How To Solidify Your Brand Promise When Your Company Is Evolving
While it’s a cliché to say that change is the new norm, you can’t deny that products and solutions, user demands and applications, technologies and business models are in constant flux. Companies that survive and thrive are those that adapt quickly to capitalize on emerging business opportunities.
So, how do you manage your brand in this environment?
It used to be that brand discussions were triggered by mergers, acquisitions or spinoffs. Certainly these activities force the issue, but to deliver the promise of your brand and realize the return on the creative capital you put into it while your company pursues new opportunities, you need to manage your brand as a never-ending story rather than a stake in the ground.
Look In The Mirror
Chances are, what you’ll see is all about you. This is the tried-and-true method of brand-building -- who we are, what we offer, what we value, what awards we’ve won. There are several problems with this approach, but the chief one is that the “we-based” brand cannot evolve as your company transitions.
If you invest in brand building, you don’t want to refresh so often that you never get traction with your customers. Instead, you want a brand with a tent big enough for you to have several parties going on at the same time.
Storytelling as a brand-building tool is gaining converts, and the benefits are far-reaching. Storytelling makes your message memorable, relatable and affirming. When you focus the foundation of your brand on customer experiences, the stories you tell reflect your customers. And voila -- as the stories evolve, so does your brand.
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But you can’t tell your customers’ stories unless you first listen to them. Storytellers throughout millennia learned the stories that they passed on from others. They listened for what made a good story -- what is the tension or problem to be solved, what are the sights and sounds that make the story memorable, what is the hook that makes it something everyone can relate to?
Your customers want you to help them solve a problem so they can fulfill their mission. Make their mission your mission. Tell their story, and you’ll be telling your own.
Here’s an example. Let’s say that the hypothetical company Cornerstone Inc’s core business is providing medical clinics in underserved areas. However, its marketing focuses not on what it provides to the communities it serves, nor on the pharmacies and medical supply stores that are housed in the clinics, nor even on the medical devices its research and development division develops. Rather, it focuses on what makes the communities it serves special. It tells stories of real people in real situations making their little corner of the world a better place.
Cornerstone profiles schools that integrate wellness into their curriculum, into the neighborhoods that hold weekly summer concerts so that neighbors can connect with each other, into the libraries that provide English as a second language (ESL) classes, into the humane societies that provide pets for veterans. The brand’s executives know that, by telling these stories, they are influencing the community decision-makers who recommend, facilitate and even subsidize their entry into new areas.
The “what it does” may be providing the medical clinics and supporting medical products, but Cornerstone’s brand clearly communicates what a community that is served by Cornerstone looks like. Hence, it doesn’t matter if Cornerstone decides that it wants to develop a construction division or expand into renewable energy, for example.
When marketing is approached this way, a brand can easily accommodate new business ventures. The CMO doesn’t need to jump through hoops to make the new business fit under the storytelling-based brand. A company just needs to include the stories of its new acquisition in its repertoire.
When the foundation of your brand is storytelling and your stories are about the great things your customers are doing in the world, you need a corporate culture that is tuned to recognize and amplify a good story. That means asking your employees to be customer advocates. Give them the training and tools to talk about the work they do to help their customers realize their goals. And most importantly, ask them to listen rather than look in the mirror, for it is in listening that they will find their brand identity.
Your brand comes from your customers. Your employees are your lifeline to those customers. By asking them to listen, you are creating an army of storytellers. Employees who can talk freely and passionately about helping their customers are the best brand builders you can find.
Remember the early days of social media, when short-sighted managers worried about their employees “wasting” time on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram? Today’s brand-savvy CMOs know that when employees have the green light to use social media and corporate blogs to talk about what excites them in their work, that enthusiasm becomes part of the brand -- the brand that evolves with its employee, with technology and with the customer.