The Birth of the Brand
Despite what many modern marketers would have you believe, the notion of branding is not a cutting-edge concept. According to Wikipedia, the first known brand traces back to northern India over 2,000 years ago. The product was an herbal paste called Chyawanprash, which claimed to offer health benefits. The product is attributed to a “seer” named Chyawan. Branding, in essence, is as old as selling. It didn’t take long (in the grand scheme of things) for early entrepreneurs to figure out that it was in their best interest to distinguish themselves from the competition.
Fast forward to the mass media explosion of the 20th century. New technologies presented an unprecedented opportunity to reach large audiences, which revolutionized the way products could be marketed. Savvy businesses quickly noticed that consumers had a tendency to develop loyal relationships with specific brands. This was a game changer. It turns out the most successful brands are the ones that permeate the culture.
Nearly everyone on Earth is aware of the Swoosh, the Golden Arches, the Apple, the offset “f” in a blue box, and the way the words “Coca-Cola” are so elegantly scribbled. These iconic symbols are so deeply ingrained in our collective consciousness that they have taken up residence on Mount Olympus, alongside other storied immortals of Western Civilization.
This is the power of branding when done right. How is this accomplished? Obviously, you need a great product. Without a great product, all the sophisticated marketing tactics in the world will not allow you to seize a competitive edge. But if you do have a unique offering that you want to introduce into the marketplace, you must proceed carefully, and with intent. You must tell a story.
Crafting Your Story
Storytelling, in all likelihood, is the oldest form of entertainment. It is how we humans connect, interact, and learn from one another. Stories are relatable and compelling. They tell us who we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going. They possess the power to transport us to exotic realms or inspire us to be more than we ever thought we could be. From a marketing perspective, stories are the foundation of brand messaging. If you are not telling your customers a finely tuned story, you are likely undercutting your potential bottom line.
Tips For Getting Your Story Straight
Spend time contemplating and drafting your vision. What are you trying to accomplish? There must be a reason you’ve decided to enter the competitive marketplace. Let your vision be your guiding light.
Clearly define your vision and refine it into a succinct summary of why your business exists. Is it to entertain? Solve problems? Fix social injustices? Change the world? Whatever it is, declare it and make it your mission. If vision is the light that guides you, your mission is the vehicle that gets you there.
The promise is the emotional bond between the business and the consumer. Nike inspires. Apple solves problems you didn’t know you had. Facebook connects you to your loved ones and gives you the opportunity to create your own narrative. What emotional promise are you making to your customers?
This deals with your brand personality. List 3-5 personality traits that you want your brand to embody. Are you hip? Utilitarian? Witty? Sexy? Your brand personality is a reflection of what you’re all about.
Framework further segments the space you want to occupy in the marketplace. By being clear about what your brand is (and is not), you bring focus to your niche. Coca-Cola and Red Bull are both sugary, caffeinated beverages, but the stories they tell are different. One is classic and refreshing, the other is extreme and “gives you wings”. Businesses that try to appeal to everyone are rarely as successful as those that offer perceived exclusivity.
Designing Your Story
By carefully considering these elements, you will put yourself in a better position to tell a story with your brand. Crafting a captivating story that seamlessly weaves together lifestyle and imagery can have a profound impact on a company’s ability to reach the right customers. It can also improve prospects for future growth and longevity.
Once you’ve detailed your core concepts, it is wise to enlist the services of a talented designer who is capable of communicating your ideas visually. Design needs to reinforce your company’s core values. Branding is not unlike courtship. First impressions dictate whether or not the door will open or close to further engagement. Before going on a first date, it is customary to shower, groom, brush your teeth, dress nice, smell nice, etc. You have to put your best foot forward or you won’t get a second chance. Branding is similar. There are too many products in the proverbial sea to waste time on products that don’t excite you.
Design that reinforces core values through storytelling can be deceptively simple. Apple, Inc. has been at the forefront of technology and the knowledge economy for over forty years. The company logo, as everyone knows, is an apple with a bite (byte) taken out of it. This is absolutely brilliant. It subliminally conjures up the cultural and emotional baggage of an entire hemisphere. The Tree of Knowledge. The Forbidden Fruit. The Temptation. The Fall. Apple was the forbidden fruit! Was it worth it? Hell yes!
Steve Jobs wasn’t a technological genius – that was Steve Wozniak. Jobs was a marketing genius. He was a visionary who changed the world through storytelling. His insatiable desire to incorporate sleek design with state-of-the-art functionality set a new standard for what a brand could represent, and what a product could be. How well you tell your story can be the difference between engagement and indifference. Or in the case of Apple, it can change the world.
How Branding Has Changed
In the 21st century, branding itself has undergone a rebranding. The rapid rise of social media, coupled with a plethora of widely available and highly functional creative tools, has leveled the playing field. Anyone can afford to tell their story online using sophisticated multimedia tactics. Those who are savvy and diligent enough to heed the calling are capable of amassing enormous followings that can be monetized with very little overhead. More interesting than the money these creative entrepreneurs can make, however, is the influence they wield.
Large corporations have lost market share to virtually unknown players. Just ten years ago, these players would have never been in the game. We live in a world of infinite choice, and infinite segmentation. Gone are the days when a handful of influencers were controlling the narrative. It is no longer relevant to bombard people with a constant message and expect them to come around to your way of thinking.
Instead, you must engage, connect, and understand that communication is a two-way street. It will be interesting to see how this seismic change will affect the global economy in the decades to come. The world is in flux, and whoever controls the narrative will have tremendous power. And tremendous influence.
The reason to craft your story through branding is simple: stories are engaging. No one wants to be talked at. We want to feel connected and understood. There’s a fine line between being talked at and being spoken to. If you make the effort to understand who you’re trying to speak to, you’ll better equip yourself to reach them. The ultimate goal of branding is to foster loyal relationship and to become an integral part of your customer’s life. By using the time-honored tradition of storytelling to communicate your unique brand identity, your story can become part of their own. After all, identities are communicated through storytelling.
What’s your story?