The Blake Project, the brand consultancy behind Branding Strategy Insider, delivers interactive brand education workshops and keynote speeches designed to align marketers on essential concepts in brand management and empower them to release the full potential of the brands they manage.
Category: Brand Storytelling
Facts feel right. They portray the sharer as informed and aware. They give a sense of pragmatism. They quantify and substantiate. But they seldom motivate us to shift from where we are now and what we like now to somewhere new.
That’s one of the roles of stories. And yet stories themselves are now such a commonplace feature of brandspeak that they are in danger of losing their magic. Increasingly they are becoming a catalog of features – a parade of facts – in a narrative format. Shawn Callahan, a marketer whose expertise in this area I very much respect, goes further. When I asked him about this recently, he told me, “Many branding specialists are talking about stories but are not telling any. You have to know what a story is and what it is not. A story has some basic features such as a series of causal events and something unexpected happening. Stories have characters doing things.”
Four things I think marketers need to realize about stories:
1. Storytelling is more than just writing. Increasingly marketers are telling themselves that anything they transcribe is a story. Not so.
2. Content is an expression of story, it is not the story itself. A brand story forms the common reference point that all branded content should report to. The same words or even ideas spread across a range of channels is not a story, it’s a script. Content must collectively capture the breadth and depth of a story if it is to be more than just a collection of common reference points. In that sense, a story is a prism and the content is light. What consumers see at any one point is an aspect. Stories invite discovery.Read More
Yes, that kind of born again. And while I don’t mean that we all literally should start talking about Jesus, brands can learn a lot from people who have found meaning and deeper relevance in time of crisis. After all, the social media revolution has brought crisis to anyone relying on traditional branding tools.
The brands that have taken the path of higher purpose like Chipotle, Dove and Intel, have not only survived the transition from the age of broadcast to the age of social media, they’ve become more relevant and valuable than ever. The fate of the countless unconverted has not been nearly as enviable.
So what are the steps someone takes when they get born again and what can brands learn from the process?
First, you discover your values.
Religious people love the word “values.” It’s part of their everyday parlance. Why? The first thing that happens when someone undergoes an awakening is they start telling themselves a new story about who they are and why they are here. In this story, they stop defining themselves by what they own or what they’ve done. Their new story is about the values they hold and where they are going. Born again brands speak first about the values they passionately pursue and the world they’re inviting audiences to create. This is what allowed Chipotle to avoid irrelevantly advertising their burritos and instead create a viral firestorm with their magical invitations to create a better world by creating a better food system. Any brand can make this shift but not before they start telling a new story to themselves about why they’re on this planet and the values they serve. Ben Cohen, the founder of Ben & Jerry’s who famously turned ice cream into a values-machine gave me this warning about identifying brand values: “They can’t just be milquetoast, namby pamby middle of the road crap. You need to stand for something, so customers who believe the same thing can glom onto your brand.” Any brand can be an evangelist for universal human values. What are yours?
Next the hero of your story changes.Read More
In a world of conversations, everyone has something to say. You can’t control that – nor should you, at least not in a democracy. Some people will agree with you. Others will not. You can’t control that either. Some will argue their case against what you are doing or suggest that you are not doing it correctly. They have the right to make their point within legal bounds.
But where a lot of brands go wrong is that they take their cue for their own storytelling from the stories that others are telling about them. Their story, in other words, manifests itself in the form of reactions to other people’s stories rather than as actions built around their own narrative.
Don’t get me right. Brands must respond to the assertions of others. But they cannot allow others to control the brand conversation to the point where their own share of voice is lost. They must know and advance their own viewpoints.
Too many brands view challenges as criticism and react to them that way, instead of looking upon them as what I believe they increasingly are: competition for attention in the “ideaplex” – John Butman’s nifty phrase for the profusion of activities, channels, structures and technologies generated for the creation, distribution and consumption of ideas. Great book by the way.
Ideas have, as Butman rightly points out, proliferated to the point of glut. And stories are of course the perfect vehicle within which to express a myriad of opinions – some of which will concur with your actions as a brand, and others that will not. Now everyone wants to get their point across – brands, advocates, NGOs, politicians, senior management – and the media and social media provide a perfect pitching ground within which to raise hopes and doubts.
Today, we are all litigators, pursuing and prosecuting agendas and viewpoints in equal measure. Debate is healthy. It’s a sign of a competitive and free market at work.Read More
Great brands have great stories. But a great story doesn’t automatically create a great brand. For years we’ve told ourselves a story about what story is and how it works: develop a product; build a story around that product to give it value; sell that product at a greater degree of profit. We’ve allowed ourselves to believe that stories are the lynchpin of competition and that the best storytellers will win.
But that in itself is a myth.
Ultimately consumers don’t buy a story. They listen to a story. They are influenced by a story. But what they buy is a truth that directs their behavior, captured in a story.
You don’t succeed just because you have a story. You succeed when you have a story that inspires people to buy your brand. The most beautiful, uplifting story in the world won’t cut it commercially if it doesn’t achieve competitive connection – if it doesn’t provide customers with reasons to connect with your brand at the expense of someone elses.
Stories may influence behaviors. But only when powerful and distinctive motives drive the stories. In other words, only when, as Rajant Meshram says, it has “ground truth”. And only when the experience customers receive then lives up to the story they allowed themselves to buy into.
Otherwise, it’s a fairy tale.
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Like intention, authenticity and energy cannot be faked. If you’re telling a story you don’t believe in, your audience will sense it instantly. They’ll feel it and act on that feeling, even if they can’t justify their feeling in words. The good news is that they will pick up just as instantly on your genuine enthusiasm and conviction. You don’t need to stand on your head or shout or sing to show that your passion is real. You just need to let yourself feel it instead of suppressing it. Authentic energy is contagious. If your story truly excites you, and you let that excitement show, it will resonate with your audience.
How do you convey energy or enthusiasm for a product if the product’s not so great, or if you’re number three or four in the market? Unfortunately, for many businesspeople, that’s reality. But it’s not an in- surmountable problem. The trick is to find something about the product or service that does excite you, even if it’s something as small as the color of the item or the look of the service’s website. Then focus on the aspect of your story that makes you feel genuinely enthusiastic.
One of the most high-octane advocates of telling to win that I know of in any business is Mark Burnett (pictured on his show The Voice), who pioneered reality television. Since 2001 Burnett has been nominated for forty-eight Emmy Awards— for series such as Survivor, The Apprentice, The Contender, Martha Stewart, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, and The MTV Awards. Because Mark has turned personal enthusiasm into career rocket fuel, I wanted him to discuss this element of the tell with my UCLA grad students.
Burnett was even more emphatic than I’d expected in stressing the role of passion in the telling of business stories. “Our success or failure is determined by our level of energy,” he said flatly. “I tell my people, ‘Much more than our creativity, our level of energy inspires the people around us.’ ”Read More