My Story Is Smaller Than Your Story
Provenance is a powerful tool in the arsenal of a company. However, it's an easier tool to use at the small scale. It's power can be noted in the rise of the local food movement (you know the farm and farmer the food came from, in some cases personally) and the spread of the artisinal product (everything from cheese to hand crafted furniture where again you know the individual who made it, and again sometimes personally). These things have small, intimate, personal stories to spread.
The local farm has a personal story the commercial farm doesn't. Daniel Chaffin Furniture Makers has a story that Haverty's can't tell. This comes from the limited amount of product and in many cases the general quality of the product.
Another piece of the puzzle is the idea that few people know about these cool people and places. This lends a certain unique cache to the person that knows about them. Hence you have the haughty lady hosting a tea talking about the "wonderful little choclatier I found in the Hamptons last year. You really must try it," and she is both praised for her relationship and knowledge, and loathed because we are on the outside looking in.
Obviously the exclusivity piece is a bit of a tight-rope walk. You don't want to be so exclusive that you're a club of one. What needs to happen is that your relationships and story are so unique that everyone wants in, and being on the outside feels like you're missing out, not being held out. Frankly, on the small scale this relatively easy to do.
Stories Built on the Shoulders of Giants
Who's doing this on a large scale? And how are they doing it? I wonder if in some cases large companies and brands are living on the legacy of their earlier small stories and provenance. How long can the perception of Google's doing good last based on it's supposedly giving and humble founders. The story of the young prodigy of Bill Gates certainly spurned the growth of Microsoft (along with smart programming). The price of Apple stock rises and falls based on the health prognosis of Steve Jobs. That's just in the tech world, in the retail world the creator is really king ( the brands usually bare their name). The real question is what to do when the founder is gone, or when the story of the founder isn't resonant anymore. Then what? Does provenance still have a place, and if so, how do it without fakery?