We’ve been talking quite a bit about brand these days. Specifically, our belief that every brand — no matter what kind of product or service it represents — has a unique story. And that it’s our job as marketers to help clients tell that story in an honest, authentic, and memorable way. Because it’s also our job to help clients “move the needle” and accomplish measurable results.
The concept of “story,” especially in the business-to-business realm, is often met with skepticism. The very word calls to mind fairy tales and works of fiction — hardly the stuff successful big-bucks marketing campaigns are built upon.
Story, as it relates to brands, however, should come from an intrinsically factual place. A brand story is akin to a company or brand’s DNA — communicating why it’s unique, what it stands for and the value it provides to customers. It’s like a mission statement, only bigger. It can’t be manufactured in a board room. It has to come from the essence of the company itself.
This story should provide the foundation for each and every interaction with customers and stakeholders. Everyone — salespeople, marketing folks, the C-suite and beyond — should understand and internalize that story, so every message is consistent with “who” the brand is.
So, how does this ethereal notion of “brand story” connect with executable tactics? Very simply: don’t write checks (read: stories) your company can’t cash.
For example, let’s say your CEO wants to do an entire campaign based on great service, when in reality, it’s sorely lacking. When the marketplace sees print ads touting your exceptional customer support, yet customers sit on hold for 30 minutes, your credibility is quickly lost.
In a better example, let’s examine McDonalds’ recent #MeetTheFarmers Twitter campaign, designed to promote the corporation’s commitment to using fresh produce from real farmers. It might have been successful, until McDonalds introduced another hashtag into the campaign: #McDStories, asking customers to share their heartfelt McDonald’s memories. And share them they did.
A Twitter storm erupted in a matter of hours, with people sharing horror stories of everything from fingernails in their cheeseburgers to hospital stays resulting from food poisoning. Not exactly the touching family stories McDonald’s was hoping for.
There are certainly many lessons to be had here — but the most important is authenticity. Owning what it is about your brand that keeps people coming back, not trying to force a manufactured message down their throats. McDonald’s is aware of the public perception about fast food. That’s why they created this campaign in the first place. But instead of honoring the real value they offer, they tried to invent it. The truth is, people come to McDonald’s because it’s convenient. Because it’s consistent. Because it’s fast and kids can eat it in the car. What they don’t come for is farm fresh produce and warm, fuzzy family memories.
Before you can tell your story, you have to listen to your customers’ stories. Be aware of what they’re saying, and participate in the conversation instead of simply diving in and trying to dominate it. Social media is the world’s biggest focus group, and the customer feedback is there for the taking. Listen. Take it to heart. Use it to make positive changes. Then, join the conversation and share honest, factual information that demonstrates how you’re addressing their issue(s).
Before you tell a story or send a message — in print, online or in person — consider this: can you look your customers in the eye when you say what you’re about to say? If not, think twice before you “speak.” If you can’t say something authentic, don’t say anything at all.