Friday, August 16, 2013

What Story Does Your Brand Tell?


In today’s competitive marketplace, a compelling story is critical for your brand to remain front and center with customers and prospective customers. If your business does not create a compelling story that connects with prospective and existing customers or strikes a nerve, your business will not last very long.

What brand stories immediately come to mind? Here are some.

[1] You know him as Mark, Mark Z, or simply as Zuck. But we all suspect that we know the story (thanks to the movie, The Social Network). Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard so that he could dedicate himself 24/7 to the creation of a networking website. The website now known as Facebook has revolutionized how we connect with friends, family, and others – and has become an international phenomenon with over 1 billion users. According to ZDNet, users log in for 12 and-a-half minutes every day. And according to ComScore, U.S. desktop users spend 6 hours a month on Facebook, while mobile users spend an average of 11 hours on the site.

[2] Most people attribute the automobile to Henry Ford. But in actuality, he developed and manufactured the first auto that many middle-class Americans could afford. He was also instrumental in the development of the assembly line and a franchise system of dealerships throughout the United States and on six continents. One famous statement of his was, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” Thank goodness, the Ford vehicles started the auto industry, or we’d all be riding horses.

[3] While Susan Komen for the Cure has been in the news recently, the main reason that the charity was created is a compelling story. The founder (Nancy G. Brinker) launched the charity to honor the memory of her sister (Susan G. Komen) who died of breast cancer and to raise money to eliminate the disease. Despite all the current negative press, the color pink will forever represent that charity and breast cancer awareness.

[4] While the publishing industry is undergoing a transition from print to digital, there is one newspaper that embodies its city, The New York Times. While you may not know the newspaper began in the mid-1800’s, there is no doubt that you have heard of The New York Times Crossword Puzzle, Art and Theater, Op-Ed section, and the Opinion section. Whenever someone wants to be heard, he or she comments in The New York Times. The newspaper’s motto was “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” but on its website, the motto was changed to, “All the News That’s Fit to Click.”

[5] According to Southwest Airlines Chairman/President and CEO Gary Kelly, “Southwest was conceived on a cocktail napkin when San Antonio businessman Rollin King and his attorney, Herb Kelleher, met at the St. Anthony Club and etched out what would become the “Texas Triangle,” charting a path for low-fare travel between Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. The vision was simple: offer business people a faster, more efficient way to travel at a lower cost and do it with warm, personable service and a smile.” Kelleher knew that in order for his employees to do a good job, they had to have fun. So Southwest allowed flight attendants to wear shorts instead of uncomfortable uniforms and tell silly jokes to passengers over the intercom. The airline continues to provide peanuts, soft drinks, and juice – when competitors charge or don’t offer any food or drinks. Southwest also invites passengers to travel with their baggage without charging, because according to their ads, “Bags fly free.”

So, as you contemplate the importance of storytelling for your brand, consider these questions. How do you decide on a compelling story? What elements do you include and which do you leave out? What is an appropriate length for your story? Do you feature a person (for example, your founder) in your story? But above all, what is the key take-away from your brand’s story, and is it easy to grasp or embrace?

If you cannot easily answer these questions, you need to go back to the brand drawing board and rewrite your brand story, or you’re going to lose customers. What
s YOUR favorite brand story?
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Image Credit: Thanks to Tom Fishburne for use of his cartoon with this post. Tom is the Founder and CEO of Marketoon Studios, a content marketing studio that helps businesses reach their audiences with cartoons. Check out his work at http://tomfishburne.com.




This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

22 comments:

  1. Debbie,

    Really good post!

    Storytelling is more and more important, as in social media, we're trying to get a message to travel the masses.

    Southwest has done a great job with their concept, service, strategy, and story.

    Love the idea of cartoons to tell the story. I have a feeling I've run into Marketoon before - I'll have to check.

    Thanks for sharing with us, and for hosting the Sensational Summer Blog Boost this week!

    ~Keri

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    1. Thanks for your comments, Keri, and also for orchestrating this summer's Sensational Summer Blog Boost (#likeableblogs) - it's been a lot of fun!

      As one who creates brand stories for a living, I'm always on the lookout for amazing stories that make brands come to life, because memorable stories are the core of successful brands.

      In the words of Gary Vaynerchuk, "Storytelling is the game. It's what we all do. It's why Nike is Nike, it's why Apple is Apple, it's why Walt Disney built Disney World."

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  2. "marketing doesn't spread, stories do" ~@joeycreative Creative director at Disney Parks

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    1. Thanks for sharing an excellent quote, Frithjof!

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  3. Debbie,

    Great post, stories do often make the brand as it's always important to personalize the message behind your brand. As I developed my business I had to learn how to tell the story in a way that connected with others as well as explain what I do with a tag line that made sense. Telling your story in the many forms of communication we have now including how is presented on a website is key to people understanding what you do and helping them see why they should hire you to work for them.

    Sincerely,

    Scott

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    1. Thanks for your comments, Scott. The process of connecting a brand's story to prospective customers can be a difficult challenge for companies, especially in their early days - which is why some businesses fail before they even get out of the starting gate.

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  4. Great post, Debbie! I believe that as marketing moves more into the social media realm it becomes ever more important for businesses to tell compelling brand stories. These stories appeal to the masses because they connect the brands with humanity - the very thrust of successful social media marketing!

    Best,
    Jeanine

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    1. Thanks for your comments, Jeanine - and also for sharing on Google+! You raise a great point about the ability of brands to connect with humanity or on a human level. Consider how successful Apple was with its "Think Different" campaign - here's my fave ad from Apple on Flickr. http://www.flickr.com/photos/debbielaskeymba/6367137181/

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    2. Very clever! These pics have an amazing impact on their viewers through the simple but powerful stories they tell.

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    3. Thanks for checking out my Flickr page and one of my fave ads. You raise an interesting point about ads - if done well, they create a mini story about brands too. Check out some of my fave ads on my Pinterest "Memorable Ads" Board.

      http://pinterest.com/debbielaskeymba/memorable-ads/

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  5. Great examples Debbie. When I know the story behind a brand I look at it in a different way. It gives a human side to it. Thanks for sharing this.

    One of my favourite stories is J.K. Rowling's and other parents that eventually became successful writers for children. My son was lucky to grow in this environment where there were so many compelling stories to read as he was growing into new stages.

    It's lovely to be here, you have a very nice looking blog too.

    Cheers,

    Veronica

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    1. Thanks for your comments, Veronica. In today's highly competitive environment, the brands with compelling stories are the ones that will be around for the long-term. Do you remember airlines with routes between San Francisco and Los Angeles: Air Cal and PSA? They didn't have the type of brand story associated with SouthWest (not the only reason those airlines are no longer around, but certainly an important reminder to create memorable brand stories). Thanks also for the kind comments about my blog!

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  6. Thank you for such a compelling post. It is so important to allow people to know your story, to be genuine and to be open. The true connections make all of the difference. I am now off to consider if I have been successful at the aforementioned endeavors.

    Naturally Yours,
    Elise Cohen Ho

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    1. Thanks for your comments, Elise. Another point to consider is that once solid connections are made as a result of compelling brand stories, those connections will become enthusiastic brand ambassadors (via word-of-mouth marketing) who will also share your story!

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  7. Lots to think about. As I move towards my new position as controller of a machine shop and away from my business, I've been helping them think about branding. In our case the story includes the fact that we've received our AS9100 certification. It's kind of a big deal in the aerospace industry so it needs to be the story!

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    1. Thanks for your comments, Debbie. Your point about the AS9100 certification serves as a reminder that some industries require quality/safety/compliance certifications and/or ratings that should be part of their brand stories. For example, insurance is one industry in which an "A" rating of financial strength is critical.

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  8. Great article, Debbie..! We get to write our own story ;)

    Good idea to think about what that's going to be..

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    1. Thanks for your kind comments, Sheryl. I totally agree - it's imperative for brand marketers and leadership teams to think about how their brand stories will resonate with their prospective customers and existing customers.

      It's also important to re-evaluate the stories over time, because they may change. For example, just think if Ford Motors only offered vehicles in the color black in the modern era - when all competitors offer vehicles in a rainbow of colors. But in Ford's early days, offering an alternative to a horse-drawn carriage was the story - not the color choices!

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  9. Reading the last part of your post makes me think that I need to re-work my brand story and fine tune it a bit more. I need to think more about what makes Wildheart Social Media stand out from the crowd. This is something I will be doing as I head into the last quarter of the year and into 2014.

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    1. Thanks for your comments, Joe. Excellent questions for all brands to ask: what makes them unique, what do they provide better than their competitors, and why should they be top of mindshare? Good luck, Joe, as you refine your brand story! Thanks also for sharing this post with all your social networks!

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  10. Wasn't sure what to expect when I clicked the link. Love the little "tid bits" of information and how it all ties together into one main idea. Great blog post!

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    1. Thanks for your comments, Molly Jo. Isn't it great when a blog post's title entices a reader to click - and then the reader is pleasantly surprised by the content? This is something that all brands must keep in mind as they craft their content strategies, since statistics show that consumers are more likely to make a purchase when they read blogs by and about brands.

      What's your fave brand story?

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