By Jim Signorelli
Finding your authentic brand’s story is not a luxury for the touchy-feely. Given our overloaded channels of communication and the general lack of trust (and boredom) with advertising messages, finding your brand's true emotional core and expressing it through your brand’s story is a must.
But first, you must know what you're looking for.
If you ask any story writer, "what are you trying to say through your story?" chances are you will get some expression of their worldview or values. If you ask the same question of a marketer, you might get something that resembles a unique selling proposition or what is now commonly referred to as an elevator speech. Brand stories are something very different than elevator speeches, and far more powerful.
Most elevator speeches speak about a brand's function or what it does, e.g. we help advertisers make the most of social media, or, I empower people to find their inner artist, etc. But even the best-crafted elevator speech will only take you to the next floor. Your key to the higher floors is found in your brand's story. Like the author's story, brands can express beliefs and values as well, e.g. the importance of freedom, self-expression or discovery. And when these values are shared with an audience, buyers don't just buy, they become involved on an emotional level as supporters who subscribe to your brand's true meaning. You'll know when this happens as more people are moved to write great things about your brand in reviews and on Internet forums. Or, you'll see a big jump in the positive responses to survey questions like "Is this brand for people like you?"
To find, clarify and promote your brand story, don’t look to what you do. Look to why you do it. Beliefs and values explain all behaviors. You may have to do some excavating to get to the beliefs and values that underlie your brand’s cause, but it's well worth the work. Here are five places to look.
1. Ladder up
Start with the most important functional outcome that your brand delivers, like time and/or money savings, ease of use, greater security, etc. Then consider the underlying value that is associated with that functional benefit, such as freedom from worry, simplicity or safety. A way to get at this is to ask yourself why the functional outcome you deliver is important. Then ask again, why is that important? Keep asking why until you get to your root cause (inventiveness, love, peace of mind or relaxation) You'll know you will have tapped into it when you are comfortable completing some variation of the sentence, "We (or I) believe that _____________is important. Now, ask yourself how you can uniquely call that belief or value your own, and manifest it through what you do and/or the way you do it.
2. Describe the enemy
Another way to get at your story is to describe its opposite. If you were to do things the wrong way, what would that look like? What do you value least? Think of the enemy that your brand is setting out to overcome, e.g. time waste, stress, slow response time, etc. Then start to develop your enemy's character. Describe what your enemy values most and what you value least. Sometimes a road paved with what you don't believe in will lead you to the place where you belong.
3. Find a role model story character
Think of your brand as a story character. There are many books available that describe brand archetypes that your brand might be best associated with (the caregiver, the maverick, the wise man) If you don't have access to these, try to identify a story hero that your brand is most like and explain why in terms of what that hero values. But know the difference between what they do and why they do it. For example, Superman's purpose was not to jump tall buildings in a single bound. Rather, he was driven by his belief in upholding justice and the American way.
4. Review a list of values
Sometimes it is hard to find the one word that describes best what you believe is most important. There are a number of value lists that you can access on the Internet. Go through this list and start circling those that apply. Then go over the circled values to start the process of elimination. Keep doing this until you are able to land on one single value that best describes your brand's cause.
5. Get feedback from customers and employees
Ask customers and employees what they think you value most. Oftentimes, they will interpret your purpose for you based on their experience with yours and competitive brands. You'll either gain clarity or more reasons why you need to better tell your story.
I won't pretend that any of the above is an easy exercise. It may take some time as you narrow your brand's story to something that is single-minded. During this process, you may even find that your brand is too fractionalized to land on one single story. In cases like these, it's best to take stock of the fact that your brand identity may be fractionalized as well. Just remember, without a single story, your brand is vulnerable to the competitor who has one.
When all is said and done, there is something even more important than finding your brand’s story. It’s living it. It's one thing to have a brand story, and quite another to show little support for it. Worse yet, as many politicians have learned, contradictory evidence can permanently destroy a brand's credibility. Be certain that your story is authentic and fully supported by your product(s), your actions and through every communication with prospects and customers.