August 11, 2016
by Carla Johnson
I’m hearing more of it and not just from marketers – but from executives as well. Conversations that used to be within the walls of marketing are overflowing into the C-suite. And a big part of that conversation is about relevance.
How do we become more relevant not only to customers, but to a larger audience?
My question is always this: Putting what you sell aside, what do you have to say that’s relevant?
If you take what you sell out of the conversation, most brands don’t have anything to talk about. And being relevant is about more than what you sell. It’s about the value you deliver to your audience.
That’s where brand storytelling comes in.
What is brand storytelling?
Plain and simple a brand story is the story of the difference you make in the lives of your customers.
While the best approach is to develop a brand story alongside a brand platform, make no mistake that they’re different and have distinct functions.
Every company was started for a reason. The founders believed with all their heart that they could do something better, different or truly unique that mattered. They believed in a core purpose that they, and only they, could deliver. A company’s brand story is the succinct articulation of that reason. It has nothing to do with the products or services that you sell. Rather, it’s a definitive statement about why your brand exists and the difference you’re trying to make in the world. For example…
- Enabling Americans to perform extraordinary acts in the face of emergencies – American Red Cross
- To transform lives for the betterment of society – The University of Texas at Austin
- A relentless ally for the individual investor – Charles Schwab
Why do you need it?
“If you want to learn about a culture, listen to the stories. If you want to change a culture, change the stories.” – Michael Margolis, CEO, Get Storied
The root of marketing is about change. Changing people’s minds. Changing expectations. Changing the status quo. But, ironically, few marketers realize this. Much like a kindergartner does a parent’s leg on the first day of school, most marketers grip the status quo.
If we’re going to change minds and inspire action, then we have to be able to tell a story of change. And what that story is depends on the uniqueness of the companies we represent.
What can we deliver that no one else can match?
A brand story goes beyond branding. I talk to plenty of companies who’ve invested heavily in branding. They’ve endured the belabored process of developing a brand platform but still have nothing original to say about what they do. Besides using a new logo, most marketers don’t know what to do with a brand platform once they have it. Or if they use it, they use it in such a way that it constricts creativity and they function more as a brand cop. Consistency has its place, certainly, but not at the complete exclusion of creativity.
And this is why you need brand storytelling…
- It lets you stand out in a noisy marketplace. The most integral parts of your brand’s story – what you stand for – are what people care about most. No one can copy it. For one, it’s honest and up front. Second, it sounds different from everyone else in the marketplace.
- It increases relevance. Disrupt expectations. Start talking based on what matters from your customers’ point of view. Think about how you can become more relevant, more often to more people. You brand story take you away from focusing on what you have to say and points you toward what’s most important to a broader audience. Most brands struggle with how to connect with more people who are potential customers. Increasing relevancy through your brand story is how you do just that. Look at the Pyramid of Relevancy (below) and how it inverts how traditional marketers behave. Instead of starting with the brand and what a company wants to say about itself, it starts by telling a story that’s more relevant to a broader audience. Charles Schwab talks about how they’re the relentless ally for the individual investor. That makes them significantly more relevant to more people than if they talked about specific returns, account fees and performance histories.
- It takes the focus off price and lets you compete on value. I worked for a CEO who make something perfectly clear my first day on the job. “We never compete on price. Because as soon as you compete on price, you’ll lose on price.” But when push comes to shove, what do most companies do? They default to features, benefits and, worst of all, price. The only way you’ll get out of the quicksand conversation of price is to tell the story of value. That’s the foundation of your brand story.
- It creates clarity across the organization. With a brand story in place, decision making becomes easier. You can look at an opportunity or a challenge and ask yourself, “Is this the right thing to do given our story? Does it further our cause?” If it does, you do it. If it doesn’t, you don’t. Plain and simple, it’s the easier filter you’ll ever find to make smart decisions that move your company forward. Every employee in every position has plenty of work on their desk. Knowing what to say “yes” to isn’t the challenge. Knowing what to say “no” to is.
- It creates internal aspiration. Think about the difference you’d feel if you woke up every day knowing you were going to work to update your company’s website verses helping Americans perform extraordinary acts in the face of emergencies. There’s quite a difference, isn’t there? Employees want to perform amazing acts of grandeur for customers. But the problem is that most of them don’t have any idea what that might look like. In fact, a Gallup poll revealed that 41% of all employees don’t even know what their company stands for or what makes them different. If you want to catapult your customer service, engrain your brand story within your company and let every employee express it in ways that matter most in their position.
- It improves your bottom line. While purpose and passion are fabulous, let’s face it – at the end of the day we have to make money to keep the doors open and the lights on. In their book Built to Last, authors Jim Collins and Jerry Porras talk about the increased financial results that companies experience when they let their purpose (story) drive what they do, and they have the values in place to support it. These companies:
- Outperform the general market 15:1
- Outperform comparison companies 16:1
To back that up, John Koer and James Jaskett go further in their book Corporate Culture and Performance, and talk about how companies that have cultures based on their story (purpose) and values out-perform companies that don’t:
- Revenues grew 4 times faster
- Jobs created was 7 times greater
- Stock prices grew 12 times faster
The power of the brand story equates into stock market performance, as what we market and how we communicate (internally and externally) becomes increasingly complex within an environment that’s substantially more “noisy.”
Does brand storytelling mean you’ll never talk about yourself? Of course not. But if your marketing focuses on features and benefits, then your marketing is 20 years behind where it should be. Feature-led marketing gave way to benefit-led marketing, which has evolved into purpose and value-led marketing. The only way for B2B marketers to communicate their brand purpose and the value they deliver to an audience is storytelling. Campaigns are short-sighted interruptions – they don’t deliver long-term value.
Every brand has a story. Now it’s your turn to tell yours well.
Need help with articulating your brand story or integrating it into the culture of your organization? Contact us and we’ll help you bring it to life!
Photo credit: Gratisography
About Carla Johnson
Consistently recognized as one of the top influencers in content marketing,as well as one of the top 25 in B2B marketing and one of the Top 50 Women in Marketing, Carla’s latest book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing, teaches marketers how to develop, manage and lead the creation of valuable experiences in their organizations. Carla serves on the Executive Board and as the Vice Chair for the Business Marketing Association (a division of the ANA) and is an instructor for the Content Marketing Institute. Carla also contributes to industry wide news outlets, forums and conferences on the future of marketing, leading through innovation, and the power of storytelling.