July 14, 2014
Sometimes, Brand Leaders write their strategic documents in such a boring way, others have a hard time following. If you as the Brand Leader are the only one who understands your brand, then you’re in trouble. The Brand story should distill everything you know about your brand (the vision, purpose, values, objectives, strategies, tactics, target market, insights, rational and emotional benefits, reason to believe) and organize it into something that is digest-able for everyone who might touch the brand–whether that’s consumers, advocates, influencers, employees, agencies, retailers or the media.
So what makes a good story?
Before getting into your Brand story, think of all of the great Super Hero stories of Batman, Spiderman or Wonder Woman and you see some commonality in what makes a good story in general. For this purpose, let’s use the fundamentals of a good Super Hero story and try to match up all the brand strategic inputs you may have to help tell the story.
The basis of the Super Hero story usually starts with a conflict of Good versus Evil. There needs to be an Enemy and a Hero.
Most brands started as products or services that handled some functional problem in the market, but as they matured and became more closely connected to their consumers, they evolved into a Big Idea, that fulfills consumers’ emotional needs. Another way to say it, most great PRODUCTS were invented to solve a rational PROBLEM in your consumers’ daily life. Most great BRANDS solve an emotional ENEMY in your ongoing consumers’ life. The question you likely never ask is: who is the Enemy of your consumer? The conflict and resolution sets up the Big Idea of the story. If you are the Apple brand, then you fight off the enemy of FRUSTRATION on behalf of your consumer. Unless you work in IT, you likely find computers extremely frustrating. We have all sat at our computer wanting to pull our hair out. Spending 38 minutes to figure out how print, getting Error 6303 message that says close all files open and reboot or buying a new computer and you need to load up 13 disks and 3 manuals to read before you can even email your friend to tell them how amazing your computer is. Apple has recognized the FRUSTRATION consumers go through and realized it was in the way of many consumers experiencing the potential of communications through computers.
There is a substantial back story to explain what makes up the Super Hero.
There is a clear vision for a better future, a purpose to explain why the hero does what they do, and a set of values to explain what is right and wrong. A brand should also be able to articulate their Vision for the next 10 years, The most successful brands start with a purpose driven vision (why) and match the strategies (how) and the execution (what) to the vision. Start with the Question of WHY do you do what you do? If you are Apple, the answer would be “At Apple, we believe in challenging the status quo, we believe in thinking differently. We challenge ourselves to make a dent in the universe.” What do you get for your brand, when you answer the question of “why are you in this business?”.
A good Super Hero story saves someone. A good brand should as well. Each story also has a distinct cry for help.
As Steve Jobs said: “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology. You can’t start with the technology and then try to figure out where you’re going to sell it” It’s important to tightly define who you will save and it starts with those who are the most motivated by what you do. Pick a focused target market. Realizing not everyone can like you is the first step to focus on those that can love you. Too many times, Brand Leaders blindly pick an idealized target market based on size and wealth of the target, figuring that will offer the highest return. However, going after the biggest potential target can sometimes lead to failure because they are already being courted by everyone else. And that large target when they might not like your product is just a recipe for failure. I like to challenge Brand Leaders to focus on figuring out who are the consumers that are already motivated by what you do. That’s the perfect match up to your brand. You have to matter the most to those who really care. Just as the super hero always responds to a cry for help, the Brand must listen to the what they are saying. The best way to frame a consumer insight is to get in the shoes of the consumer and use their voice. Insight comes to life when it’s told in such a captivating way that makes consumers stop and say “hmm, I thought I was the only one who felt like that”. Insight is about “seeing below the surface”. To get deeper, keep asking yourself “so what does that mean for the consumer” until you have an “AHA moment”. What are the beliefs, attitudes or behaviors that help explain how they think, feel or act in relationship to your brand or category. What I recommend to Brands is that they frame insights in quotes and use the word I, forcing you to be in their shoes and using their voice. For a Bank with long hours, the insight would be: “I am so busy driving my kids around, I can never get to the bank during banking hours. I wish there was a bank that worked around my life, rather than me working around the banks’ life”.
A Super Hero is different than everyone else.
For a Brand in a competitive world, you have to realize that no one brand can do it all. You have to decide on what you want to be from four choices: better, different, cheaper or else not around for very long. Giving the consumer too many messages about your brand will confuse them as to what makes your brand unique. Trying to be everything is the recipe for being nothing. Trying to do everything to everyone makes you nothing to no one. It just spreads your resources and your message so that everything you do is “ok” and nothing is “great”. With a long to-do list, you’ll never do a great job at anything. And in a crowded and fast economy, “ok” never breaks through so you’ll never get the early win to gain that tipping point that opens up the gateway to even bigger success
There is some super power that makes them even better, without being vain.
Just like the Super Hero knows they can help, the Brand also has to be able to tell the story of how they help out. Doing a Customer Value Proposition (CVP) helps to organize your thinking as a great tool for bringing the benefits to life.
- Get all of the consumer insights and need states out.
- Match them up against the list of the best features the brand offers.
- Find the rational benefit by putting yourself in the shoes of the consumer and seeing the brand features from their eyes: start asking yourself over and over again “so if I’m the consumer, what do I get from that?”. Ask it five times and you’ll see the answers will get richer and richer each time you ask.
- Then find the emotional benefit by asking “so how does that make me feel?” Ask that five times as well, and you’ll begin to see a deeper emotional space you can play in and own.
A good story is one that touches people in an emotional way.
People tend to get stuck when trying to figure out the emotional benefits. I swear every brand out there thinks it is trusted, reliable and yet likeable. It seems that not only do consumers have a hard time expressing their emotions about a brand, but so do Brand Managers. Companies like Hotspex have mapped out all the emotional zones for consumers. I’m not a researcher, but if you’re interested in this methodology contact Hotspex at http://www.hotspex.biz Leverage this type of research and build your story around the emotions that best fit your consumer needs. Leveraging Hotspex, I’ve mapped out 8 zones in a simplistic way below
Every brand is constrained by resources—dollars, people and time.Focus makes you matter most to those who care. Focusing your limited resources on those consumers with the highest propensity to buy what you are selling will deliver the greatest movement towards sales and the highest return on investment for those resources. When you focus on the right choices, you end up with:
- Better ROI: With all the resources against one strategy, one target, one message, you’ll be find out if the strategy you’ve chose is able to actually move consumers drive sales or other key performance indicators.
- Better ROE: Make the most out of your people resources.
- Strong Reputation: When you only do one thing, you naturally start to become associated with that one thing—externally and even internally. And, eventually you become very good at that one thing.
- More Competitive: As your reputation grows, you begin to own that on thing and your are able to better defend the positioning territory
- Bigger and Better P&L: As the focused effort drives results, it opens up the P&L with higher sales and profits. And that means more resources will be put to the effort to drive even higher growth.
Strategic Thinkers see questions before they see solutions. They map out a range of “what if” decision trees that intersect and connect by imagining how events will play out. They reflect and plan before they act. They are thinkers and planners who can see connections. They use knowledge and judgment about the long-term health and wealth of the brand.
A good story is well-organized, has a consistent tone throughout the story and has layers that support the story.
There is a Focus to the story: Using one motivated target market and one Unique Selling Proposition based on need states allows you to drive all your resources against strategies that will move the brand towards being more connected and loved. The story has an Early Win: Able to move a motivated target towards sales and share, plus establishing the brand’s positioning with a balance of rational and emotional benefits. The brand now has momentum and growth.There is this point in the story where you can start to Leverage those early wins into something even bigger: When you can take the emotional bond and translate it into a source of power the brand can use against all the forces in the market. And there is a Gateway to something bigger: When you are able to take the brand power and drive strong growth and profits.
If you were to write the Starbucks, here’s how it might look;
- Vision: Cherished meeting place for all your quick service food needs
- Goals: Increase Same store sales, greater share of requirements from Starbucks loyalists
- Key Issue: How do we drive significant growth of same store sales?
- Strategy: Move Starbucks loyalists to lunch with an expanded lunch menu.
- Tactic: Light lunch menu, increase desert offerings.
The strategic way I like to organize a brand is starting with the Big Idea for your brand and then ensuring the brand promise, brand story, strategy, freshness (innovation) and the experience (culture and operations) all match up to the Big Idea. If you are Apple, this is how you’d lay out the guts of your story. The idea is about taking the complexity out and making it so simple that everyone can be part of the future. And then Apple lines up the promise, strategy, story, freshness and experience behind that big idea. So if Apple is about simplicity, then my check out experience buying an Apple product better be simple.
And just like running a brand, the Brand Leader needs to be able to communicate the brand story in a way that elicits help from all the employees, the agencies.
So how do we tell the story?
Here is a story board format that you can use to frame your story, whether telling it through a Powerpoint presentation, a video or even through a two page word document. The story makes it easy for everyone to digest and everyone to continue telling for those they influence. If it’s to your sales colleagues, they may have to explain it to customers, if it’s to your agency, they may have to convey it to their art director, and if it’s to advocates, they to portray it to their followers. Here’s a simple 15 questions to be asking
Depending on who your audience is for your story, you may wish to only use parts of this story board. For instance, if you’re talking to the Board of Directors you would use the the top part where you talk vision and purpose and values. If you are setting up the external communication of the brand, you’d talk target, insights and benefits. If you’re talking about go to market execution, you’d outline the plan, strategies and how the organization executes. Having these 15 answers allows Brand Leaders to keep the story consistent and aligned.
Story Telling is the Simplest articulation of the complexities of your Brand
How loved is your brand?
We believe a brand’s source of power is the emotional feelings it generates. With that power comes added profitability.
In the consumer’s mind, brands sit on a Brand Love Curve, with brands going from Indifferent to Like It to Love It and finally becoming a Beloved Brand for Life. At the Beloved stage, demand becomes desire, needs become cravings, thinking is replaced with feelings. Consumers become outspoken fans. It’s this connection that helps drive power for your brand: power versus competitors, versus customers, versus suppliers and even versus the same consumers you’re connected with. The farther along the curve, the more power for the brand. It’s important that you understand where your brand sits on the Love Curve and begin figuring out how to move it along towards becoming a Beloved Brand. With the power of connection, the brand can leverage that power into increased growth and profits. To read more, follow this presentation.