Monthly thoughts on branding, marketing, and business strategy from the leadership of Arizona's premiere B2B brand agency: Resound. Join Mike Jones, Chris Stadler, and Sam Pagel as they work through key branding concepts like values, personality, and story as well as how to build a leading business-to-business brand using digital marketing and creative like video, websites, social media, and email.
Reach Your Brand’s Audience. Use Story.
How do you truly connect with your brand's audience? Through story. Great stories stick with us...and the reason why is no great mystery.
From Star Wars and The Godfather to the plays of William Shakespeare, a great story survives time and change because for audience after audience, something true and potent sunk in.
Star Wars and Brand Story
That is, if we break apart the plot of the first Star Wars film, we see a template of events that are millennia old — a young hero who yearns for adventure is pried from home after a trusting guide, and a chaotic chain of events thrusts him into the innards of the Death Star itself. The events are both deeply familiar and yet invigorating...because, on some level, we see our own life parallel the hero’s quest.
So we watch.
Story Involves and Motivates Your Brand's Audience
In other words, stories like Star Wars don’t exist in a vacuum. They land, and land well, with their brand's audience...and with subsequent generations of audiences who love the story so much they consume fan fiction, dress up for conventions, and in some countries, lobby to make Star Wars an official religion.
If you’re just joining us, don’t worry. This article isn’t part of a Star Wars series and we won’t be talking about the new Obi-Wan show.
Rather, it’s a series on authentic B2B branding...and my point is that potent brands reach people with the posture and messaging of a timeless classic story. If you’re just joining by the way, you can read more about how the elements of a brand that guides its customer (the hero), mesh with the elements of story here.
The Final Piece of Your Branding Effort
Riffin’ on story brings me right to the heart of it.
On the top of the branding pyramid, way above the foundation of a true, authentic purpose — and above the narrowing, rising layers of personality, metaphor, archetype, history, location, and brand story — we find a sharpened, or…if we’re still talking pyramids, a crudely sharpened capstone. As magnificent as it may look, the whole structure is pointing at something:
Your brand’s audience.
Every author knows that when you’re telling a story, you need to pay attention to your brand's audience. The same applies for a large corporation, a regional B2B branding agency like Resound, and your own company.
Who’s your brand's audience? Which hero are you aiming to guide to the finish line?
While most companies have a good, or even a statistically sharpened understanding of who they’re trying to reach, the question is worth asking again, and as simply as possible, from a brand and brand story perspective.
Your Brand's Audience Squared
You might respond that I’m forgetting one thing — your brand or company has more than one audience.
Take it easy.
If you’ve got more than one audience, (or more than one product), you’re in good company. In fact, even if you create one product or offer one service, you’ve probably got a few audiences already in the bag.
How to Tell a Remarkable Brand Story
This is it, remarka-fans. How to tell a remarkable brand story
This month, I’m cutting right to brand story—the heart of a brand’s posture toward the world and its customers, and the final piece that ties a brand’s expression, identity, and strategy together.
If you love a good story, (seriously…who doesn’t?), and if you know that telling one can mean the difference between scaling your brand dramatically or getting little traction with the same old strategies… then you’re in the right place.
Welcome to the writer’s room.
If you’ve been following my series on discovering your brand’s purpose and remarkable identity, and then using it to build a winsome, potent brand expression, then you might sense that we’re nearing the summit.
And if you’re just joining in, that’s also swell… and if you enjoy the view then you’ll probably find the previous stages of our branding journey worth your time. All of the tools we’ve discussed so far, from your brand’s archetype, metaphor, and location to its own slice of history, culminate in your overarching remarkable brand story.
A well-developed brand isn’t an image.
Or a tagline.
Or even a killer color scheme.
Those are ways of expressing the brand…but they’re no substitute for its story. In many ways, and when it comes to what the busy world sees and hears, a brand is its story.
Whittling Story Down to a Remarkable Brand Story
Hollywood screenwriters and those who study ancient civilizations love to tell us that there’s only one story.
Maybe two… and on the note, the variations I’ve heard are:
1) a stranger comes to town.
2) a stranger goes on a journey.
But if you’re a fan of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey, then you’ve probably had a taste of how much debate, speculation, and back-and-forth exists amongst story and movie buffs.
There’s enough of it to fill a thousand masterclasses. But the good news for B2B’s is that the elements of story sharpen down nicely for those building a brand.
A classic story has five key elements: the balance, the unbalance, the quest, the crisis, and the new balance.
In plain English, here’s what those five elements look like:
The balance is the “normal” state of the world at the beginning of the story, its status quo.
The unbalance is the new event, intrusion or “problem” which disrupts the “normal” state of the world and sets the events of the story in motion.
The quest is the pursuit by the protagonists (the “heroes”) of the story to find some solution to the problem or other ways of settling the unbalance.
The crisis is when the drama of the quest and the drama of the underlying problem comes to a head, the key event which will determine the outcome of the story.
The new balance is the resolution to the story in the aftermath of the crisis, which becomes the new “normal” for the end of the story, or the new “balance” to be upset again at the next stage of the story.
Shall we try it?
The 5 Sentences You Need to Tell a Remarkable Brand Story
The key elements of any story can be stated in five sentences following this format.
Balance: Once upon a time there was a quiet village where a humble de...
The Power of a Great Brand Metaphor
There’s any number of highbrow ways to kick this article off.
Where to start?
In going with a splendid example of a no-frills metaphor, I’m torn between:
William Shakespeare: “All the world’s a stage.”
Vincent Van Gogh: “Conscience is a man's compass”
Dr. King: “We will transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony.”
Eminem: “You don’t get another chance / life is no Nintendo game.”
Simon and Garfunkel: “I am a rock. I am an island.”
And finally, assistant to the Regional Manager Dwight Shrute: “Always the Padawan, never the Jedi.”
Intentional and Artful
Whatever you pick, an artful metaphor can prime our minds with a clever, inventive shortcut. If the comparison is clear, obvious, or something we use every day, we don’t even think about it. Although there’s no harm in slowing down to ponder the fact that an elephant in the room—an ultra-obvious, overriding fact or secret no one wants to talk about—weighs down the atmosphere, and creates the same claustrophobic tension as a seven-ton mammal wedged against the walls.
Of course, metaphors aren’t literal.
Ones that try too hard, make no sense, or get their wires crossed end up on internet lists of ‘worst metaphors written by high school students.’
Take THAT to the bank and smoke it!
It was one peach cobbler of a tax audit.
The backyard oak tree was a proud, brown, twelve-foot column… with branches and leaves.
I could do this all day…but I’d rather pivot to how B2B companies, national brands, and pretty much everyone presenting themselves or their services to the world can, (and should), use metaphor to help people grasp their remarkable identity.
Built thoughtfully, and with the truth in mind, a good brand metaphor fleshes out an organization’s qualities, strengths, values, expression—everything that helps someone resonate with that brand’s story.
Metaphor Brings Clarity to Your Brand’s Story
In previous articles, I discussed all the components of building an authentic brand identity. I followed that up with a series on understanding your brand’s story through the lenses of a brand’s history, location, and archetype.
Assuming you’ve done the work of pinning down those aspects of your brand, how do you go about actually composing and narrating your brand’s story?
Lots of ways, actually.
But the one way I’ve found especially helpful is the brand metaphor.
The literal story of your brand, after all, is often not something that most people can grasp on an intuitive level…even if you’re able to see how your pest control company is the hero of a grand epic tale about termites and roaches. When you try to tell that story literally, the focus is going to get stuck at just killing bugs.
Nothing wrong with killing bugs.
But your brand story should be told in a way that resounds outward in distinctive visual and verbal expressions—something that can be uniquely expressed by a logo, a choice of typeface, or a company name. “We kill bugs” is not unique or distinctive. So, instead of a brand story that ends at what the brand literally does, a href="https://resoundcreative.
Tell a Better Brand Story by Embracing Your History
Unless you work in the candy industry, you probably didn’t know that M & M's only became a household name after selling their candy-coated chocolate exclusively to U.S. Servicemen in World War II. When the servicemen came back home, demand for those orange, yellow, and red candies we all recognize skyrocketed. You probably don’t know that M & M’s were the first candy eaten in space, or that there were no red ones between 1976 and 1987, when a bogus study linking red food dye to cancer scared the American public. Would the M & M’s you see at every counter be as famous, or as big a part of everyone’s life if World War II never happened? Perhaps the vast majority of people would have never heard of them, or perhaps they’d know them by a different brand name. While we’ll never know, it makes you wonder. If you think about it, the story of each brand we use and recognize is deeply tied to the historical events that shaped it over its lifetime. Along with a brand’s location or setting, a brand’s history leaves an indelible stamp on how that brand expresses itself, how it grows or shrinks, and how the world around it experiences and recognizes it. Even if no one aside from a brand’s founders knows that history, the events, trends, economic demands, and cultural appetites make a mark nonetheless. And in deeply important ways that contribute to a brand’s story, and even its eventual success or failure.
Brand History Means Context
The context of a brand’s story is not only its place, but also its time. If you’ve done the hard work of figuring out your brand’s identity, values, and core purpose, and if you’ve factored in the ways your brand’s location shapes everything about it, then a final step would be taking note of what’s happening all around you. Consider the recent years that have seen your brand grow, begin, or change course, and ask yourself: What’s been going on in the world? Have there been any major shifts in the status quo? Or is the world ready for one? What’s going on in your world right now? And what’s going on in the industry? What historical context helps define the changes in society, culture, or your industry? How did all these changes get to where they are? Answering these questions should give you a sense of your brand’s historical context… and your impression of recent history prepares you to ponder the follow-up: What does all this mean for your brand? How does recent history, or everything that’s happening today, contribute to your brand’s story and expression? How does it shape the way people think about it or respond to it? It may not be so easy to distill the answers… or to separate how time and history have influenced your brand from how your brand’s geographic location has. But a good way to practice, and no doubt a good exercise in and of itself, would be asking how our own individual histories shape the people we are today.
Starter Questions for Understanding the Past
We’re all shaped by the memories of our own history. No exceptions. How we think about ourselves has a lot to do with the story we tell of what has happened to us, and how we got to the present moment. Our fears, aspirations, and present behavior patterns are often echoes of what worked for us in the past. For organizations, looking back and reflecting on their history is an important component of their brand story… and with a handful of direct, but not necessarily easy questions, that history can be unlocked. When was your brand founded? Why was it founded? If the company has been in business for 30, 50, or 70 years, how has the industry changed? How has the company changed? How did the world change? What were the big, emotional moments in that history, either the successes or the failures, that shaped the way your company operates today?
The Importance of Location in Brand Story
Here’s our elevator pitch—Star Trek on a pirate ship.
Same cast. Same plotlines… but instead of the outer reaches of Deep Space Nine, everyone’s cruisin’ around the Caribbean.
Or suppose Star Wars took place on an elementary school playground. Or Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice in the middle of a zombie apocalypse?
Apparently, some have tried it. But setting informs a story as much as the characters do, and changing a setting obviously changes the entire story.
The where of a story gives off a certain personality, just as much as the who and the what. The elements of a location, an environment, or a unique time and place shape how characters relate to each other, navigate the world, and compose the stories we watch, read, and listen to.
The same is true of your brand’s story, culture, and overall identity.
Trust us… locations shape a brand’s story in ways you wouldn’t expect. That includes our own story as a Tempe, Arizona-based branding agency—and that’s something you can read more about in our new book ‘You are Remarkable’ authored by our founders.
Back to you and the simple, overarching question: ‘where are you from?’
Not Forgetting Setting
While everyone’s got a distinct nature, nurture (i.e. setting) still makes its mark.
Of course, it helps to know your core purpose, what you value, and your organization’s vision for making a small corner of the world a little better. And while you’re at it, you need to know your character archetype.
But knowing, and owning your setting is non-negotiable. The environment all around you, not to mention the values, history, and customs of the place where you set up shop matters more to your brand’s identity than you might think.
Forget setting, and you ignore a huge chunk of what makes your organization remarkable.
Having Roots in Two Locations
So what’s the setting for your brand’s story?
Is your location local? Regional? Global?
Where, and just as importantly, when does it begin?
One thing you often find out when you’re getting to know someone is where they’re from. Sometimes, it’s straightforward, but other times, not so much. In fact, if you think about it, many people are from at least two places.
First, the place where they grew up—the locale or community where their formative years were spent. The place that, to a large degree, probably influenced what they see as “normal” in the world. Somebody who grew up in the Midwest has a different “normal” than someone who grew up in Los Angeles.
Second, the place where they currently live, which influences and constrains their current choices. Somebody living in rural Kansas has to adapt to a different physical, cultural, and economic environment than somebody living under the clear, hot skies of suburban Phoenix.
The same is true for a brand or an organization.
When your customers are getting to know your brand story, part of learning that story is knowing where you and your brand come from.
Location Influences All the Details
Directly or indirectly, people will get a feel for the values, culture and customs of the place where your business started. They’ll also get a feel for where it is currently located or headquartered.
This may be overt, in the way that Portillo’s Hot Dogs are explicitly from Chicago (even when they’re in Arizona), and Alaska Airlines explicitly serves Alaska (even if their hub is in a href="https://www.bizjournals.
Using Brand Archetypes to Build a Consistent Personality