How to define your brand story in 2019?
Imagine you're at a party with your friends. Eating, drinking, laughing and sharing stories. You're having a great time. Then out of the blue, someone jumps up onto the table and shouts out…
"Look at me! I am the best in the house. The funniest. The smartest. The best looking ;) And I make a sh*t ton of money. Who wants to get out of here and have a crazy time?!”
Chances are you and your friends will be distracted for a moment, probably a bit shocked and mildly amused. Then you get back to whatever it is you were doing (after making the mental note to avoid that person for the rest of your life!).
That is NOT how you build relationships with people. Yet the top brands try to do just that. While listening to Spotify, watching YouTube or flicking through Instagram or doing whatever else it is we’re doing, brands try to interrupt us to tell us how great they are, why they’re better than everyone and ask us to do stuff for them.
Well that works as much for brands as it does for that person at the party. More than 75% of emails from brands never even get opened. More than 99.5% of banner ads don’t get clicked. Maybe brands should spend less time bothering us and more time building relationships with us.
Relationships, relationships, relationships
Relationships are the lifeblood of brands. The brands with the strongest relationships are the ones that prosper and persevere. Think of a brand that you believe you have a strong relationship with. Chances are you're more likely to spend a little more money on their products or services. If they mess up, you'd probably forgive them. You're more likely to open up their email, click on their ads, take their phone calls or speak positive about them with your peers. You do that not just because you like their products or services, you do that because you feel like you have a relationship with them. You feel like a part of their story.
I’ve been working with brands for more than 10 years to help them share and tell their story. What I’ve learned is, the brands with the strongest relationships view, share and live their story differently. They don’t constantly brag about themselves and beg people to do things. Instead, they share from their heart and demonstrate what matters most to them. They connect with people and invite them into their story. That’s the type of story I want to share with you today.
Time to build a brand
When I work with entrepreneurs to help them with their story, one of the first questions I ask is “What is the ultimate goal of your brand? Why does your brand exist? “.
Of course, they’re often quick to jump to their website and show me their mission statement (which they’ve perfectly crafted with a marketing/sales friend). It sounds something like this…
“To achieve profitable growth and be the leader in every market we serve through superior customer service, innovation, quality and commitment” - Most Companies
Sure, those are admiral business goals. But, the brands we love have much more aspirational goals that we all want to be a part of.
Nonprofits are the epitome of this.
Cancer Research UK wants a country without cancer… think about it.
These are the brands that we often give our time and money to, in exchange for no direct product or service. That’s a pretty good relationship.
We call this reason for existing your 'happily ever after’.
Brands need a higher purpose
The brands we love truly believe they exist for something much more important than market domination or profitability. They believe they can make a difference in the world and the people they serve. Their product or services are merely just a means to a greater end.
Harley Davidson - they want people to have more exciting lives
Patagonia - they want people to appreciate and preserve the outdoors
When brands think of themselves from this perspective, we view them differently. We don’t think of them as selling to us, we think of them as helping us. Imagine if people saw your brand from that perspective? In order for brands to have strong relationships with people, they must have a 'happily ever after' that everyone in their story wants to be part of.
It's not what you do, it’s why you do
But that’s step one - just having a 'happily ever after' isn’t enough. Surely having one will make your brand more attractive than other brands with more selfish goals? But a 'happily ever after’ is rarely differentiating. So the second question I ask entrepreneurs is "what makes your brand so special?".
Of course, they will jump right back to the mission statement. Some actually show me their core values. Innovation, inclusive and quality. Because those we know are unique (tut).
Most will jump straight to their product or services. The bank will talk about what they do for their community, their great rates, their personal service. Or a tech company will talk about their amazing functionality, their patented approach, their great user interface. And yes, those are differentiators. But more often than not, they’re just temporary advantages that any competitor can meet or beat at any moment in time. In fact, the more they talk about them, the more they sound like their competitors.
What also makes a brand unique is not what it does, who it does it for or how it does it. What makes a brand unique is why it does what it does. What is that core belief that guides them to do what they do? It's no different from what makes you or I unique. It's not what we do or how we do it, it’s why we do what we do.
The moral of the brand story
There are many brands that make motorcycles, but only Harley Davidson truly believes freedom is exhilarating. That’s why they make bikes that let you ride on the open road. It's why they give you the freedom to customise your own bike. That’s why they are so loud! If you believe freedom is exhilarating and you want to have a more exciting life, you should consider jumping on a Harley. Or the very least, buy a T-Shirt.
We call this core belief ’the moral of the story’. And just like in the fairy tales we read, the moral is rarely stated directly or called out. It’s implied through every aspect of the story.
Nowhere does Patagonia state that exploration empowers them. That’s just the core belief that guides them to their ‘happily ever after’. It guides their philanthropic approach, their supply chain practises. It’s why they go to great lengths to create technology and outerwear and equipment, so that people can explore virtually - everywhere.
The moral of the story is the core belief that guides a brand to its happily ever after. And just as you and I connect with people who share our beliefs, brands connect with people who share their beliefs. The stronger the belief, the deeper the connection.
That core belief has to be authentic to the brand. A brand can’t pretend to be someone it’s not in order to build relationships with people it wants to attract. That works as much for brands as it does for you and I. These relationships never last.
Brands also can’t have a different moral for different audiences. That’s like having multiple personalities. Again, not a great formula for building great relationships with people.
Happily Ever After?
Of course, entrepreneurs will often say to me:
“There’s NO WAY we can find a core belief that is shared amongst all our audiences. We serve people across different industries, different geographic regions, different demographics, it’s IMPOSSIBLE” - Most Companies
And I’ll agree.
Audiences are different for brands. Brands have many different audiences.
But audiences all share a belief. Their hearts are in the exact same place. That’s what connects all of us.
Relationships are the lifeblood of brands. The strongest relationships are built upon shared beliefs. Some brands need to stop jumping up on those tables and screaming about how great they are. They need different approach. Brands don’t need a script, they need a soul.
You can’t define a soul, but when a brand discovers its ‘happily ever after’ and they live by the moral of their story (that core belief that guides them to do what they do) - their soul shines through.
When a brand reveals its soul, everyone who represents the brand can act accordingly. Everyone who shares that core belief and goal will be attracted to the brand. The relationship between the brand and its audiences will grow stronger and everyone will live 'happily ever after'.
- Michael Porter
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