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I once went to a speech given by the then-CEO of P&G, and he said something that I knew instinctively was true, and I’ve followed his advice ever since: Every brand has a story, and it’s your responsibility as the head of a company or marketing director, to tell it.
This rings true not only intuitively – it feels right – but has been corroborated from the extensive consumer research I’ve done over the years. People constantly look for cues from your product, packaging and messaging that tells them your brand story. They want or even need to know what your brand story is so they can understand on an gut level if you fit with their sense of themselves, or if you don’t. And they purchase accordingly.
There’s no question that people like stories, and respond to them on a deeply personal and emotional level. It’s almost a basic instinct that helps us communicate in a meaningful and memorable way. And we internalize the best stories as part of our lives, which should be your goal: to be the best brand storyteller possible. But there is a caveat here. Your brand story must be the truth.
It should not be a tale or what you’d like the story to be, but a story that rings true at every possible contact point, from name and packaging, to website and marketing communications. With today’s social media, any shading of the truth will be seen and instantly communicated, breaking the trust of your customers, and trust is glue that holds your brand and customer together. Without it, you will not succeed. In answering what is a brand? I pointed out that people want to associate with brands that either fit with their sense of self, or represent what they aspire to be. And telling your brand story in a memorable, emotional, and even entertaining way, helps them make that judgment.
First, as I’ve mentioned before, you must determine what your brand stands for. In a very real way, establishing what you stand for sets the basis for your brand story’s plot: it gives shape and meaning to the story you want to tell. Once you’ve clearly articulated what you stand for, begin to craft your story just like any writer, with a beginning, middle and end.
Beginning: Today’s consumer wants a product to be about more than just someone trying to make money. Of course they understand you want this to be a profitable enterprise, but what was that first glimmer that got you into the business? What is it about your ‘mission’ that gets you up every day and headed to the office? How do you want to make a difference in the world and in the life of your customers? The consumer truly wants to know the answer to these questions and, if you don’t tell them, I promise you – they’ll make something up that you may not like. Remember, aside from the product benefit, which is often the category benefit and thereby not necessarily unique, you want your customers to be inspired by who you are and what you do, and telling the brand story enables them to actually take part in your vision.
Middle: As companies grow, you’ll face challenges and market changes that may require you to shift the focus of what you want to achieve. When that happens, let people know – they need to understand why you’re doing something so they can continue to be a part of your brand franchise. Remember, your story is really an ongoing conversation with your customers that keeps them interested, involved and committed to the brand. Don’t exclude them or think they don’t need to know – they do. They’ll see or sense the changes or shifts in direction and will need to know that you still want and have a role in their life. Otherwise, they’ll write the middle part of your story for themselves, and it may not be what you want.
End: Unlike most stories, there probably is no true end to your brand story, as you want it to unfold as long as possible. And while that may be, there should be a mental target of where you want the brand to continue moving, and your customers need to come on that journey with you. It’s always best if they can visualize that goal almost as well as you see it. In fact, as your customers, they want to join you on that journey. Having your customers share your journey in a way that they’re featured characters in your brand story, is especially relevant today when every company, brand and personnel move is magnified and spread on social media. If your customers are fellow travelers in your story, and feel a part of it, maybe even the cause of it, you will have their support and be much better positioned to overcome problems and obstacles without losing sight of that goal you share with them. And in that way, your brand story becomes theirs, too.