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Telling Stories: Your Brand is About You

During a recent seminar presentation, I asked my audience if they could tell me what their ‘story’ was. They responded, as I hoped, giving me a broad series of answers. In essence, their story was any (and all) of the following:

  • The Brand Story
  • The Brand Experience
  • The Company Story
  • The Company History
  • The Company Mission & Guiding Principles
  • Their Personal History
  • Their Personal Guiding Principles

Each has value. Each plays a role in creating and maintaining a brand. The best brands combine all of these stories, condensing their essence into a singular enterprise. Given the colossal amount of ‘junk’ noise filling our world and assaulting our consciousness, a brand needs this kind of single minded focus to break through and hit our brain’s sweet spot, the amygdala. The amygdala is the center of all things sensual. Consider it Brand Nirvana or Shangri-la, for it is here that we make most of our buying decisions, particularly those around discretionary and impulse products and services. Brands embedded in the amygdala provide a guest a short cut. It reduces anxiety and evokes pleasure. When marketers speak of unaided awareness, it is in the amygdala that such awareness resides.

So how do we get our brand to the Promised Land? By crafting our brand story in the multitude of ways I mentioned.

The Brand Story:

This is the story that imagines the world in which our brand exists, filled with emotion and sensual details of consumers enjoying the benefits of the brand. It depicts the target consumer in his or her environment, describing who they are and why they feel what they do. If the brand is a service, this story shares how the consumer’s life has been enhanced. The best brands use this story to paint the picture of the quality they are actually selling, rather than the mundane facts of the product or service itself. Harley Davidson is selling the open road and the brother & sisters who ride on it together. Of course, it just happens that they are using a Harley. But, that’s not the point: it’s the open road and the trip that matters.

The Brand Experience:

Here the actual experience with the brand becomes important. What is the ideal guest or consumer experience you want to craft? This is the story you write to ensure that every single second and square inch of the experience is orchestrated. For many, this step is ignored and done so at their peril. Take a look at the Chipotle website to see how a great brand experience is described.

The Company Story

This is separate from Mission or Guiding Principles, because it puts a human face on your enterprise. It often depicts what need existed that the company felt compelled to answer. It often talks about the company attitude toward product quality or service standards. A good example of this is how LL Bean outlines what they’re about, with particular emphasis on their pledge of absolute consumer satisfaction – no questions asked. You send any item back and it will be replaced or credited. They go the extra mile, so that I can send back boots, already worn, because they just didn’t fit right and get a new pair. It transcends a particular item or line and states how they intend to behave.

The Company History

This is exactly as it seems. What are the historical, salient facts of your enterprise? When did you get into business? With whom? What’s the company legacy? Who have you followed? Answers to all these questions establish bonafides that allow consumers to believe in your brand claims. In this age of deep, abiding cynicism, everything you can do to give me reasons to believe is worth exploring.

The Company Mission & Guiding Principles

Most missions are worthless. Now, I say that with all due respect for the gazillion hours, gallons of executive sweat and ungodly amounts of company money poured into the exercise. Why? Because most missions are bloodless and end up in a book somewhere, not in action with your associates and guests. If you can’t say your mission to someone else, without crib notes, then you have a lousy mission statement. What should your Mission Statement be? A simple statement of the world you envision as a result of your product or services use. The Guiding Principles too should be equally direct and memorable. What are you about? What makes you tick? What do you really care about? Take all the hallowed qualities like “QUALITY” or “EXCEPTIONAL SERVICE” and rewrite them so they sound like you. “QUALITY” can become, “I want to do it right, every time”. “EXCEPTIONAL SERVICE” may translate into, “You are my guest in my home and I intend to make it a wonderful visit”. It sickens me to see how much dry, passionless prose is written under the twin banners of Mission and Guiding Principles. Please, make it simple, heart felt and authentic.

Personal History

Personal history has particular meaning for your associates, because they want to know what gets you out of bed in the morning. Not the tired homilies that you read in annual reports, but the actual stories that made you the person you have become and formed the behaviors that drive you. People want to follow a person not a list of generalized personal qualities. When you ask if someone walks the talk, it helps that the talk comes from a real past not a fake present.

Personal Guiding Principles:

This is an extension of the previous item, but helps associates, in particular understand why you ‘do what you do’ and why you want them to model the same behaviors. When you gather associates for a meeting, it makes a world of difference for it to have one of your Guiding Principles as the meeting context. As example, one of my Guiding Principles is WIN-WIN. I look to create that and share that quality with every audience and client. Whatever the scenario, I want start with and return to the point, “Is everybody winning here?” and if not, what am I going to do about it?

So there you have it. Stories have multiple meanings and functions in defining and fueling your brand. Don’t skimp. Tell your story. All of them.