It’s surprising how a lot of brands still don’t have a deliberate brand story that gets their targeted audiences to really give a sh*t about them. Think about it. Do you feel connected at a deeper level to established names like General Electric, Intel, 3M, Tupperware, or Shell? Personally, I don’t but I still buy those brands in one way or another… from time to time. I’m sure you do too. So why bother with a brand story then if we still buy, right? Wrong.
If those same names built a brand story which made us truly care, then we wouldn’t just buy from them, time to time only. We’d do more, we would engage, we would participate, we may even become voices that advocate that brand eventually. Customer loyalty in times like these isn’t easy; it’s hard in a digitally disruptive world where data hits us all at the speed of light.
Feature, form, and functionality don’t quite cut it anymore. Brands that are at the tip of your tongue today are the ones which have moved away from functionality, onto feeling. They’ve gone from predictable to wonderfully weird. The flawed logic of a lot of C-suite up till this day is driven by an arrogance that “might is right”. I’ve heard it myself recently: “A.J, we’re too big to be affected by all these new-age concepts. Storytelling is good but not essential. All this is good for younger companies or startups, not us”. I always end up smiling when I encounter mentality like this.
It’s fascinating how time eventually teaches all of us lessons. Irrespective, big or small; if you want to form connections with potential customers and clients in these times, having a great brand story is key. As the CEO of a big corporation you may not see it today, but your potential customers already saw it yesterday. Your size and legacy in this market of the future, in this disruptive world, sooner or later will be extinct if that’s all you are.
Brand stories enable people to identify with your brand and care about it – a brand story is the “why and how” of your business, including your driving mission, your struggles and your successes. A brand story should not only present facts but also evoke feelings. In order to help you create your own brand story, here are 10 keys to keeping in mind so that you can drive an effective narrative that will resonate with your market and your followers, in turn helping your business grow.
1. Be Real
Authenticity can only be achieved through honesty and transparency. Share your brand’s real story, not one that you made up to impress others. As Gary Vaynerchuk always points out: “Document versus Create”. Brands don’t need to fake their content in order to get their audiences to be a part of their journey. Be Real.
2. Your Why is Just the Tip of the Iceberg
Start with Why as Simon Sinek says. He’s absolutely right but I disagree with the “Why” being the most important aspect here. Your Why is literally just the tip of the iceberg. The How is so much harder to figure out because it’s all about the details and execution. Let me give you an example; your company’s ‘why’ is to “Provide humanity with a cheaper and safer way to reach Mars”. Ok, now what? What’s the number one question that pops into your head right after that? How, yes? How am I going to build an iconic company that gives people a cheaper and safer means to reach another planet? Which do you honestly think is easier to answer? Figure out your why, yes but move on quickly and get down to your how, fast! Your brand story can’t just be about your “why”. It’s going to have to showcase a bit more depth with your “how” as well if you really want it to evoke more than just logic.
Your vision is all about the impact you want your brand to make in the world, and everything you do should fit that vision in the long term so that it provides value to your audience before you ask them for business. If your brand offerings don’t have an impact in the market, then trust me, neither will your brand story, no matter how well crafted it may be. Sooner or later, the market will see through it. So focus on building real value first before getting obsessed with sex appeal.
The lifeblood of a business is the products and services it’s selling. They have to live up to the brand story you’re telling, and the promises you make as a result. At the end of the day, no matter how you phrase it, business is about transactions. If your products or services aren’t what you claim they are, sooner or later, it’s going to affect your bottom-line. So always make sure you’re aware of the tangibles in your business in order to craft a “realistic” brand story. A lot of us make the mistake of spinning our marketing and storytelling so hard while we end up ignoring the real brick and mortar of the business — your quality and delivery. Keep tabs on both the tangibles as well as the intangibles.
5. Team Members
You and the people behind your business are tasked with telling the brand story, and each person has an important role in that process. You need to make sure they’re able to do their part adequately. If your team members, partners, and investors are out there in the market, each telling a different brand story, then you may have an issue. Aligning every single person towards one singular brand positioning is crucial for the success of your company. Most of the founders and CEOs that I look up to are absolutely obsessed with this aspect of the business. So get all of your people on the same page!
6. Customer Communities
Your customers can come together and share their stories about your brand – a community of loyal customers built over time can factor significantly into a brand’s ongoing success. This is the reason why good companies have sales leads who moonlight as account managers but great companies hire two separate types of professionals for these two titles; Sales Managers and Customer Success Managers.
It’s the story your customer tells about your brand, which can then spread to more people. Your brand’s reputation may take years to build but hours to destroy. This is true despite how melodramatic it sounds. Marketing alone can’t reverse a brand’s bad reputation. Maintaining a good reputation is an important factor in your business’s ongoing success.
8. Reaction and Reach
Your ability to reach customers, and how they react to your brand, is an ongoing story. They may either not care that much about your business, or they may come in long lines to buy your products. If a particular type of content isn’t working for you and your brand, then learn to accept that reality and change course. Keep trying a new approach and give it enough time to either show or go!
9. Name and Tagline
You won’t believe how many business owners and entrepreneurs I’ve come across who just don’t “actually” believe in branding. In fact, it’s so apparent that they don’t because they never spend a cent on getting it done really right and really good! A brand can never be without its name and a tagline that both represent what it’s all about. I can name five case studies globally in which the branding (logo, tagline, theme, positioning, font, tone, etc) was indirectly responsible for 11% of the company’s gross revenue spike, year on year. The days where you get the cheapest agency you can find to do a hacksaw job on your logo and tagline are over. You need to spend on Branding, period.
10. Your Actions
This is possibly the most important key out of the ten mentioned in this article. Nothing represents a brand more than your actions as a business and as someone who personifies that brand. Every action matters, from how you run your operations to how you interact with customers. All of the above is useless if you aren’t able to showcase depth in your own character and actions within the market.
In combination, these keys will help you form a brand story that lasts, and the better you can connect the dots and communicate the narrative, the more successful your broader marketing efforts will be.