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Why We Need Brand Stories

filed in Brand Story, Brand Strategy

Anthropologists tell us story is the universal language that has quite literally ensured the survival of the human race. Our Neanderthal ancestors told stories to pass on information that would keep the tribe safe—tales of misadventure and survival about what to fear or to embrace. We tell stories to inform and connect, to inspire and create change.

Brands have long known that story is a powerful tool, but in business circles, we’re often more concerned with the mechanics of storytelling than the reasons we need a story to tell. Where would we be today if our ancestors had started with the mechanics without understanding why their stories mattered? Even the most primitive humans understood that their stories had a purpose.

Over the past fifty years, the outward motivation of brand storytelling (in the form of advertising) was to get attention in the moment and to acquire more customers. In many ways the ‘tell to sell’ strategy sold the power of storytelling short. Today the businesses that use story to the best advantage understand the primary reason to invest in brand storytelling is to build trust with the customers we are committed to serving and keeping, and we can’t begin to tell effective stories without understanding the trust gap we’re trying to fill.

Trust is the most undervalued and precious resource of our time. This makes storytelling one of the most important investments we can make.

Image by Dominique.

Creating A Sustainable Advantage

filed in Brand Story, Brand Strategy

The two bookstores on Bourke Street have very different layouts, but they mostly stock similar titles. The three nearby cafes all serve eggs, porridge or toast for breakfast. Both convenience stores along the street stock the same brands of chocolate, snacks and emergency litres of milk. And the websites that promote them were each built using identical lines of code.

When most businesses with access to similar resources are creating comparable products and services where does our sustainable advantage lie? Time and again we see that tangible advantages like location, quality and price aren’t enough to keep customers engaged and loyal.

The businesses that not only survive, but thrive are the ones that do what their competitors don’t do, not what their competitors can’t do. Often this is the human work of empathising, connecting and creating intangible value that’s not always seen but it’s certainly felt.

What do you do that your competitors aren’t prepared to do?

Image by Giovani Racca.

How To Leverage Results Based Marketing

filed in Brand Story, Marketing

In sales and marketing and in life we devote an extraordinary amount of time to finding the words to describe the value we create. We labour over marketing copy, taglines and slogans that will attract, persuade and entice.

We get so preoccupied with ‘the marketing’ that we forget the first step in the marketing journey is to make a great product that people want and will value.

Three Steps To Leveraging Results Based Marketing

1. Make a great product that solves a real need or problem.
The only way to do this is by understanding your prospective customer.

2. Get one person, then another, then twenty to use and recommend your product or service.
Airbnb started with three guests in the founder’s apartment.

3. Show the world the impact your product has on the people who use it. Tell their story.
Use case studies, customer stories, images and testimonials.

You don’t have to work so hard to tell a story that’s true. Let your results speak for themselves.

Image by sinkdd.

Acts Of Marketing

filed in Brand Strategy, Marketing

The tight-lipped cabin crew wearing crumpled uniforms pass out miniature bags of pretzels to the passengers—the only snack included in the ticket price of the five-hour flight. On the world’s largest airline everything that would make the journey more pleasant is extra. Profit margins trump empathy and generosity at every turn, and it shows—even in the posture of the staff who should be proud to work for the company.

It’s no surprise then that it doesn’t feature in the list of the Top 100 Airlines.

Contrast that to the smartly dressed Qantas team who set the stage by welcoming every passenger on board by name. Hot meals served with smiles, pillows, blankets, headsets and entertainment help every passenger to feel understood and valued regardless of where they are seated in the cabin.

Every day and in every moment we get to choose whether to deliver the minimum required or whether to delight. And those choices and resulting actions are acts of marketing that say more about our brand than any press release or piece of propaganda ever can.

Image by Dr Lam.

The Purpose Of Design Features

filed in Brand Strategy, Marketing

In business, we use design to differentiate ourselves in a number of ways. Design features are primarily seen as a way to attract customers and to help them decide if our product is for them. In a digital world, design is one of the best tools we have to build trust with customers we many never meet face-to-face.

But in our rush to simply stand out, we often overlook the opportunity design affords us to create deeper connections with prospective customers. Thoughtful design can show people what we stand for and what we value. When we get it right it makes them glad they chose our brand and gives them a reason to share it.

When more purchasing decisions are made online, it gets harder to justify design decisions that cost more. After all the customer is not holding the box, bag or book in their hand before they click ‘buy’. If we’ve already sold them, there’s no need to sustain the effort or increase the expense. And yet when we do it changes everything.

The quality of the packing, the weight of the paper, the colour of ink and type of materials we use—every one of these choices communicates our intention to the customer and gives him a story to tell. Design isn’t just about outward appearances and conversions in the moment. It’s a way to engage more deeply with customers in a world where there are fewer and fewer opportunities to do so and how we create great experiences that are talked about long after the purchase is made. Thoughtful design allows customers to become advocates who are delighted to pass our story or idea along and it’s often the smartest and most effective marketing investment we can make.

Image by Merlijn Hoek.

The Power Of The Customer’s Story

filed in Brand Story, Marketing

Mike, the guy who sells bus tours in Times Square doesn’t do permission marketing. He has 60 seconds to find a way to engage his prospective customer—a wary visitor in a strange city who isn’t anticipating being interrupted. Mike is competing with dozens of other street vendors. He’s also got the giant flashing billboards and a hundred other distractions in Times Square to contend with.
It’s a tough gig.

And yet he manages to out-perform his colleagues, selling three times the number of bus tickets every day by using a different approach to the standard method of thrusting leaflets at reluctant tourists, while shouting about special offers and discounts. Mike starts with the customer’s story.

He looks along the line of pedestrians walking towards him, takes in as much data as he can from their appearance and begins to find some common ground. He notices the Scandinavian features of a young man and makes eye contact, then asks if he’s from Denmark. When the tourist says he’s from Germany, Mike immediately switches to German and starts to engage. He does this over and over again throughout the day, looking for a way to understand the customer’s worldview before he begins his pitch.

Mike knows that he’s interrupting people and that this isn’t best practice marketing, but he also knows that if he is to survive Times Square he has to be better than the next guy. The best marketing (and even the best of the worst marketing) always starts with the customer’s story.

Image by Israel González.

It’s Not B2B, It’s Personal

filed in Brand Strategy, Marketing

One of the most confusing distinctions we’ve created in the business world is that between the business to customer (B2C) and business to business (B2B) consumer. It’s argued that because these two groups of customers are working towards different outcomes—efficiency vs. entertainment, expertise vs. enjoyment, that they also have different motivations.

The B2B consumer is expected to make decisions based on logic, while the B2C customer is thought to be driven by emotions. The result is that we often forget to treat the business customer with empathy and the retail customer with respect.

The people we hope to serve are not just defined by the title that’s printed on their business cards. CEO’s and Vice Presidents have just as many problems and fears, hopes and dreams as the next person. A corner office doesn’t strip someone of their humanity. Our marketing shouldn’t be designed to do that either.

Image by Chris Marchant.

Persuasion, Push And Pull

filed in Brand Strategy, Marketing

You’ve probably witnessed a mother trying to hurry her toddler along with a gentle sense of urgency. “Come on now Joe. Quickly.” she says.

The toddler immediately senses what’s important to his mum, but not necessarily to him and begins to walk more slowly. Mum’s urgency escalates and eventually her coaxing turns into a desperate, angry directive. “MOVE IT!” she yells.

The best outcomes happen when the goals of both parties are aligned. Persuasion doesn’t have to be all push and pull. We get to where we want to go faster by pulling in the same direction, so it pays to understand where and how fast the people you’re trying to influence want to go.

Image by Melanie.

The Quiet Marketing Opportunity

filed in Brand Strategy, Marketing

It was 6am on a wet and windy Melbourne morning. The two tourists wandered out of their hotel on Exhibition Street, each armed with a giant red golf umbrella plastered with the hotel’s equally giant logo.

At first glance, you might think how thoughtful it is that the hotel anticipates the traveller’s needs. How much more genuine and generous would this gesture be if the guest wasn’t forced to become a conspicuous walking billboard for the business?

We don’t have to turn everything we do into a full blown, neon-lit marketing opportunity. In fact allowing our actions to speak for themselves is the best marketing of all.

Image by Dove Lee.

Changing People’s Minds

filed in Brand Strategy, Entrepreneurship

We spend a lot of time trying to convince people of our opinion at work, in business and in life. If only we could attract more customers. If only the customers we had could be persuaded to spend more. If only our colleagues could see the sense of doing it this way? If only the team leader would approve the budget. If only they would listen.

What if we stopped devoting our energy to persuading those who may never change and began nurturing the relationships with the people who believe what we believe instead? How would that change our attitude, behaviour and sense of what’s possible? What would be the impact on our work be then?

It’s easier to find a like-mind than to change a closed one.

Image by Thomas Hawk.