One of the things I like most about helping clients to truly understand and engage with their brands is reaching down together for their story.
That conversation often initially elicits what effectively sounds like a resume: “I spent so many years at this company or that company, gained a lot of experience, bought or sold, and here we are.” Or, “we made this product and, as the market changed, it led to that.” These may well be how the business came to be in its current form, but it’s not the story anyone cares to hear.
Obviously, you have to have a great product or service. It obviously has to meet all the touchpoints of traditional marketing, and have a sound business plan. Ideally, you have a truly unique product that can be proven as such – but that’s rare. So the problem comes when those traditional pitches, and pat, unproven differences are used to define your brand, when really, the story is everything.
Everyone loves a good story. We root for the protagonist. We laugh and cry and groan and nod and shake our heads at their trials and successes. We can’t help but get caught up in the twists and turns. It has a beginning, middle, and an end. And it always leaves you wanting more. It resonates because we relate to it. We recognize in it something of ourselves – our own histories or problems or frustrations or passions.
One of my favourite client stories came from a startup, Thrive Fit, and I use it, and the photo here, in my branding workshops. The owner had a long history and education in personal training – a glutted market in which, like so many sectors, nothing is really different – and was about to start a new business. He was looking at all the traditional sorts of names, his mind was entrenched in the traditional fitness marketing and models, but he wanted to listen. He quickly realized that he couldn’t appeal to everyone, and nor did he want to. There were better ways to build and sustain a business.
Turns out that Brian had the drive and the spark of entrepreneurialism in him from the time he was a kid, when he built up a little business trading in Crazy Bones until he had enough for the Nintendo he wanted, and helped others earn as well. As a teen, he resold pop from his locker. Both businesses saw a need, were driven by purpose and had an end goal is sight. He was always meant to be doing his own thing, his own way. And Francis? His need to help people went back to dreams of being Superman when he was a kid.
Long story short, we embarked on a journey that began with the story, and built a completely new business model for that sector that’s, well, thriving. For us, the same approach has worked for SMEs and multinationals. It gets to the heart.
In branding, the art lies not only in the ability to reach down for that story, but in distilling from it the key messages that are the essence of your brand. And then telling that story – in many forms – in a clear, consistent, and engaging way that makes each of your audiences want to sit up and listen. It tells it across multiple media and communication tools taking those strengths into account. It tells it to different audiences in different ways that resonate with them. It tells it verbally, visually and experientially. But it always tells it truthfully.
Of course, just as we don’t all love the same stories, we don’t all love the same brands. We want to engage with those brands that resonate with us, and care about what we care about – genuinely. Businesses that understand themselves and why they make/sell/produce/love what they do. That believe in it wholeheartedly. That hire and partner with others who believe in it, and that live up to their promises.
I’m often told that I should be a mentor (I am), or a life coach, or teacher. A branding specialist is, and should be, all of those things. The common denominator is trust, client-focus, and the ability to draw out a client’s deeper story – where the spark began, developed and glowed brighter, even if undefined. Within that story is the thread that’s key to the authenticity of your brand.
Communicating it well is the other story.
Credit: Photo credit: CCO Public Domain / The Virtual Denise / Pixabay