Why brand storytelling is customer-centric

July 09, 2021 | By: Brendan Flaherty, Writer, Brand Content

This is ‘My best advice,’ a series that asks advertising experts to share key learnings from their career journeys, the best advice they’ve ever received, and insights to help grow brands and businesses.

Fan Jin is building cabinets for a camper van. The Director and General Manager of Worldwide Advertising Creative at Amazon Advertising began taking woodworking classes at a Seattle community college, after earning her MBA from M.I.T.

“I find problem solving very enjoyable, and I think of woodworking as three-dimensional problem solving,” she says. “When I get a chance to work with my hands, I often gain clarity on a business decision I’ve been thinking about. I’m able to see beyond that sea of data points, documents, or reports, to get a clearer sense of what’s the most important thing.”

To Fan, the most important thing is building delightful customer experiences. And that is the vision guiding her global team, which works across the Advertising Creative Studio, Sponsorship products, and Custom advertising. “By investing in all the hard work of a tech stack, measurement, creative services—what you’re doing is increasing the likelihood that you’re going to have wonderfully delighted customers,” she says. “That’s when I think advertising shines.”

quoteUpThat’s why I work in advertising—because you have those opportunities, and you actually have them quite often, to create those delightful experiences.quoteDown
– Fan Jin, Director, WW Advertising Creative

Though Fan has thrived in the ad business, her career began quite differently.

Born in China, she and her family moved to the U.K. when she was a kid, and then to Canada, before settling in the Washington, D.C. area, where she went to high school. After undergrad at Princeton, she went to work as a senior analyst on Wall Street. She assumed that after going to earn her MBA, she’d return to finance. But in between her first and second year of business school, she interned at Amazon.

“Amazon was one of the few companies that was hiring generalists,” she says. “They were hiring people who just liked problem solving.” For someone who describes the common theme of her career journey as: “working on an increasingly, progressively more complex series of problems,” it proved to be “a perfect fit.”

It’s no wonder then that the advice that she reflects on most often these days comes from Jeff Bezos. In the excerpted interview below, she shares more.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

I enjoy reading Jeff Bezos’s annual letters to the shareholders. I find them to be such a nice rich vein of business wisdom, life wisdom, and humor. So, the best advice that I’ve been trying to follow, as I’ve been tackling some complex problems with advertising these days, is his advice to be “stubborn on the vision, flexible on the details.”

How has that inspired the way you think about serving advertising customers?

If you’re an advertiser, Amazon Advertising is unique in being able to reach the audiences that you most want to reach. In addition to our audience insights, our customers have high expectations for—and an emotional connection to—our brand. There’s a level of trust there that we’ve spent years building and protecting and nurturing. And, there are also so many touchpoints that customers have with Amazon in their day. If you’re really trying to tell a brand story, you can do that across our store; across IMDb TV; across devices like Fire TV; and through our delivery experiences, whether that’s the arrival of a package in the mail or a grocery order.

So, those things together make it such that working with us as a publisher—with digital and physical spaces—is unique. It’s also complex. Our creative teams are there to advise and help brands tell their story using the broader canvas of broader Amazon, utilizing and reimagining what can be new and built together. That’s what we’ve been working toward, and it’s required some flexibility—moving beyond execution to being consultative and truly collaborative with our advertising customers.

If you always aim for more customer delight and you have the right inputs, you’re going to get that higher percentage of delightful customer experiences over time, and that’s what we’re building. That’s what I get excited about. Because you know when something emotionally connects. People talk about it, and they remember it. So that’s what I would love to impart: more delightful, remembered experiences for our customers. They could well be advertising experiences, but I hope folks think of them as human experiences.

We hear a lot about brand storytelling. Why does it matter?

Humans, with our millennia of oral traditions, are experts in stories. Our minds, our brains, are tuned to recognize stories, to emotionally respond to story arcs, to derive pleasure from a well-told story. Just even at a basic level, we love stories. I imagine that’s true of almost everyone.

The way I think about customer-centric marketing, advertising, and brand storytelling is: imagine you bought some soap. On the one hand, it’s soap to wash your dishes and get them clean. But on the other hand, if there’s a great story behind that particular brand of soap, whether it’s eco-friendly, was started by someone who maybe left their job and found their calling, whatever it may be—then, in the use of that soap, you’re doing more than getting your dishes clean. You’re actually getting enjoyment from supporting something that had a story behind it, and maybe sharing that story with friends and family, letting them in on your discovery.

So, at a very fundamental level, storytelling is beneficial, not only to the brand—it’s beneficial to the consumers, and that’s the more important part of why it matters. It gives a little more meaning to everyday life. And that makes for better brands and for happier customers.

How do you instill this vision in your team?

I’ve been fortunate in my career at Amazon to have wonderful managers. And what they taught me is it is so important to be human first, with your manager title second. Because life is short. Work should be enjoyable. It doesn’t need to be fun all the time, some parts of what I do are not fun, but there should be elements of fun every day and there should be some amount of meaning.

Work ends up being a significant portion of people’s waking lives, and there is a responsibility in all of us, especially in management, to treat that time with respect, and to treat people with respect. There’s nobility in being a good manager, not just in terms of the bottom line. There’s a nobility in people who can inspire and empower their teams; who can think about problems and team members as matchmaking exercises—who would be best suited to the problem? Who would enjoy that problem? Getting business results is important, of course, but that’s how I think about problem solving with humans—creating the best work circumstances that a manager can, to help an employee do something meaningful with their work lives. It’s something I’m very passionate about—that we have to be respectful of each other, and that teams only work when that happens. Driving teams really, really hard is short-lived. You want to have high-performing teams over long periods of time, and that’s what I want to teach—not the actual tactics of how to do it, because everyone has their own style—but the importance of doing that over the long-term.