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Branding

Sell Your Story

A quick guide to making your brand’s story more compelling.

Joanna Lord

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Selling Branding Stories

Many people don’t buy products anymore – they buy your business’s story. That means companies must constantly refine their stories and present them in innovative ways. A brand story envelops your mission as a company, your culture and your history:

How did you get started? Why do you do what you do? Where are you going? Because shoppers are so connected through social networks, marketers should present their stories in such a way that people will want to share them and connect with them.

One advantage of social media is that we can have some control of our story. We can either passively hope people find our story appealing — or we can intentionally shape it to try to resonate with prospective customers. Here are a few suggestions on how to convey a more powerful story:

Develop your ‘why’

One of the best things a company can do is be transparent about why it is doing what it does. My favourite model to help brands push past the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of their story and find their ‘why’ is Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle Theory. This theory focuses on ‘Why do you wake up in the morning?’ and ‘Why are you so passionate about this?’

Not sure how to brainstorm your ‘why’? Try these suggestions:

  • Ask your customers: Put up a blog or Facebook post asking your customers why they stick with you.
  • Ask your employees: Your team is the closest to what you are doing and the why behind it. Ask them what motivates them to come in every day.
  • Read your web mentions: Google your company’s name and see how people are talking about you out on the web.

Share your ‘why’ distinctively

Make your story engaging and easy to share. Social media consumes one out of every five minutes spent online, according to a study by US-based digital analytics firm comScore. That suggests your audience is spending a significant amount of time online sharing content. Here are ways to get customers to share your content:

  • Put a video on your site. Rather than just telling your story in text, create a video as well. It could feature employees talking about why they work for you and how they hope the company’s products or services will help customers. Make it personal.
  • Post photos. One of the easiest ways to enhance your story is to add images to your site or social network. If you have a cool office or store, showcase it. Also, post photos of customers and your team to highlight the people behind your brand’s success.
  • Add a few quotes. Get quotes from your leadership, customers and business partners that help tell the ’why’ of your story. Then showcase only the words or sentences that really tell the story and give them a beautiful visual treatment.

Give your ‘why’ more real estate

Is your company’s story tucked away in the footer of your website with an ‘Our Story’ link? If so, give your story greater visibility. Ideally, it should be laced throughout the text on your entire site, but that can be challenging. Start with some of these baby steps toward giving your story the spotlight:

  • Put it on the home page. Rethink which content should get this prime real estate. What could be better than putting a video up on your home page describing why your company exists and why you do what you do? Tell people something that encourages them to learn more about you.
  • Link to it from social profiles.  Companies are investing heavily in social media and teams to manage those conversations. Make your story a critical part of that interaction. Link to videos or website pages that help your followers understand what makes you special.
  • Write about it on your company blog. Transparency in business resonates with customers, so talk openly about both your company’s struggles and successes.

Marketers should rethink what they are selling. With so many products and so much noise in the social sphere, your story can really differentiate you. Careful attention to how you tell that story and how you showcase it can make all the difference.

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Artist, Connor Mccreedy, explains how to live your brand. Read it here

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Joanna Lord is chief marketing officer at BigDoor, a customer loyalty technology start-up. Lord is also a social media enthusiast and frequent conference speaker on topics ranging from performance marketing, inbound marketing, data analysis and retention programmes.

Branding

Personal Brand Or Business Brand: Which Is More Important?

Business today is all about relationships and the person behind the brand. The more the market knows the founder, the better their business performs in the market. But can we take this too far?

Jacques Du Bruyn

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If you’re like me, then you love reading online articles, opinion pieces and general books on the topics that you find interesting. It’s one of the ways that you can ensure that you keep your interest piqued and stay abreast of what’s going on in your industry. One of the topics that gets me thinking has always been the concept of branding.

It’s why I studied an undergraduate degree in marketing and I completed honours in brand management at Vega, the Brand Leadership School. I’ve always been curious to find out more. But one aspect of branding that hasn’t been given enough thought I believe is the relationship between the brand and the CEO of that brand.

Who should be more prominent?

It’s a straightforward question: Should the brand of the CEO or the brand of the business be more prominent?

What are the implications of the CEO’s brand being more prominent than the business’s brand? Similarly, what are the consequences of an unknown CEO where the business’s brand is the hero in the relationship?

Let’s perhaps start answering that question by talking about what a brand is. At university, you’ll be taught by your lecturer that Philip Kotler says a brand is a ‘name, term, sign, symbol (or a combination of these) that identifies the maker or seller of the product’. That’s technically correct. However, I’ve always believed that at the heart of branding lies perception. A brand is a perception. As marketers, we’re ultimately in the game of shaping positive perceptions, because perception sells.

Related: How Personal Branding Builds Self Awareness

I believe perceptions are shaped by three factors. What the brand tells us about itself (including what Philip Kotler mentions), what our acquaintances and friends tell us about the brand and what our personal experiences are with that brand.

Then there are the secondary factors that include where you were born, your cultural nuances, your history and so on. I’m sure it’s becoming clear that no two people can have the same perception. Nevertheless, perception matters and the art and science behind branding matters in shaping those perceptions.

So, then what’s more important? The brand of the CEO leading the business or the business’s brand? Depending on who you ask you’ll receive different answers.

CEO vs business brand

Let’s introduce two well-known South African brands into the conversation. Discovery and First National Bank. Both operate in the financial services industry, both are healthy brands — but chances are most of you can only name the CEO of one of them, and I’m guessing its Discovery.

That’s a typical example of CEO brand vs business brand. Adrian Gore, Discovery’s CEO, is an influential leader with a strong personal brand that works hand-in-hand with Discovery’s overarching brand. FNB’s CEO is Jacques Celliers, and in this instance, he’s mostly unknown to the general public. So, which then is more important? I spoke to a few thought leaders about this, and the general sentiment is mixed. Some believe a strong CEO brand does well for the business, others think the company comes first, and it’s first about the brand of the business. Personally, I believe it depends on the company and the health of 
the brand.

Let’s look at other examples; Apple and Steve jobs, Amazon and Jeff Bezos, Tesla and Elon Musk. All of these businesses, we can agree, are a success mainly because of the value that the CEO’s personal brand brings to the table. On the other hand, we have Coca-Cola, BMW and Microsoft. I bet most of you couldn’t name the CEOs of those companies off the cuff.

People do business with people

I believe that fundamentally people buy into people, not brands. That’s why I think there’s a strong case for a CEO with a solid brand. However, there are cons that exist. What happens when the CEO leaves? Has this CEO become so large that the business fails without them? After all, leadership is about passing the baton. In my opinion, Steve Jobs is the ultimate reason for Apple’s success, however he did a poor job of passing the baton. Luckily, Apple’s brand is strong enough to withstand uncertainty, but I think we can all agree that under Tim Cook, Apple has started to decline.

I used the example of FNB earlier because one of my favourite CEOs is Michael Jordaan. Under his leadership, FNB had what I like to call it’s ‘glory years’. They were simply unstoppable and every other bank in South Africa was struggling to keep up. Or at least that was the perception from the outside. Remember perceptions? Michael’s brand is strong, so much so that since his departure FNB has lost its story-telling innovative mojo.

Enter Bank Zero. An app-driven bank opening in South Africa in the fourth quarter of 2018. Why is anyone even paying attention? Because it’s Michael Jordaan. His personal brand is strong enough to grab attention. If it was a no-name would we care as much? Would there be nearly as much hype?

We therefore have two sides to the coin. A CEO’s personal brand is incredibly important when the business’s brand needs an injection of credibility. But the CEO must be careful that he doesn’t become too big when credibility is formed or restored. After all, great leadership is about passing the baton and leaving a sustainable legacy. Which means the CEO has built a brand that the customers buy into. I think Coca-Cola, Microsoft and BMW have done brilliantly at this. Their brands are sustainable because it’s about the brand, not the CEO’s brand. I also think there’s a strong case for choosing the next CEO from within the current pool of employees of that business.

Related: 5 Steps To Becoming A More Recognisable Brand


The elements of a strong CEO brand

  1. 
A fearless leader who motivates his/her employees into action
  2. 
A leader whose vision is simple and easy to follow
  3. 
A leader who rallies not only his employees but customers and clients too
  4. 
A leader who isn’t afraid to be in the media and on social media.

On the business side, here is what you should keep top of mind when building your corporate brand:

  • Create a strong corporate identity. That doesn’t mean doing it yourself, get the professionals to do it. It’ll include your logo, collateral and how your brand 
lives online.
  • Create your experience. It’s incredibly important that what you say is also experienced by your potential and current clients. This includes user experience offline and online.
  • Run online thought leadership and PR. This is what builds credibility. It’s one thing for you to talk about yourself, but when others talk about you it builds your brand in a way that adds much needed credibility. This also increases your SEO because any online thought leader should be linking back to your website.
  • Lastly, drive brand integration through your value-chain. When your audience and stakeholders see your brand they know you and what to expect.

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Branding

They’re Your Rules, Break Them

Could your brand benefit from the surprise factor? If you can package your information into a ‘mystery’, you’ll hold your audience in the palm of your hand.

Douglas Kruger

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The phrase has become iconic, and even those who have never caught an episode are familiar with it: ‘Winter… is coming!’

Many viewers have a love-hate relationship with Game of Thrones. It is impeccably well made, and, as the most expensive television show ever produced per episode, visually stunning.

Yet the level of violence beggars belief. Even if you are not an especially squeamish viewer, the assembly-line massacre of leading characters is perpetually shocking. And therein lies at least part of the reason why the enterprise is so successful.

No, it’s not the gore. It’s the unpredictable nature of each new development. The good guys don’t necessarily win. The bad guys don’t necessarily lose. Upheaval and disruption rock the storyline at every turn, making it one of the least formulaic productions around. You simply don’t know who’s going to prevail and who’s going to perish colourfully, and that keeps fans coming back for more.

So why is it so attractive for a store to defy conventions and, in a sense, ‘betray’ expectations? And can a brand story make use of the same dynamic?

I did not see that coming

In Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, authors Chip and Dan Heath describe the powerful communication technique of ‘breaking people’s guessing machines’.

Related: The 3 Blueprints For Starting A Business

To make communication genuinely riveting, simply organise the information into a mystery, something in which the recipient can’t tell the outcome in advance. It can be done with something as traditionally dusty as a university lecture. George R.R. Martin certainly did it in a medieval fantasy about warring kingdoms.

It can even be done in a sales pitch. In Adam Grant’s Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Babble founder Rufus Griscom is described giving a completely counterintuitive presentation as part of a sales pitch. He headlined his slide: ‘Five reasons you shouldn’t buy Babble’.

And there was no trick implied. The presentation covered precisely these ideas, and not in an ironic way. He went into detail about the obstacles the company was facing, and described why these hurdles could be a difficulty to investors.

So why did it work (and work it did!)? The answer is two-fold.

Initially, the novelty factor drew attention. How do you not listen to a presentation like that? Secondly, the executives evaluating the presentation were basically being covertly invited to problem-solve.

‘That’s not so bad!’ they would say, psychologically bypassing the ‘should we or shouldn’t we?’ step and going straight into assumptive ownership. They then began discussing ways of overcoming the obstacles. It became a challenge to their abilities.

In all of these cases, the approach has been to break accepted conventions in order to ‘break the guessing machine’ of the audience. The net result is heightened engagement, sustained curiosity and delight upon the reveal of the ‘answer’. When you depart from the accepted formulas of communication, you create cognitive dissonance. The audience (despite themselves, in the case of Thrones viewers who might not like violence), have to know how this will turn out.

Breaking the rules makes you distinctive

Rules can create set expectations. Formulas and accepted approaches do the same.

When you break and betray the rules, the level of anticipation remains high. In communication, surprise is effective and often attractive.

Does your brand ever surprise? Or is it constantly communicating in ways that are so predictable as to be mildly sedating? In your pitches and presentations, does your copy stand out? Or suffer death-by-predictability? What might you accomplish if you tampered with the rules on purpose, in order to up-end expectations? Do you have what it takes to break the human guessing machine? If you do, you just might achieve true brand distinction.

Related: 3 Strategies To Implement A Culture Of Innovation In Your Business (Without Blowing Billions)

Beyond mere words

The technique of ‘breaking the human guessing machine’ is not just limited to pitches and presentations. Your entire brand tells a story too, and with each new initiative, each new enterprise that it undertakes, it adds to the total tale in the public consciousness.

I contend that brands in South Africa tend to under-utilise the possibilities available to them. In an understandable quest to be taken seriously, they speak the language of ‘dependable business,’ rather than ‘exciting venture.’

A ‘dependable business’ has the narrative of stasis. There is no movement. An ‘exciting venture’ by contrast, speaks in vivid movement and attractive energy. It has purpose, mission and meaning.

The key to actualising this idea is theatre. And to understand the power of theatre in a brand’s narrative, let’s go straight to what must be the greatest example of brand theatre the business landscape has ever seen.

‘Here, hold my space shuttle’

Imagine you owned two organisations. One created space shuttles. The other made electric sports cars. What if you launched one of your cars out of earth’s atmosphere, using your own rockets? What if you then set the car into an orbit around the planet, with a little spaceman mannequin hanging out the side, playing a David Bowie hit as he cruised through eternity? Do you think such a theatrical initiative might just make it into every newspaper on the planet?

In doing just this, Elon Musk led the way. He demonstrated just how far we can depart from stuffy brand narrative to tell an exciting story, a surprising story. … And what will he do next?!

The very fact that we even ask such a question is proof of the concept.

It’s not about big budgets

Naturally, not every business has the budget to tinker with near-earth orbit. But theatre doesn’t have to be expensive. Have you ever dropped by a luxury car dealership, to have your cappuccino served to you with the brand’s logo drawn into the froth? That cost nothing but a little imagination.

Have you seen the number of YouTube views BMW achieved with their ‘drift-mob’ video in Cape Town? It runs into the millions, and growing.

Achieving surprise and telling a distinctive brand story need not be exorbitantly expensive. Kulula sets themselves apart with their inflight announcement. My all-time favourite is still: ‘In the event of an emergency, please put on your own oxygen mask before assisting your child. If you have more than one child, please pick your favourite now.’

This month, what if you challenged yourself to think about the key word ‘surprise’? What could your brand do that is unexpected and delightful, that will have people turning to one another and saying, ‘That was awesome!’, while still remaining true to your mission and vision? In fact, what if you started by looking over your mission statement, and then asked, ‘How could this be done in a way that is publicly surprising?’

Theatre can set you apart. It can make you what US speaker Joe Callaway calls, ‘A Category of One.’ And it only requires that you use a little imagination, then have the courage to be different on purpose. Your goal is simple, emotional impact. Wow factor. Nothing more intellectual than that.

New toys for rule-breakers

There are many other opportunities for rule-breakers to create strategic disruption. You might ask why things have always been done in a certain way. You might carry out an exercise in which you ask what ideal end-usage looks like for your client, then challenge your team to try to achieve that goal, using the phrase, ‘Couldn’t we just …?’ You might even ask insightful questions about what you actually sell, and not what product you believe you’re selling. All of these are useful exercises for the courageous maverick, and all can lead to different forms of productive rule-breaking.

For this month, though, pose yourself this single challenge only: What could we do in our brand narrative that might have a Game of Thrones-level impact?

In our household, that looks like this:

  • Douglas: ‘I can’t believe we keep watching this show!’
  • Wife: ‘Me neither!’
  • Douglas: ‘That was so shocking!’
  • Wife: ‘Unbelievable.’
  • Douglas: ‘Want to watch the next one?’
  • Wife: ‘Absolutely!’

… And that’s what you’re after.

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Branding

3 Things Taylor Swift Can Teach Entrepreneurs About Reputation Management

Taylor Swift makes certain not one of her fans feels like a number, which is part of why she has more fans than she could possibly count.

Joey Coleman

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How do you get customers to notice the release of a new product? If you’re Taylor Swift, you delete your social media history and then drop a video of yourself in a $10 million diamond bath. Although it’s a bit unorthodox, her approach worked.

The “Look What You Made Me Do” video racked up more than 43 million views in 24 hours, according to Variety – crushing the record for views of a debut video. By the time it became available through streaming services, Swift’s Reputation album had already spent three weeks in the Billboard 200’s No. 1 spot.

What made Swift’s album release so massive? She knows her fan base well enough to create exactly the type of hype her millions of followers respond to best. Brands can follow suit by looking for opportunities to get the attention of their own fans.

Related: The Importance Of Business Reputation

Swift’s fans follow her religiously on Instagram, but if, say, General Electric deleted its Instagram posts, few people would notice and even fewer would care. Entrepreneurs should first find out where their customers are and what they care about in order to figure out the best way to get them to take notice.

What’s the customer experience ‘end game’?

taylor-swift-end-gameCustomers want to feel like they matter, but all too often, they end up feeling like little more than a number. This feeling isn’t unjustified. What’s the first thing the typical business does when it gets a new customer? It assigns that new customer an account number.

Swift differs from a typical business by looking at her customers as unique individuals, even though her millions of fans far exceed the number of customers of a typical business. Swift broadcasts general information to all her followers, of course, but she also goes out of her way on an almost daily basis to engage at an individual level with at least some of her fans.

In a world where the bar for the customer experience is so low that even the most skilled limbo dancer couldn’t slide beneath it, the way businesses interact with customers is more important than ever. Businesses often use size to justify their lack of a positive customer experience.

While a start-up can offer customers a personalised interaction at the beginning, many businesses find it difficult to keep individualised attention and care a priority as they start to add more customers and hire more employees. There are ways to keep the focus on customers’ experiences, though, and Swift’s success in doing this at scale offers three great lessons:

1. Stay true to the “customer comes first” philosophy

Never forget that a company’s success grows directly from the relationship with its “fans.” Swift is under no false illusions. The second her fans decide to stop listening to her music, her career is over. This is why she goes out of her way to cultivate her relationship with her fans on a daily basis.

Her Tumblr page is a prime example of how she takes fan engagement seriously, and she uses the platform to interact with fans on a regular basis by following their pages, commenting on conversations and even sending flowers to fans who need a pick-me-up.

The same must be true of every employee in a company. If the people who come into contact with customers don’t understand and share the enthusiasm for creating a remarkable customer experience, the “customer comes first” philosophy isn’t being put into practice on the front lines.

Related: Richard Branson on Building a Strong Reputation

Never forget that customers are a brand’s fans, and they keep companies in business. Every employee plays a role in making customers feel special and appreciated.

2. Forget the old way of doing things

ticketmasters-verified-fan-programmeFor her most recent concert tour, Swift announced a change in how ticket purchasing will work. Rather than follow the traditional “first come, first served” model – which invites bots to snatch up tickets before actual people can purchase them – Swift’s fans will be allowed to compete for a ranking through Ticketmaster’s Verified Fan programme.

In this model, if a fan exhibits increased engagement by signing up for Swift’s newsletter and sharing about her on social media, the fan is able to purchase better tickets to the concert.

Like Swift, constantly be on the lookout for fun and engaging ways to let customers know that their business is valuable. This will take creativity and may require extra effort, but the response from customers will be worth it.

3. Reward raving fans

Many entrepreneurs worry that if they can’t create a remarkable experience for every customer, it would be unfair to do so for any customer. This means that no customer ends up having a remarkable experience.

Related: How Not to Commit Reputation Suicide

Swift refuses to get tied up in such limited thinking. In 2014, she undertook a project to study the social media accounts of a few of her “superfans,” learning what they liked, who they were friends with, where they worked and other personal details.

Swift then went shopping for Christmas (or “Swiftmas,” as it came to be called) gifts for those fans. These exceptional personalised gifts, sent to only a few dozen fans, were seen by the rest of her fan base as an incredible act of kindness. That made them love her even more, even though they weren’t direct beneficiaries of this special treatment.

Showering your best customers with extra love isn’t unfair to the rest. Set the bar for customer experience high across the board, but do something extra special for your most loyal fans. They deserve it, after all, and there’s no better way to convince a customer “fan” base that they really are more than just a number.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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