brand story
October, 2016 Samantha Temple Neukom

What's your brand story?

Getting to an authentic, sustainable, and revenue-generating brand story

If you’re going to be authentic and transparent – and these days, you can’t get away with anything less – you can’t manufacture your brand and outsource it to marketing. You have to find your brand story – in your culture, your customer, and your business model. Here’s how.

1. Feel it

You have to start from the outside-in, with your customers. This is about empathy.

When your spouse or mother asks you to change the light bulb, fill up the gas tank, get the kids at school, can you cover dinner? They typically aren’t just asking for these tasks – there’s another message in there. It’s a longing that sounds something like “do I matter to you?” Your customers have that same emotional longing underneath all their rational questions. Can you hear them? Listen for the whys, the longings, the joy and the pain. You’re looking for affect of any kind. That’s a window into when emotions in the brain are taking over, and it’s how you’re going to connect for the long-term with your customers.

Sometimes we’ll hear “but my customers just want software that’s easy" or “my guests just want a place to rest their heads.” That’s a cop-out. That emotion is always there; otherwise, you’re just a commodity. Behind all that rationalizing is real emotion that’s powerful, sticky, and when you tap into it, irresistible. If you don’t, someone else will and they’ll take your customers with them.

For example, Redfin buyers and sellers want someone to trust in a system they think is rigged against them.

It’s not their rational brain buying your product; it’s their feelings. Those driving feelings come from the meaning ascribed to an event, person or object. There’s oodles of science (and the TED talks to go with it) to back this up. Understand the feeling your customers want, i.e., savvy, special, hopeful, in control, beautiful, appreciated, included, etc. Know that feeling – feel it right along with them – and you’re on the path to winning and keeping customers for life.

2. Frame it

Determine what business you’re in. First, know your purpose in addition to making you and your investors money. Why do you exist, anyway?

Then, identify the category you want to compete in: whose stuff do you want to be compared to? If you’re ketchup, you might want to appear next to the buns, but you also need to appear in the ketchup aisle – you wouldn’t want to miss out on all the people just looking for ketchup. What do you do that’s the same as what they do? Where can you stand apart from them on the same stuff? Figure out what of the antes for that consideration set do you want to be better at, and go after them.

3. Make a promise

More important than the antes, though, is what sets you apart. What differentiated promise are you making and can you hold up for years and years to come? This is tricky – this isn’t about what’s BETTER. This is about uniqueness – in perspective, in your role, in the customers your serve, in the way you bring your service or product to market. If you can add an –ER or –EST, it’s not different, it’s just better. Better can be beaten over time. Different is own-able, and defensible.

Gather up the reasons your customers and future customers can believe that what you do will help them feel the way they want to feel. Make sure you include the rationale they need to justify their purchase. Don’t settle for a functional differentiator – give them a promise they can dream along with you, not just a better widget.

Some people call this positioning, but the trap there is you can fall into a fact-based, functional conversation. This isn’t about features and benefits.

Make your promise unique to your business in your category; make it meaningful to your customers; make it believable based on what you do today and plan to do in the near future.

For example, the W hotel stands for the wonder and kismet of travel – backed by their lobby experience, their music, their candlelight, their bar and restaurant scene, and so forth.

Meanwhile, their sister brand the Westin stands for a heavenly womb for today’s road warriors, backed by a healthy menu, a heavenly bed, a heavenly rain shower head, and a gym at every location.

Know, too, what costs, risks, and effort you’re asking customers to make, and be sure you have enough “stuff” to offset those investments on the part of your customer.

4. Bring it to life

Here’s the rub: you can’t just bring your promise to life in an ad campaign. No one will believe you, and you’ll be further behind than where you were to begin with. You have to bring your promise to life in everything you do and say.

To do this, first you have to align your team. If everyone from the lowest paid to the highest paid knows the promise your brand is committed to delivering on at every interaction, then your customers will feel it.

Then, you have to make sure that what you’re doing is contributing to fulfilling your promise. Your roadmaps, all your experiential touch points, your UX. This is your innovation trajectory for your next service enhancement, your next product development, and your next UX experiment-turned-revenue driver. Empower your team with the ability to come up with new ways to DO your promise, and you will have a cohesive, dynamic, innovative organization.

Lastly, use your promise to find authentic, unique ways to communicate. Your promise can be the leaping off point for creative genius – both in new kinds of content and real dialogue with your customers.

Dove’s Real Beauty campaign is a great example of authentic, unique communication that stems from a deep purpose and promise to women.

5. Check your work

Is the way you’re bringing your promise to life delivering bigger volume, bigger margins, and less churn? After all, those are the ultimate goals of brand. Measure and monitor how product, service, experience, and your marketing channels contribute to each of these business goals, what metrics have a direct correlation to each goal, and hold everyone accountable through continuous measurement and reporting. Don’t forget to keep listening – qualitative information can only strengthen your ability to reach your quantitative goals.

When you are authentic to your purpose in the promise you make to customers, connect that purpose to the deep longing you listen for in your customers, and then use that promise to drive your culture, your operations, your service, and your marketing, you’ll reap the reward of ever increasing engagement with a brand story that drives revenue long-term.

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