Four Lessons in Building a Powerful and Authentic Brand Narrative
By Stephen Dupont, APR
Note: This article was originally published by Forbes.com.
Have you ever asked a customer or an industry peer what they think about your organization and its brand?
Your brand narrative is a dynamic story reflecting the brand experience as experienced by employees, customers, investors and other stakeholders. It’s the story that your organization’s loyal and enthusiastic supporters share at every opportunity. It describes the value and trust that lies in every relationship between your brand and its fans.
When your brand narrative is clicking on all six cylinders, you feel an alignment with all of your stakeholders. Alignment is evidenced by an increase in productivity, a jump in referrals, a flourish of new innovations and a rise in the company’s stock price. Employees turn down offers from competitors, customers eagerly renew contracts, vendors deliver on time and communities beg you to move your business to their town or city.
But when it’s not, you can sense that the organization is stuck or even lost.
Getting stuck often happens slowly over time. You get used to doing business in a certain way. Your business may be growing, adding more people and increasing in its efficiencies, but one day you wake up and it feels like you’re far from the passion that ignited the organization when it was founded. You might be recording positive results, yet you can’t express why any of it matters. Or how you missed a huge opportunity. Or why your brand is considered No. 2 or No. 3 as other competitors pass you by.
Here are four suggestions on how to reignite your organization’s brand narrative, whether you run a startup or run marketing for a brand within a global corporation:
1.) Define what you’re really good at.
Many organizations that I’ve worked with on branding get caught up in wanting to be everything to everyone. To reclaim your brand voice, name what you’re truly good at. More precisely: What’s the one thing that separates your organization and its people from your competitors? What do your customers value most in working with your organization? Is it your reliability? Your ability to ask smart questions and give straightforward advice? Or perhaps the value you deliver for what you charge? If you’re unsure, ask your most loyal customers why they stick with you.
2.) Find your reason for being.
Many business leaders get lost in meeting profit goals and delivering on the next big product launch. Of course, these are important. But maybe you should step back and take a close look at what fuels your passion for doing what you’re doing. Do you really want to be a fast follower? Or did you start this company to be a disruptor? Perhaps what really matters is applying your technology and know-how to improving the lives of others. Not sure? Go find the stories that define your organization’s best moments — those experiences when you were most proud to work for your company or those unbelievable customer experiences that even the marketing department couldn’t make up.
3.) Look outside the walls of your organization — even among your haters.
It’s easy to sit around a table with your business leaders and brainstorm what your brand ought to be. What’s not easy is actually asking people what they think about your brand, your employees and your products — even inviting those outsiders to dialogue with you. But this is essential if you want to escape the vacuum of me-too branding driven by insular thinking.
It’s okay to ask your top leaders what they think, but how about asking the guy who has been changing the lights for the last 10 years? What about those who have rejected your brand or even hate your brand? Ask how they arrived at their thinking. Approach the employees that left your organization for greener pastures. The key here is to find authenticity — the truth of your brand and the threads common to the brand experience — that binds the community around your brand.
4.) Choose your attitude.
As humans, we’re curious about what others say about us, and so it is with the organizations where we work. We want to know what words people use to describe our brand. We bandy words between ourselves, our customers and other stakeholders to define our experience.
Listen carefully to those words and try to understand why your employees and customers use them. If you like the words that your core fans use, amplify them. If you don’t, choose the words that you want them to use, but remain true to the relationship. Choose words that reflect a specific attitude or point of view — and above all, remain authentic. Don’t be wishy-washy here. Avoid words (as well as images) that any competitor would use. Choose words that not only reflect the unique attributes of your organization but are timeless and hold your brand accountable to its values. Then shut up and start living it.
You will end up with your juice concentrate.
What you have at the end of this process is the juice concentrate of your brand — the narrative or story that captures the essence of the brand experience, the passion that fuels your organization and its people and the reason why customers want to work with your company and not someone else.
It’s so potent that just a little bit needs to be sprinkled on everything you do: speeches to employees, customer presentation decks, your trade show booth, banner ads, Facebook posts and meetings with investors.
It’s the story of where you’ve been, where you are and where you’re going — a foundation built on your organization’s values, its drive to succeed and its mission to make a difference. All wrapped with an attitude that arrives even before you and your people walk through the door.
Stephen Dupont, APR, is VP of Public Relations and Branded Content for Pocket Hercules (www.pockethercules.com), a brand marketing firm based in Minneapolis. Stephen is a frequent contributor to PRSA’s Strategies & Tactics, and he is a member of the Forbes Communications Council. Contact Stephen Dupont at www.linkedin.com/in/stephendupont or visit stephendupont.co.