Crafting and Communicating an Authentic Brand Story

The best brands are built on great stories.“

—Ian Rowden, Chief Marketing Officer, Virgin Group

More than at any other time in human history, today’s consumers possess increasingly short attention spans and are bombarded daily with numerous media and messaging channels. Everywhere you look there is constant marketing and advertising going on in some way, shape or form, with the goal of informing, promoting and prompting commercial activity from you and me, the consumer. New products and services are constantly being developed and rolled out and updates and upgrades are being released on a daily basis.

It is in this climate that brand creators and curators find themselves with an urgent need to become great storytellers. For small businesses, the sole owner and operator is often the individual in charge of this story. Brand is regarded as a business’ most valuable asset. It follows then, that the most important (and valuable) story a brand steward can tell is their own.

This is the one story brand creators and curators must know thoroughly and become masters at telling, in any setting and to any audience. The audience can be stakeholders, potential investors or especially, new and existing customers. In the same way that no one, not even your closest competition, does exactly what you do in the same way that you do it; No one understands you, what you sell or why you do it, better than you.

What do we mean by brand story? Your brand story is the unique narrative that weaves together your business origin (look back) and orientation (looking ahead) and speaks to present issues, concerns or needs in the market. What need was your business created to meet? What problem was your business created to solve? This story speaks from you to your audience with a message and tone that permeates through all your business communication. Your brand story can emulate other organizations but should never imitate directly. It must be yours – looking, sounding and feeling like the rest of your brand.

Exceptional brand stories do a few key things well:

  • They provide answers because they begin with questions. Arguably the most critical question to answer is the “Why” of your business. In helping consumers understand how you got to where you are today, take them back to that initial problem that your product or service was created to address.
  • They incorporate visuals that tie in the key aspects of your story and associate well with its tone and key elements. Give careful thought to the visual assets that you use to tell your brand story, especially in digital media settings. We live in an increasingly visual world where the competition for attention spans is quite fierce.
  • They are grounded in real life. Realize that problems are not an end but a beginning. Problems provide opportunities for creativity, not obstacles.
  • They begin with why your organization is different, but they continue with why that even matters.

Recently I heard a very compelling brand story from Greg Vetter, CEO of Tessemae’s, a rapidly growing all-natural producer of sauces, dressings and other condiments. That story is summarized here. Once you become familiar with the story, it’s readily apparent how the origin of the company influences the orientation of the company, and along the way, how this authenticity in look, feel, delivery and message continue to shine through everything about the company, from its production to packaging.

Remember, there are lots of brands telling lots of stories through lots of media. Authenticity creates appeal. This is something Tessemae’s understands and all small businesses would do well to imitate. Know your brand story and tell it as only you can!

Store Design: Materials

I was researching another project when I ran across these book stores. I was looking for examples of how different building finish materials can change the perception of merchandise quality in a store design, and as these views are void of brand signs, they allow for a fairly objective comparison on a store planning level as well. The examples were good enough to turn into an article as follows:

Store 1
Store 1

Store 1 – This first store reminds me of Strand Bookstore in New York City, locally famous for used books, which should not come as a surprise as the plastic on the windows, mismatched fixtures, cheap but effective fluorescent lighting and existing brick walls and wood floors all suggest, not only extreme economy, but also sustainability. The chairs and wide aisles suggest a comfortable and possibly entertaining shopping experience. In NYC this equals “shabby chic.” Anywhere else it risks being just shabby.

Store 2
Store 2

Store 2 – The actual fixtures used in this store, likely high quality painted wood, display the merchandise for maximum advantage and provide storage as well. Nevertheless, carpet and acoustic tile floors and ceilings are strictly utilitarian, as is the lighting, which is adequate but stylistically dated as it is used here. The monotone, high foot candle light level removes the possibility of any particular focus or feature areas, as does the “many evenly spaced rows” type of layout. This ambiance is all about volume and possibly crosses over to discount.

Store 3
Store 3

Store 3 – This appears to be a high profile, historic, urban environment that is possibly a destination unto itself. Efforts have been made to help the store fixtures disappear into the location. Wood shelving and display tables match existing architectural trim and carefully placed invisible light sources outline perimeter merchandise walls artfully tucked under the balcony. Like dancers in a grand ballroom, table top displays nicely present the merchandise to main floor shoppers. A polite, public mood prevails.

Store 4
Store 4

Store 4 – This is another example of how existing buildings can drive the retail ambiance of a space. Exposed structure, skylights, stone walls, and distressed concrete floors identify an industrial loft type environment made relevant by the addition of colorful art lights, and a bit of modern ceiling material. Tall store fixtures made of construction grade wood emphasize the soaring ceiling height and merge into the prevailing aesthetic. One might be surprised to find that this trendy store, like store 1, is also selling used books.

Store 5
Store 5

Store 5 – Perhaps the most unique of the stores, this is defined first by the the top to bottom wood finishes and then by the contemporary parkitecture, including the shelving units carefully incorporated therin. Visions of everything from Hoss Cartwright’s Ponderosa to Bilbo Baggin’s Hobbit Hole are conjured. The place practically invites the shopper to enter a mysterious world of fantasy.

Store 6
Store 6

Store 6 – Finally we have the shop of no finishes, except of course the books, representing the weighty world of gold bound illuminated manuscripts and classic volumes read and reread over time in days when they had more than just historic value. This is the revered library showing up in Patrick Rothfuss’, The Name of the Wind.

Finally, it is of interest that, in spite of differing book sizes, the shelf heights have been maintained to form continuous horizontally aligned rows of books in all of these stores.

All photos on this site belong to the author, are used under Creative Commons or with permission from the photographer. The source may normally be found by following the link attached to the photo.

Bridget Gaddis, of Gaddis Architect, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

Create Brand Experiences Using the 3 M’s

The Coca-Cola logo is an example of a widely-r...Brands are everywhere! Products and services are constantly advertised to consumers through social media, mobile devices, digital signage among many other new and traditional avenues. There is more competition than ever for brand recognition and loyalty among consumers.

As consumers increase in volume and technological savvy, businesses must adapt their approach to marketing and branding to them. Creating high-quality brand visuals and messages is a must, but to truly distinguish their brands, 21st century brand stewards must go a step further. Three principles, each beginning with the letter M, will help the men and women who create brands achieve greater success in today’s market.

Meaningful

Branding for today’s audiences should, first and foremost, be meaningful, answering the question, “What is the problem that is being solved through the product or service?” Brand messaging is rooted in seeking answers to real problems. Common emotions or situations, such as humor, happiness or fear can be used and even featured in brand messaging or imagery, but ultimately if there is no need that is clear, the brand positioning ought to be re-considered.

This principle is the one of the three discussed here that is most essentially connected to both producer and consumer. To solve problems is why companies get into business, and why customers seek out businesses or organizations in the first place. This aim of branding will answer this question: “How will it meet a need in your life? How does it do it better or differently than anything else?”

Brand experiences developed for products and services give meaning by speaking to real and perceived needs and wants on the most basic human levels. Brand crafters should be able to restate their solutions as answers to problems and questions. This is important because clients and customers are more likely to return to brands that they feel excel at meeting real needs that they have.

Memorable

Secondly, brand experiences should be memorable. Children and adults love stories. We love to hear them and we love to make them up. We are always telling stories and responding to memories from childhood and other periods in life both the pleasant and painful times. This aim of branding answers this question: “How does this product or service make you feel?”

The human mind is always making connections. Brand crafters should use this to create visual and verbal links that tap into the power of stories and memories and heighten the awareness of brands to consumers. This can be done by developing visual and verbal elements (“symbols and saying”) that are either easy to remember or call to mind memories resonant with the target audience.

This principle is most important to the consumer (customer) side. Brands must seek creative ways to tell a story that is uniquely theirs in a way that is authentic and compelling. Discerning audiences can tell if the narrative being presented is not genuine. Fantasy, Future, Tradition, History, Values and Dreams are six of the most popular and common themes used repeatedly in compelling and successful branding.

Don’t underestimate how the power of stories and memories matter to consumers making sometimes difficult brand choices. Brand strategists and designers who tap into the right stories or and create the right memories can make connections with consumers that move them and motivate them to purchase a product or service. Consider the last great movie scene you witnessed and how easy it was to tell your friend about it. Consumers are far more likely to buy and share what they find memorable.

Measurable

Lastly, modern brand experiences should be measurable. Branding is a business tool, created with tangible business goals in mind, such as increased consumer awareness, expanded market share or successful entry into new markets.
After successfully appealing to the head and the heart, brand caretakers must then seek an answer to the questions, “How does it impact lives? How will we know if our initiative, rebranding, campaign is successful?” Branding strategists and designers have at their disposal many methods and tools to gather the answers, including analytics, focus groups, surveys, response cards, inbound marketing, search engine optimization and social influence among many others.

This principle is most important to the producer (the business or entity) than any of the others. Brand strategists and designers, operating as part of business teams, must use and create branding systems that produce some type of data that can be analyzed. They need to measure in a quantifiable ways the net gain in influence and value and profit for their brands and parent companies. They need to know it worked, or if it didn’t work, why was it unsuccessful. Stakeholders of all levels in an organization need to be able to determine if an expensive and expansive strategic campaign was successful in meeting its goals or not?

This principle is vital because lots of time and money is invested in branding. Failing to learn from past mistakes and misjudgments in this area can cost cash, credibility and even careers. In addition, branding is about reputation and perception and reputations and perceptions are two things that can change very quickly. In a world of constant change, data provides bankable evidence that helps brand crafters make better strategic decisions, which ultimately creates stronger businesses and brands.

Once you establish meaning and context for your branding in the everyday needs and wants of your audience, then craft a narrative that is authentic and strikes the right emotional chords, the last step is to deploy your visuals/messaging and keep track of what influence it is having on your intended audience through perception and behavior change.

As you think about the evolution of your brand, remember the 3 Ms: Meaningful, Memorable and Measurable. These are the indispensable characteristics and considerations you should use to guide successful branding strategy and create powerful and effective brand experiences.

Facebook Timeline Comes to Brand Pages

W3 Consulting's New Facebook Page Timeline

If you’re like most Small Business owners, your Facebook Page stood the same way today as it will tomorrow. However, Facebook has changed your Page to the new Timeline format whether you, I or your customers like it or not. Actually, they did so on March 31, 2012. Facebook is not where I engage my target audiences primarily so all I do is typically syndicate curated content and self-published content to our Facebook Page (like my blog posts and tweets), but for many Small Business owners it is currently their main Social Media hub. (My Facebook Page with all of 26+ Likes would have stayed the same, except that I posted a coverphoto to my Facebook Page in anticipation of writing this post today.) I am writing this article to educate you about the good, the bad and the ugly (sorry, there’s not much good here) of Facebook Timeline, in hopes of providing you with a small business strategy to leverage the change to benefit your bottom line.

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