived in Willamette Valley, Oregon in the grey days of winter 1986, having been sent there from “headquarters” to be marketing director for a failing but sizeable beef jerky company. The team there was mired in the past and sales were languishing. Analysis of the data yielded no insights, other than small, local competitors were gaining on us…and that was a clue. I spent about three months riding in trucks with small jobbers who sold candy, tobacco and jerky. What an interesting aroma. I met the owners of small convenience stores in small farm and lumber towns. I also met the people who shopped in those stores. About two months into the journey we learned about Hershey’s selling big and thick chocolate bars that provided better value to consumers. Those big sizes were doing really well. The insight was that mobile consumers’ appetites for larger sized snacks were growing. So, we created a brand called “Long Haul” that made giant sized snacks for people on the go. We designed a counter display that looked like a truck and developed a few TV ads. Sales soared and we ended up selling the company for a nice gain. I fell in love with research.
Joel: Can stories be used to convey quantitative research findings too?
Michael Perman: Yes, but it’s a matter of focusing on a small number of facts that are truly meaningful. Maybe even on specific metric about consumption or equity. Too many reports try to cover too much ground and people lose sight of the big ideas. Also, facts sometimes need to be validated with human connections…not always the other way around.
Joel: Can you describe the training you do at Levi Strauss and how it impacts the organization?
Michael Perman: We’ve trained more than 7,000 employees around the world on developing innovation from insights. We’ve taught them how to observe and listen to consumers, how to tell stories about their experiences and how to synthesize cogent themes. Empathy is a company value. That ethos helps us get grounded in the reality of our consumers’ lives.