Want to Build A Great Brand? Learn From Stories
Stories can be very persuasive. They first draw us in through characters as they confront their obstacles or demons. Then, as we relate to what these characters think and feel, we become a little different. We may not always know it’s happening, but stories can enlighten our beliefs and clarify our values. By understanding why stories can be so powerfully persuasive, we can learn a great deal about the selling of brands. Here are just some of the lessons available to us:
•Be like the storyteller who has a purpose or a cause.
Authors of stories often have some belief that they want to express or some cause that they want audiences to adopt. It could be that war is evil but necessary, love is unpredictable, or that life is sometimes absurd. The most important question you can ask yourself is similar to the one an author might ask prior to writing his story: What’s my purpose? For the marketing of brands, the question should be: What’s my brand’s cause, the one with which prospects will most readily identify with or relate to? Is it the belief that achieving financial security should not be a painful process? Is it that achievement deserves reward? Or is it that the most important thing to happiness is healthiness? Brands are built on products. But they are sustained by ideals and causes.
•Know the difference between a claim and a cause?
Often marketers will stop short of identifying their cause by confusing it with their claims. A claim is made up of promoted facts about your brand that can be supported or refuted. “We help,” “We believe in you,” “You’re important to us,” are claims, not causes. At the root of any cause is the steadfast belief in some bigger truth, something more universal. Causes have higher purposes than proving anything that may be true about who you are and what you do. Think of your cause as the belief or value that your brand shares with a lot of people such as “Pushing boundaries is human destiny ,” or “A life worth living is a lived free (beliefs espoused by two very powerful brands. Can you name them?)
•Rely more on show and less on tell.
Once you’ve established your cause, demonstrate in it. But show, don’t tell. Authors don’t tell you about the motivation behind their writings. Comedians don’t explain their punch lines. Storytellers leave it to their audiences to surmise their purpose through what the say and how they say it. They persuade without getting in their own way. Nike’s iconic “Just Do It” doesn’t explain that it believes that athletic accomplishment comes from the will to succeed. Apple doesn’t tell us they believe design should be intelligent and elegant. Story brands, as we call them, show what they believe through their actions.
The most important actions your brand can show is found in the products and services that bear its name. These either prove or disprove your brand’s authenticity. You can say all you want about what your products are and do, but ultimately the consumer decides if your actions are true manifestations of your cause. Give customers the proof they need in order to believe in you and what you stand for and you’ll have gained a raving fan. Give them reason to wonder about the realness of your intentions and all you may get is a tentative buyer who could readily switch to another brand.
•Stick to your cause
Jim Stengel, the former global marketing head of P&G, recently documented a 10-year study he conducted on brands that have strong associations with ideals or causes. His “Stengel 50” includes established story brands like Federal Express, Zappos, Starbucks and Red Bull. If anyone had invested in this group of 50 brands, their investment would have been 400% more profitable than the S&P 500 during the same time period. Thinking of your brand as a story can have long-term positive implications, with consistent support over time.