Brand Matters: What's Your Story?
Great brands tell great stories. Annette Simmons' book title sums it up best: "Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins." The Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) published a study last year that agrees with her sentiment: "Advertisements that tell a branding story work better than ads focused on product positioning." Bill Cook, senior vice president of research and standards of ARF, stated that "when the emotional peaks align with the presence of the brand or the impact of the brand in the story, the emotional connection with the brand is the greatest."
People resonate with stories, remember stories and most importantly, respond to stories. Even nonbusinesspeople are familiar with many of the stories behind these brands: Nike, Converse, Ben & Jerry's, Volvo, Cabela's, craigslist and Harley. These stories have long shelf lives because they incorporate a particular vocabulary. They are built on a heritage of passion—a core mission and set of values that began with the original founder(s) and are still alive today. They declare a point of view. Their employees authentically live the brand. The whole customer experience rings true. But they also do something else that is extremely important: They make it easy for their customers to share their brand stories with others.
The folks at trendwatching.com have tagged this process as creating "status stories." They advise: "As more brands (have to) go niche and therefore tell stories that aren't known to the masses, and as experiences and non-consumption-related expenditures take over from physical (and more visible) status symbols, consumers will increasingly have to tell each other stories to achieve a status dividend from their purchases. Expect a shift from brands telling a story, to brands helping consumers tell status—yielding stories to other consumers."
First, is your brand experience "storytelling worthy?" And second, do you make it easy for your customers to share those stories with others? If you can't answer an enthusiastic "yes" to either question, I suggest you spend some serious "stop and think" time creating an action plan to turn those "nos" into "yeses."
As a book is thoughtfully composed word by word, then paragraph by paragraph until there are pages that compile chapters, brand stories are created in a similar manner. Let's look at each of these story components individually.
A Particular Vocabulary
No doubt, part of a good read is the author's command of the language—just how words are used, how phrases and sentences are constructed.
The same holds true for brands.
OPI is a world leader in professional nail care and is known for the fun names of all its various nail polish shades. One of its all-time best-sellers is a shade of red entitled, "I'm Not Really a Waitress." According to the company Web site, Suzi Weiss-Fischmann, OPI's executive vice president and artistic director, is "known as the First Lady of Nails, because she single-handedly selects every OPI Nail Lacquer shade based on each season's fashion and beauty forecasts."
Part of the OPI brand heritage is its clever use of theming and naming of products. One of its upcoming collections centers around France, thus polishes are named: "I'm Fondue of You" (chocolate brown), "Bastille My Heart" (burgundy) and "Tickle my France-y" (nude). Customers not only buy the OPI products because of their high quality, but because of the elements of fun that come with the product messaging.
How well do your words and messaging reflect your brand identity?
It's hard not to read about—or experience firsthand if you're a traveler—the constant battles being fought in the airline industry: labor vs. management; cost cuts; canceled routes; and customer disappointment. So imagine my complete shock when I saw a full-page ad in the May 21, 2008 edition of USA Today with the oversized headline "Thank you, Herb!" from the Southwest Airlines Pilots' Association honoring Southwest Airlines' founder, Herb Kelleher, for his 38 years of outstanding leadership. What a tribute to the man who decided to "start a different kind of airline" many years ago.
While Kelleher pioneered many airline firsts, he is most noted for building a brand heritage on customer LUV (Southwest's stock market symbol). Kelleher made it a point to tell customer "LUV" stories at every meeting—how the Southwest culture is built on people caring about their customers. It's a brand heritage that can't be beat, and Southwest is the envy of the industry.
How is your brand living up to its full brand heritage potential and sharing it with your customers?
Point of View
As an avid tea drinker, I am happy to find that there are numerous tea brands to reflect my various moods throughout any given day or week: Celestial Seasonings, Tazo, The Republic of Tea, Twinings, Stash, PG Tips, etc. Each of these brands possess a differentiated point of view, and it is these unique perspectives that quite literally infuse my tea experience each time. A tea lover can start her day with a cup of Tazo's strong black Awake tea, take a mid-afternoon break with Twining's mild Lady Grey tea and end her day with a prebedtime ritual cup of Celestial Seasoning's chamomile Sleepytime tea. Not only do each of these brands use powerful visual and verbal imagery to create each product, but they do so in a way that creates a cohesive and unique selling proposition for the entire brand.
Recently, The Republic of Tea launched a line of caffeine-free herbal tea based on the organic rooibos herb from South Africa. This red tea line is called "Be Well Red Teas" and has clever naming (get some zzzs for rest and get lost for weight loss), copy and color treatments, all meant to encourage the company's mission of a "Sip by Sip" life. While there are competitors in the functional tea market, this well-positioned line of The Republic of Tea breaks through the clutter with its clear point of view and creates a memorable sipping experience for its tea aficionados.
Have you created a clear point of view for your brand?
Employees Living the Brand
In this antiservice culture, isn't it refreshing to walk into an Apple store and be greeted by Geniuses? These Apple store employees are experts trained and eager to solve your technical problems. Perhaps it's one reason that every time I pass an Apple store it is packed with customers, while other shops longingly await some business. These employees act like owners because they are true believers in the Apple way. They are enthusiastic and happy to help, making a trip to the Apple store a pleasure, not just another errand.
Do your employees act like owners?
Memorable Customer Experiences
Colleen Barrett, former president of Southwest Airlines, was known around the company as Southwest's "Queen of Hearts." In a recent talk she gave, she noted "how the company mission is posted every three feet, all over every location we have. It's to follow the Golden Rule—to treat people the way that you want to be treated, and pretty much everything will fall into place."
These days that simple advice needs to be remembered. Courtesy and appreciation seem to have fallen out of favor in our frantic and frenetically paced society. More attention is given to technological devices over thoughtful interactions with real people. To create memorable customer experiences, brands have to remember that a great story begins with compassion—compassion for the customers' needs.
What does your brand need to remember?
A vocabulary all your own. A heritage of passion. A differentiated point of view. Employees who live the brand. All of these things add up to create memorable customer experiences that are worth sharing with others. Every brand has a story. Some are more compelling than others. Make sure your brand's story is one of those.
Andrea Syverson is president of IER Partners, a strategic branding and merchandising consultancy based in Colorado. She may be reached at (719) 495-2354 or firstname.lastname@example.org.