As a newly minted brand manager almost two decades ago, I had a daunting task in front of me: Build the brand for a tech startup that captured exactly how cool and industry-changing we all knew the company could be. But it had to be done in a way that appealed both to users who understood the minutiae of technology, as well as mainstream press bombarded by seemingly similar stories.
The first thing not to do in a situation like this is Google “brand strategy.” Do that today you’ll get a lot of important-sounding definitions talking about long-term strategies and meshing the components of character that make your company identifiable.
Are those definitions wrong? Absolutely not, they’re dead on. Are they chock-full of actionable advice that you can implement easily? Also absolutely not. They are great in theory, but when you and your team sit down to talk about your brand, they don’t exactly provide a step-by-step roadmap on how to get to the goal.
Your Brand Story Is Your Strategy
In the simplest terms, your brand story is your strategy. It’s an idea from Ben Horowitz, renowned venture capitalist and author of The Hard Thing About Hard Things. He’s the guy with the vision to back little-companies-that-could like Facebook, Airbnb, Pinterest and Twitter—i.e., a person worth listening to when it comes to building brands.
What is your brand story? It’s the narrative of your organization, its approach to business, and how it got to where it is today. It’s not the history of your company and how you started it in your mom’s living room with fifty bucks and a dream, but it may include elements about why the business started.
Your brand story should contain the key messages, voice and tone of your brand. While the brand story is typically created for an internal audience—the rallying cry your employees live and breathe—it can be used in part or as a whole to explain your raison d’être to your audience.
Brand Story Lessons from a Rock Climber
Yvon Chouinard’s name may not have the same cache as Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos, but as the founder of Patagonia, he’s built a remarkable brand on the strength of a bulletproof story.
He was a climber way back in the 70s when he realized the equipment he was using damaged the rocks he climbed. So he started building his own pitons, the metal spikes that go in the rock face, that had a lower impact. He extended that environmentally sustainable outlook to the other gear he used and wore while on the mountain and, fast-forward a few years, an adventure clothing empire was born.
What attracts me and many of Patagonia’s customers is their commitment to quality products with a lower impact. They regularly encourage customers to consider reusing, recycling and sharing gear instead of buying new. Their commitment is front and center in the story they tell at every touchpoint, from their website and content pieces to product packaging and the conversation you have with their customer service reps. It’s clear that everyone who works at the company lives and breathes the same story. It’s their strategy.
Building a Brand Story and Brand Strategy
So, the million dollar question is, how do you get from a blank page to a story that will drive your brand strategy? It’s not quite as simple as putting pen to paper.
When Scribewise works with a company on a branding initiative, we’ll start by bringing together the key stakeholders in the company—the CEO, leaders in tech, sales, marketing and customer service and a few customer-facing employees. We’ll also interview customers and check out what competitors are doing.
With all of this information in hand, we’ll start to craft the essential brand elements, including customer insights, what you stand for, your values, personality traits and the benefits you provide. Consider these to be the foundation for the story you’ll eventually create and tell to your employees, customers and the world.
If you work in marketing, you have likely bumped into Simon Sinek’s concept of the Golden Circle from Start with Why. The brand story as a strategy is another way of defining your why in a way that gets everyone on the same page. It’s something everyone can believe in and is the tuning fork for every strategic decision.
As that young brand manager struggling to figure out our why, I eventually tapped into all the right people to come up with a brand story. And to the organization’s credit, we followed that story as our strategy, and it led for a pretty impressive exit for two guys who really did start a company in their mom’s living room with fifty bucks. And it was all made possible by employees who knew and believed in the brand story inside and out.