Welcome to Big Think, a space where we shine a light on the creative minds behind today’s most influential brands. Our VP of Strategic Growth, Hillary Settle, connects with talented minds from different industries to learn more about their experience in the marketing world.
In our first episode, we kick things off with Lou Dubois, the Sr. Director of Content, Creative, and HDTV at The Home Depot, to talk about his journey into this role and his unique experience and insight into the art of storytelling. Watch the full episode or keep reading for some key insights we pulled from this episode.
Dubois began his career in the world of journalism telling stories from the newsroom and eventually found himself telling stories for brands through content creation and more. In his own words:
“Journalism is not just a career, it’s a way of thinking.”
Dubois highlights how many of the skills he learned as a journalist, such as asking good questions to connect with people or finding a deeper story to humanize a brand, have transferred into the different industries he has worked with. Whether that was in hospitality with Hilton or in retail with The Home Depot, these industries are centered around people serving people, and his experience has taught him that storytelling is critical when it comes to building a long-term connection with your customers.
How do you take a transactional business, like a retail company that employs over 500,000 people across the country, and give your customers a human face to interact with? This is the thinking that went into creating Behind the Apron, a series that showcases the stories behind The Home Depot store employees. This series doesn’t just highlight their journies within the company but goes well beyond to talk about the story of what brought them there. Even zooming further out to the company as a whole, The Home Depot focused on telling the story of long-term commitment and support with their documentary, Hope Builds, which focuses on their natural disaster relief and rebuilding efforts. The story behind this content focuses on how The Home Depot supports communities as a long-term resource.
These efforts are a way of humanizing The Home Depot brand. Since the company is about serving people, it's important that the people they serve can connect with them through the story of who they are as well as what they do to help.
The stories don’t just stop there. Another area of focus includes product-centric stories that emphasize the company's unique partnerships or localized products. Whether that's partnering up with organizations like Ecolab to launch game-changing products for everyday use, or hosting live growing events that highlight localized products and promote sustainability, these stories create a greater purpose for their products to connect more with their customers.
Dubois’ extensive experience with notable brands like The Home Depot makes him an expert at storytelling. In this episode, he broke down the top three elements you need to bring your brand's stories to life:
Content storytelling doesn’t just stop with one department; it takes a village to build a narrative that compels your customers. In Dubois’ experience, brand story groups function all across organizations and contribute at different points in the process. Whether that's with the HDTV department composed of producers and writers to create TV-focused content to be broadcasted within their organization, or The Home Depot’s Storylabs group that produces more editorial content for their corporate newsroom, it's clear that storytelling isn’t just limited to one part of the organization, nor is it limited to one creative skillset.
Beyond your internal team, it’s also beneficial to maintain external connections and outsource skills efficiently for content creation. The key, of course, is to find a good balance—making sure your team isn’t too big or too small, your creators are diverse, and you understand the scope of projects to know when you need to outsource help. It’s also important to know that planning is only a part of the process. Making decisions on who helps and how they contribute will naturally occur as you go through the process.
Building the story is one part, but sharing it with the right audience makes all the difference. We’re living in the digital age, where there are so many means of communicating with your audience. You can tailor your story to impact specific segments within your target audience and they can access your content organically or using paid media.
Coming from a news background, Dubois would always count on organic social media to drive numbers, but that isn’t the case anymore. You have to be more intentional with your messaging and how you convey it. Start by thinking about the purpose of your content. What do you want your audience to do or feel as a result of your content?
Consider implementing paid campaigns or targeted ads to reach specific people in your audience and communicate with them using specific messages to help you achieve your goals. The Home Depot’s content is created for both internal and external platforms and the type of content that is delivered on these varies as well.
Something important to remember when delivering content is that not all content is meant to be transactional. When you’re creating content, you’re in it for the long run. There is certainly a time and place to promote a product or directly communicate a sale because that is ultimately the goal for most businesses. However, this is also an opportunity to build other areas of your business that can keep your audience engaged in the long run.
In The Home Depot’s case, every platform they promote their content on has a clear intention and strategy behind it. Take their documentary for example. There wasn’t a clear transaction they were trying to push when they produced this. It was simply a message they were trying to convey about their commitment to service as a brand.
Even when successful brands do promote themselves with the intention of trying to gain a transaction from their customers, the platforms they choose to do this on are decided based on their knowledge of their audience. The Home Depot is the number one advertiser on the radio, and there is a method to their madness. People who come to their stores and shop for their products often spend a lot of time in their cars, so instead of spending time on more visual channels like Instagram or Facebook, delivering the message on an audio-based platform is most effective. The same idea can be applied when considering partnerships, such as promoting their products on college game days. It comes down to understanding your audience and picking the channels you want to promote your content on intentionally.
The intentionality behind the storytelling process doesn’t just come from what “feels” right. There is always a method to the madness and that usually comes down to data. By collecting data internally or research that comes from external sources, you create measurable insights that can help you figure out the best way to inform your content creation.
An example of internal data that contributed to one of The Home Depot’s campaigns can be seen in an ad spot they called 5:45, which was a spotlight on the customers lining up outside stores before they even opened. These were students, welders, and everything in between. Not only was this a great way to collect data on who their audience was, but this was also a great way to implement the stories of their audience to make them feel like they’re a part of the brand.
External data, on the other hand, could include insights into the market to understand what people were spending more money on and what they were prioritizing. With more people spending time in their homes for the last few years, The Home Depot has placed a greater emphasis on rebuilding and renovating, which in turn has impacted the kinds of stories they tell and the way they tell them.
“Storytelling is a constant evolution,” says Dubois. Part of the excitement is that there’s always a new platform or opportunity to tell stories, especially as we continue to venture deeper into the digital age. Constant experimentation is key, so you can gather insights and data to inform what’s working and what’s not.
Success isn’t the goal, leading with curiosity and being intentional with your efforts is. This is how you humanize your brand and continue to foster a relationship with your audience. Experimenting and trying new things show your audience that you’re more than just a business that sells a product or service, there is a purpose and an impact you’re trying to achieve. Highlighting the purpose behind your efforts and standing up for your brand values will build long-term brand affinity that drives your storytelling.
So, are you ready to master the art of storytelling for your brand?