I’ve been involved in a number of interesting projects in my long career, but perhaps none more so than IBM’s Internet initiative in the mid-late 1990s. In the Fall of 1995, Lou Gerstner, - IBM’s then Chairman and CEO, - made the decision to embrace the rapidly growing Internet as the centerpiece of IBM’s strategic vision and created the Internet Division as a cross-company group to lead the initiative, with me as general manager.
At the time, a lot was happening around the Internet. It was all very exciting, but it was not clear where things were heading, and in particular what the implications would be to the world of business. A key part of our job was to figure out the business value around the Internet, and to then extensively communicate it to our customers and the wider marketplace. Working closely with Ogilvy & Mather, IBM’s marketing agency, we came up with our Internet strategy, - which we called e-business. Our challenge was not only to explain what e-business was all about, but also to leverage e-business to help re-build the IBM brand, given that the company was just coming out of a really serious near-death experience.
Ogilvy created an award winning campaign, bringing e-business to life with compelling stories over a variety of communication channels, including memorable TV vignettes that nicely captured what it meant to do business over the emerging Internet. The campaign succeeded in closely associating IBM with the Internet, repositioning the brand with the future rather than the once glorious past that almost caused its demise only a few years earlier.
My personal experiences with e-business, - and subsequent ones with Linux and other initiatives, - have sensitized me to the importance of storytelling in business and marketing, especially when introducing a disruptive innovation in the marketplace and/or needing to revitalize a troubled brand.
I was reminded of those exciting times when reading a recent article, The Power of Immersive Media, by Frank Rose, Senior Fellow at Columbia’s School of the Arts and author of a number of articles and books on digital culture, including The Art of Immersion.