By Fritz Grutzner, Brandgarten
The company presidents we work with often say to me, “We have a great company. I think we have a great story to tell. But we don’t know how to tell it in a way that drives our business.”
I recently had the pleasure of speaking to a group of ABC contractors on the topic of branding. With all the issues facing contractors these days, it is easy to believe that your “brand” doesn’t matter much. One of the folks in my talk asked the question, “How does branding help me? My competitor is playing cards at night with my best prospect?”
As a business grows, it often becomes impossible for an owner to personally connect with each of their customers and prospects. It also becomes difficult to oversee and guide a growing number of employees and to get them to care as much as you do about the business.
This is the point at which defining your brand story becomes critical. You may think of your brand as your reputation. Your brand may be expressed by a logo or a color or a tagline — but the value of your brand is far more than this. I like to think of a brand as a true story you tell. A story that your customers and prospects attribute to you. And this story has tangible value. At well-branded companies, the goodwill value of the brand can add 20-30% to the value of the company. It is clear, that people don’t buy things, they buy the story about the thing. And at its essence, good branding is nothing more than good storytelling.
To your employees, a well-defined brand story answers the questions: Who are we? What do we fundamentally believe? How do our behaviors activate this belief?
To your customers and prospects, a strong brand is a promise of quality and service. It is a shorthand way for them to decide whether they want to choose your company or a competitor for a job. We all use this shorthand approach. Life is busy. We don’t have time to think hard about every decision we make in a day. We use mental shortcuts to make these decisions. Emotions are a critical part of these mental shortcuts. Feelings drive behaviors. How we feel about a company is as important as the functional benefit they provide. We like to do business with people and brands we like. Building a brand story that connects emotionally with your employees and customers is what good branding is all about.
Now, here is the secret that good marketers understand – some stories are better than others.
At our consulting company, we help to align a company’s story with an “archetypal story.” Archetypal stories are stories that live deep in our subconscious. These are stories we all know. For example, the story of the “rebel” or the “caregiver” are archetypal stories that have appeared in all cultures at all times. When you align your company story with an existing archetypal story, you immediately have an emotional edge. This is because each of these stories comes with a built-in emotional connection. The “regular guy” story is about feeling a sense of belonging. The “caregiver” story is about feeling cared for. The “rebel” story is about a sense of freedom. We choose brands that help us feel a certain way in certain situations.
If your prospect needs a contractor, you should ask yourself not only what sort of service they need from you, but also how they want to feel. Can your company and brand story help them feel a sense of achievement or belonging, or freedom?
Here is an example. If I need a contractor for a job where the stakes are so high that failure is unacceptable, I am inclined to choose a contractor telling the “ruler” story. The ruler is a story about being the best in the category. Choosing a “ruler” brand helps make us feel we are in control, like the “Mercedes” of the category. The “ruler” brand is typically well-established in the category and often the category leader. The “ruler” is also typically a more expensive choice, but worth it. There can only be one “ruler” in any given category. To align around this story, your company truly needs to deliver the best quality (at the highest price.)
Authentic brands are built from the core of the company. The brand story must be a true story, based on the original intent of the company founders. Did they start the company because they wanted to create a caring place for employees to thrive (a “caregiver” story)? Did they intend to help customers achieve lofty goals and overcome obstacles (a “hero” story)? Your archetypal story must resonate with the history and culture of your organization.
What we have found is that very often, several stories ring true at any given company. You should pick ONE story and commit to telling this story well. This focus is essential if you want to make it easy for your employees to deliver the right story. A single story also helps customers to identify emotionally with your story.
Finally, your brand story should lead you to a higher purpose than just making money. Young people today seek meaning and purpose in their lives. There is good data that shows purpose driven companies have more satisfied employees and can attract better talent. If your brand story is one of achievement, then you might be building a “hero” culture at your company. This is a culture that attracts achievement-oriented employees. If you embrace this brand story by recruiting, training, and rewarding achievement, your employees will build the “hero” brand story for you.
No archetypal story is inherently better than another. What matters is that the story is, 1) authentic to your culture, 2) emotionally relevant to your customers, and 3) you are able to deliver on it. If all three of these are true for one archetypal story, you are well on your way to building a much stronger brand and a more successful business.
Fritz Grutzner is the founder and president of Brangarten, a brand strategy firm that has helped companies like Johnson & Johnson, Delta Faucet, and MetLife build their brand stories. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.