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Two Essential Characteristics Of Story-Driven Brands

filed in Brand Story, Brand Strategy

You’ve probably had a disappointing experience with a brand or business. Maybe you couldn’t put your finger on what was wrong or why? Customer dissatisfaction is a result of a gap between promises and actions. Filthy bathrooms at the restaurant with the elaborately embossed menu. The snappy flight attendant who wears a painted on smile. Uncomfortable plastic seats in the chiropractor’s waiting room. Out of date produce on sale in the organic grocery store. A damaged delivery that was carelessly packaged.

People often ask me about the secret of a great brand story. I think there are two. Truth and consistency. It’s hard to live one without the other. When our brands are story-driven, that story is lived in every single decision, consistently, on good days and bad. The delight is in the detail.

Image by Dukas Ju.

The Secret To Being Exceptional

filed in Brand Story, Success

You might remember when you were a high school student (as I do) trying to work out a revision system that helped you to maximise your chances of academic success. I never had much luck. Teachers held up model students as examples of how ‘hard work’ paid off. Straight-A students it seemed were the ones who did ‘the most’ work. And ‘most’, being infinite was a daunting place to start.

It’s taken me a good thirty years to realise that exceptional performance is not a result of expending the most effort—trying to reach the summit in a single, spectacular leap. The secret to being exceptional is in the small choices we make moment-to-moment. The student who organises his notes from the very first lecture of the first semester. The hotel receptionist who consciously makes every interaction meaningful. The athlete who pushes through the last three uncomfortable reps. The CEO who intentionally seeks out and acts on the wisdom of his team. The doctor who greets her patients warmly by shaking them by the hand. Ordinary people making small choices that incrementally make them exceptional.

Small, deliberate choices, made moment-to-moment, have a huge impact over time—not just on the work we do and the people we serve, but on our belief about what’s possible. It’s easy to fall into the trap of complaining about the things beyond our control we can’t change. If we want to be exceptional, we need to get into the habit of finding reasons why we must, instead of making excuses why we can’t.

Image by Louis Vest.

The Power Of Expectations

filed in Brand Story, Marketing

The packaging on the flat-pack garden shed promised fast, easy assembly (80% faster than the competitor’s product), using 75% fewer screws, pre-drilled holes and a 30-year warranty. Taking the manufacturer at their word the customer’s expectation is set. The shed takes two people five hours to assemble, requires additional drilling, a trip to the hardware store to buy a special riveting tool and leaves the weary handymen with a bag of fifty extra screws and abandoned Sunday afternoon plans. There’s a clear mismatch between the expectation the company set and the reality the customer experienced.

Dissatisfied customers are not just created by products and services that don’t work. Dissatisfaction is also a direct result of the stories we the marketers lead customers to believe. Expectations once set are hard to shift. Our words have the power to change so much more than the customer’s decision to click the buy button. We should use them wisely.

Image by Melody Hansen.

Why You Need To Build A Story-Driven Business

filed in Brand Story, Brand Strategy

What drives our desire to get better at telling the story of our products, services and companies? We’re used to thinking of story as a way to create and communicate value. We know the running shoe with a tick on the side is more valuable than the one without because of the expectations and meaning we have attached to the story of the Nike brand. And who doesn’t want their company to be more meaningful and valuable?

What we really want from our story, though, goes beyond the need to be better known, sell more stuff or make more money. We are yearning for a deeper understanding of what we’re here to do and the difference it might be possible to create. The story, not of what is, but what’s at stake and what could be is what drives our desire to succeed.

The most inspired entrepreneurs and successful organisations know how important and powerful understanding the significance of your story can be. What drives Elon Musk, for example, is not building more cars for the sake of selling more cars. Tesla Motors and SolarCity (the energy company Musk is Chairman of) exist to ‘accelerate the advent of sustainable energy’.

If someone were to ask you to tell them the story of your business you’d likely explain what you make, who you serve, where and how long you’ve been doing it. It’s unlikely you’d begin by telling them why any of it matters in the grand scheme of things (even though it does). What’s at the heart of your story? What’s the reason you got out of bed this morning? It isn’t just pride in the product you made, the need to launch the website you coded or the hope of selling the service you designed. It’s the deep desire to change someone or something you care about changing and the belief that it’s possible.

The intended impact of your work on the world and in the lives of the people it touches is where your story begins.

Elon Musk knows what he’s setting out to do over the next ten years because he and his companies are built on a story-driven business framework. Their vision of a sustainable energy economy which helps to avert the collapse of civilisation is the reason they are setting out to;
‘Create stunning solar roofs with integrated battery storage, expand the electric vehicle product line to address all major segments, develop a self-driving capability that is 10X safer than manual and enable your car to make money for you when you aren’t using it.’

THE STORY-DRIVEN BUSINESS FRAMEWORK

1. PURPOSE: Why we exist.
2. VISION: Where we’re headed.
3. VALUES: The beliefs that guide us on that journey.
4. PLAN: How we will deliver on the vision while staying true to our values.

When your business or organisation is story-driven, it’s grounded in a framework of purpose, vision and values that inspire commitment, create momentum and lead to a solid plan for achieving success. This enables you to adapt in times of change because you understand that your story is bigger than the scene that’s playing out in the moment.

What’s driving your story?

Image by NRMA

You WILL Have Unhappy Customers

filed in Brand Story, Brand Strategy

Unhappy customers are a bit of an Achilles heel of the committed entrepreneur, business owner or leader. When you’re working hard to build a business and do meaningful work the last thing you want to hear is that you haven’t met the mark. You can find thousands of practical, stay calm, listen, sympathise, don’t take it personally and solve the problem type articles and advice online. But skillfully dealing with the complaint isn’t the hard part. The more challenging thing to cope with and attend to is our visceral reaction to criticism.

The unhappy customer lays his story at our feet, and we hastily pick it up, place it on our shoulders and carry it around with us. Yes, sometimes our products or services fall short, sometimes we get it wrong even when we’re doing our best. We should always apologise for failing to meet expectations and do what we can to resolve the problem. What we must also do is recognise that often the customer’s fear, anger, remorse or disappointment has less to do with a bad experience and more to do with what’s going on in his life right now.

You WILL have unhappy customers, no matter how caring and diligent you are. There is no way to avoid the pain of this fact. That one in a hundred customer who calls you out is the price you pay for the privilege of getting up to do the work again another day.

So yes, take responsibility for your mistakes and fix the things you can fix—while remembering there are some things you have no way of making good. You are not obliged to own the weight of your customer’s circumstances or worldview. You have an obligation to get back on track for the other ninety-nine customers you hope to serve and delight. Some of the greatest lessons unhappy customers can teach us are not about improving systems, processes and logistics, which in the end are easily fixed. The important learnings are about ourselves, and our resilience and determination to do good work and make a difference to the people we get the chance to serve again tomorrow and the day after that.

Image by FFCU.

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