A couple months ago, my husband and I took a trip to Alba, Italy for the Fiera Internazionale del Tartufo Bianco, or the International White Truffle Festival. While first planning our trip, we were most excited about the wine – Alba is a central location for visiting Barolo and Barbaresco, regions producing fantastic wines of the same names. Then a friend told us about the truffle festival and we began to investigate. We were excited, but couldn’t have been fully prepared for what was in store.
Let me back up. This region, Piedmont, is the birthplace of the slow food movement – an effort to conserve traditional products and techniques and protect local economies. As a reaction to fast food, “slow food” reinforces the oh-so-Italian idea that creating something truly magnificent can’t be rushed. Things are made well here, sometimes painstakingly hand-crafted. That takes time, but the results are worth it.
Walking around the city, the number of restaurants struck me. Like, really nice restaurants where you’ll have a meal you’ll remember for your entire life. Food is not taken lightly. We began to notice, every restaurant had the logo for the truffle festival emblazoned on a window, on a poster, or even mounted on a wall. But it wasn’t just the restaurants. The entire city was alive for the festival; we saw the logo on banks, clothing stores—nearly every business in the city.
The design work is masterful. The logo, typography, photography and composition all come together to capture the magic and wonder of the region in a way I’ve rarely seen. But more on this later.
The festival focuses on white truffles, a commodity prized as much for its imperviousness to cultivation as its unique flavor. However, it’s not just about truffles. Instead, it is a celebration of all the products of the region.
Italian cuisine is fiercely regional, and the slow food movement’s emphasis on all things local means that you’re not going to see many vegetables in Piedmontese cuisine. Why? The soil that produces some of the greatest wine in the world looks like moon dust. Midwestern road trips as a child gave me a baseless notion of what “good soil” should look like… and this was not it. But the moon dust soil is marvelous for growing three things in abundance: wine grapes, hazelnuts (wine growers plant hazelnuts above the elevation suitable for growing grapes), and truffles.
The whole city, and to some degree the whole region rallies around the truffle festival. The government organizes other events (like a hilarious donkey race) to complement the festival’s central marketplace. Chefs create truffle menus and host demonstrations. Winemakers, cheese makers, pasta artisans, and charcutiers share their products and find eager customers in the “World Truffle Market” at the center of the action. Everyone buys in.
Each bottle of wine, and each truffle, tells a story—of the soil, the weather, the people involved, of shared knowledge and tradition. What the truffle festival has done so brilliantly is weave all of those stories together into a tapestry that tells the story of the region. You can take a step back, look at the big picture, and just get it. Or, you can look closely and learn the story of a 4th generation winemaker in the process of transitioning to organic, who sees the effects of global warming on his crops and wonders if his 4-year-old son will have the option to keep the family business going.
People are excited to attend this event year after year because of the story the festival tells. The way the slow food movement entwines with the history of the region, the wine, and the mysterious truffles create an authentic story that—just like a great meal—visitors will remember for the rest of their lives.
The truffle festival is a brand. And a great one.
With a glance at the tapestry that is the festival’s brand story, a visitor garners a true sense of everything that makes this region and its people unique – the deep-rooted traditions, appreciation for the land, and a rejection of the cheap, the quick, and the mass-produced. The festival has distilled the message into symbols and images that have become rally points for an entire city.
Telling the Story
I’ve had the opportunity to work with companies across a variety of industries, and help craft their brand stories. For many, it’s hard. Sometimes it’s not intuitive. When I begin asking questions, the response is frequently along the lines of “Well, I started this company in 1996 and in 1998 we moved into this office space and the staff grew to 6 people…” While these are important milestones for a company’s founder, they don’t create the rich tapestry that a brand story should tell.
A truly impactful brand story will center less on a business story and more on a human one. The values, the hopes, the challenges, the history (even before the brand was a seedling of an idea in the founder’s head), are essential threads that your brand story should incorporate. Brand stories aren’t created by marketing agencies – the story is yours. A good storyteller just knows which threads to keep pulling. Remember, crafting something magnificent takes time, but the results are worth it.