Discussing what makes a business “cool” with the Anthony Bourdain of brand storytelling

Every business has a story to tell. Adam Voss just wants to find the ones that are cool.

Voss is the host of 12 for 12, an award-winning online documentary series that profiles companies and what makes them unique. That journey has led Voss and his production team from Chicago to Atlanta and through the doors of brands like Goose Island, Threadless, Cards Against Humanity and even JLL.

The self-dubbed “marketing geek” visited JLL’s redesigned headquarters at Aon Center last fall and developed a four-part video series highlighting our journey from design to completion.

“I think a lot of corporate environments become oppressive based on the silos,” Voss said. “They get bigger and disconnect with the community and the people and why they want to work there. We didn’t see that at JLL. We saw a company that created an opportunity for people to think differently about going to work.

“It just felt like a place you’d want to be.”

We sat down with Voss to discuss brand storytelling, what makes a company cool and popsicles.

Q: How do you explain what you do?

A: We call it host-led narrative storytelling, but it’s really just meant to engage and entertain people. We’ve reached this new era in promoting brands and individuals where most entertainment has now really become info-tainment. So, I tell stories about the companies and brands that I really admire.

Q: You’ve profiled companies ranging from traditional corporates to national beer chains to Waffle House.

What is it about those companies that you admire?

A: All of our subjects just have a great story. We went to Threadless, and it’s amazing to see that they’ve basically created this massive business around a crowd-source community. At Waffle House, you have these two guys who were just neighbors who had a crazy idea. It’s almost like selling a piece of art. Nobody just buys the art. I mean, yes, they buy the art, but they want the story behind the art. That’s what you get from our show.

Q: Humor us. What did you consider the story behind our corporate headquarters?

A: You do this all the time, right? You design workplace solutions for your clients, so I found this notion of you doing it for yourself to be fascinating. So it better be good, right?

Q: We hope so. What did you think?

A: It was great, just a beautiful space. You made this workplace that works perfectly for your employees. Your coffee bar, for example, definitely felt like this place where everybody wants to be. We interviewed [JLL CEO Greg O’Brien] there, and it just had this energy to it. That’s what makes people want to come to work. You need to make them feel more connected, closer together. And that actually has to take place where I can see you and talk to you, so to design space that does that is brilliant.

Q: What’s your favorite 12 for 12 story?

A: We’ve been filming Season 2 in Atlanta, and what King of Pops is doing blew me away. I met Steve Carse, who is the co-founder with his brother Nick, at South by Southwest in 2011. I was emceeing a music showcase, and there out front was this lone popsicle cart, their first one. Now those guys make over 15,000 pops a day, almost half a million popsicles a year. What started as a new slant on popsicles has exploded into this massive business that covers seven states, a 60-acre farm and a dog food company. They even deliver Christmas trees around the holidays.

Q: What do you think the lesson is for other companies?

A: Be authentic. Or, as my son says, “you do you.” We’ve reached this new era in promoting brands. You have to think about sales and marketing differently now. You won’t remember the pitch. You won’t remember the tagline. But you will remember that, “Wow, they do this really cool thing.” So, be yourself and really connect with people in an authentic way.

Catch the first and second seasons of 12 for 12 at www.12for12.com. Watch Voss’s work in Renew, a four-part video series profiling JLL’s redesigned corporate headquarters, at officerenew.com.