Your Brand Story: 10 Events That Trigger a Review


Change begets more change and oftentimes people in the middle (aka your team) are caught in no-man’s land wondering what is the new company story. Here are 10 events that trigger it’s time to review and rewrite your brand story.

1)        You’re targeting new industries or audiences

Companies in growth mode often look to new industries or vertical markets to target. Having a solution for customer needs in those markets is important, but equally important is how a company communicates its brand story to break through the messaging din with a content mission that aligns with growth strategy and business imperatives. Complete Merchant Services (CMS) moved from Payment-as-a-Solution platform for the health care industry to the direct sales companies and then to franchisees.

2)    Your business changes focus

Perhaps you’ve hired or acquired a team that fills a critical void. Maybe it even creates an additional profit center. With expanded offerings, your DNA changes. Sometimes this means a name change or sometimes it just means a fresh look at the solutions you’re bringing to the table. Case in point: Before the totally retro Chicago-based Build This entered the scene in 2018, it was strictly a web design firm. Then it adopted app development and, out of its trendy offices in the Chicago Board of Trade building, changed its focus – and its brand story. A fresh new website with technology imagery, an expanded offering including one-day websites, and a “We’re More Than An Agency” headline on the company’s about page was a successful brand story rewrite.

3)    Merger or acquisition

This is a biggie. We have witnessed first-hand the impact a merger has on a company’s brand. It’s understandable that company executives focus on the financial and tax implications when entering an M&A. However, a common brand story has to be developed and then introduced to clients, prospects and, most importantly, the people who work there. Reston, Va.-based Hinge Marketing offers a downloadable rebranding kit. In addition to a new name and look, changes also occur in business practices and employee training.

4)    Your business model changes to bring a fuller solution through strategic partnerships

Sometimes, it makes sense to form strategic partnerships to offer clients fuller solutions. Chicago-based Fortress Consulting, for example, pulls in marketing and creative experts as needed to show a more complete story. (Check out the new “life after pro football” branding project they did for Matt Forte. Cool stuff!). As your solution expands, so does your brand story.

5)    The customer journey changes (does life ever stand still?)

How does your customer see you? How do you view your company and what it does? Is how your customer buys products or services in your market changing? Customer journeys shift and companies that can stay ahead of the wave will thrive. The ones that don’t rewrite their brand story – Blockbuster, Sears, Montgomery Ward, American Motors Corp. – often find themselves out of business or a target for an acquisition.

6)    You choose to break away from companies in your industry and how business has “always been” done

Let’s say your industry is one based on price. It’s transactional, your product a commodity. But you don’t want to do business that way. You choose to step apart from the pack. We call this your unfair advantage, also known as your differentiator. When your company understands its unfair advantage, your story will set you apart from everyone else in your industry. It often is not what you think. Silver Spoon Desserts, for example, has an unfair advantage of employing single moms from Chicago’s distressed neighborhoods. Why? Because owner Tamara Turner was a single mom, and she understands women in that situation don’t need a handout, they need a paycheck. When customers hear her story, they become believers. What’s your unfair advantage?

7)    The last time you reviewed your brand story was when “Frozen” was the highest-grossing film of the year.

That was 2013. Six years is a long time in business. Technologies change. The customer journey changes. Global markets change. How has your company changed? How has your brand story reflected that change? Is it frozen in time?

8)    Digital transformation

This is the business buzz phrase, which really means the Internet of Things (IoT). From cloud-based computing to shopping online to software as a service (SasS). Digital transformation is designed to improve the customer experience, but it’s more than technology. Great piece in Harvard Business Review that talks about what needs to be done internally prior to and during implementation of digital platforms.

9)    The dynamics of the industry have changed

Industry change is often a result of several of the points made above – digital transformation, the fluid customer-buying journey, new technologies, etc. Again, staying in front of the wave, through professional development, attending seminars, reading forward-thinking publications and listening to industry podcasts can help you stay aligned with industry trends. Ask: how is your brand story adapting to the shifting sands?

10)  Your company’s vision goggles need replacement

If our vision in life stayed the same, there would be a lot more professional football players, fire personnel and professional singers in the world. These were my children’s visions when they were really little. Guess what? None of them are going into these fields. When a company’s vision – that altruistic destination that is not yet, but oh so desirable – changes, the brand story changes too. Because it’s not just about internal stakeholders. Your customers and other champions need to be part of your vision too.


A One Paragraph Essay On Story

Stories allow the human race to fold inward. We find a sanctuary, a common ground to care and give and love. Someone on the other side of the world —  a person you may never meet or ever know — hears your story, suddenly understanding exactly where you stand and what you stand for. Hope for all. Work is a happier place when people share stories. Sometimes we see a story in the way a person sighs or the tightness of their eyes. What does it take to reassure someone their story will have a happy ending? Our hearts and intellect are entwined. We learn from each other’s stories. Culture thrives in story-driven organizations and reminds people of their important contributions to a greater good. Story builds relationships and relationships are the basis for everything. Together, things get done. Good ideas get launched. Great companies are built. Problems get solved. Customers, investors, donors, colleagues, referral drivers, your own teammates all hope their story is heard. Voices in the dark help no one. When we share stories, the possibilities for creating new ideas rush forth like a sea of blue — endless and fervent and delightfully imperfect. We become believers in other people when we understand the story of a tiny start-up or a great big global enterprise or the old man up the street. Our story makes us us. What does story mean to you?

The Beats Behind Your Breathtaking Stories

A story without beats is the fastest way to make people fall asleep. (That was not meant to rhyme. Just putting it out there.) In fiction books or movie scripts, writers define a beat as the smallest unit of a story — something that happens that causes a reaction.

If the Titanic had been merely a fabulous ship reaching port in one piece, there would have been no story.

As corporate storytellers, we look at marketing as having beats too. A beat is an interaction — something that happens that causes a reaction. Your hero headline on the homepage creates desire. The visitor clicks on the call-to-action to learn more. There’s a beat. The average movie has about 40 beats. The average homepage? Anybody’s guess. BUT, strive to have beats throughout.

Here’s the big WOW: a great brand story is one long string of beats — one interaction that leads to the next one.

Less beats slows the action. More beats can keep you on the edge of your seat. Now switch the perspective to your story. Thinking in terms of beats, instead of mere content, changes everything. Website content becomes a path of engagement, sales decks become dialogue, and videos inspire action.


Our own lives have beats. Our own lives are one long scene built upon another, conversation that evokes action, surprises that lead to unexpected roads. Our own story does not magically appear. You went from point A to point B, maybe even to point Z (thank you, alphabet, for having 26 of you). It’s never easy. The path was littered with fear and angst. But it was worth it because it landed you here, wherever here is — from one interaction after another.

There are many stories behind a company. How you saved the day for a customer. Why your company does what it does. Your vision for an amazing world. Your founder story.

Showing your stories to the outside world should captivate people in the same way you feel entranced watching a great movie. Stories are one-part emotion and one-part authoritative. People buy on emotion and justify the purchase with underlying authority or facts. The beats in the story keep the emotion and the relationship moving forward.

Consider your story one of your biggest unfair advantages — one thing that others don’t have and cannot copy.

Let’s end with the words from one of the most famous film directors of all time: Frank Capra: “There are no rules in filmmaking. Only sins. And the cardinal sin is dullness.”

Now, take your brand story to breathtaking heights.

Bringing Storytelling to the Classroom

How do you get people to tell their stories? That was the first question a student asked as I showed the importance of #storytelling to two communications classes at Aurora University.

I pulled out our K+L Storytellers signature multi-colored beach ball, had the students stand up and I asked a single question. What is something about you that nobody here knows? I tossed the beach ball to the first student, who ducked allowing the ball to bounce off the unprepared student behind him. (That’s why we use a beach ball instead of a baseball.)

Speaking to a communications class at Aurora University about the importance of storytelling in business.

Speaking to a communications class at Aurora University about the importance of storytelling in business.

Around the room the beach ball flew to the next storyteller. One young student has lived on her own since she was 17. Another collected exotic animals, including an alligator. A third has traveled to more than 20 countries.

The final catcher of the beach ball was instructor Franklin Rivera, who led 44 men into battle upon his graduation from West Point and is also related to former Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell.

In the second class, students were asked about their No. 1 obsession. The responses ranged from music to cars to sports to fluffy cats.

The exercise was fun, and it especially kept the 8 a.m. class awake. Asking questions leads to storytelling. And by continuing the line of questioning, we began to understand each person’s unique story.

K+L Storytellers takes a similar approach with middle market, culture-driven companies that want to better understand and project their stories, both internally to improve culture, and externally to increase brand awareness.

Like many college students, companies have short-term goals and long-term vision. Sharing stories with emotion and authority provides a trust with the audience, which is a foundation for increasing sales.

Spinning a few Dad jokes aside, what was some of the feedback of our classroom experience?

·         Ebony Scott, a junior marketing major, said marketing professionals “have a responsibility to depict clients in the way they want to be represented and how they would want their stories to be told.”

·        Senior Dirk Schoger.said, “Your lecture on storytelling was interesting and informative. The material and the stories you had to share with the class were very engaging, which is proof of the effectiveness of a good story.”

Nice to know our future storytellers are poised and ready to bring their stories to the world.

A Story: Keep Going


I love to run, but I detest feeling cold. So last Saturday, I went to our local Vaughn Center, plunked down two dollars in quarters pilfered from our family coin jar and exchanged them for the privilege of running the track.

Six times around makes a mile. It's really not hard at all. Unless you are Marvin.

I don't know if that is his name, but that's what I'm going with. He looked like a Marvin, a rather nostalgic name befitting a man who is most probably in his seventies, wrinkly skin on his dark-skinned face, still broad-shouldered, still built like the athlete I suspect he once was. He wore chinos and a black polo top.

When I spoke with him, I didn't ask him his name. It was enough for me just to approach a stranger. Many people don't know this about me, but I'm a real introvert. Big groups terrify me and meeting strangers . . . don't even get me started. But this man did something that was so massively impressive, I had to work up the nerve to tell him the truth. And I did. I thanked him, straight out, for inspiring all of us that day.

Marvin walked at a complete 90 degree angle. He used the rail around the second floor track as a guide because, obviously, he really didn't have a lot of clearance to see far ahead. He would stop a lot. He would stand at the rail and watch the basketball and volleyball players below make three-pointers or spike the ball over the net.

I imagined him fifty years before. A great player, someone with promise, maybe a scholarship to college or the captain of his high school team.

Then something happened along the way. Was it a car accident? Years of hard work stacked on top of each other? An illness winning the war on his body?  

So I asked him, after thanking him, if it was painful to walk. Because it looked like it was, and he shook his head and said, "Oh yeah. My back, my lower back." He was sitting on the bench alongside the track when I talked with him. I figured I had one more question before he thought I was a nut, so I asked him what I really wanted to know: What motivated him to come out here and go through all this pain?

His eyes had a fierce light of goodness. He stared right at me and said, "I've got to try. I've just got to keep on tryin'."

I thanked him again. It was one of those moments where I felt like I'd been touched by an angel. One human being sharing with another about courage, life, determination.


Michele Kelly is CEO and Co-founder of K+L Storytellers, a brand storytelling and content company passionate about helping middle market companies scale through story.

Vibrant Content by Manufacturers Will Elevate Manufacturing Perception

“It’s been a long journey since the recent depression, but if you are not moving forward, you are falling behind,” said Donald Dardis, president of Dukane Precast.

That was the most poignant line I heard at the recent Valley Industrial Association’s Spark Awards, which honored Fox Valley area manufacturers. It was poignant because Mr. Dardis spoke from the heart. He spoke about the pain Dukane Precast faced during the challenging years 2008-2010. He spoke about the vulnerability that every business  experienced – doing everything to keep the doors open and the lights on.


Manufacturers, like Dukane, have clawed their way through challenging times, and today experience record production.

If manufacturing were a brand, it would bear scars. In a study by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, eight in 10 Americans believe that manufacturing is important to maintain America’s standard of living. However, one-third would not encourage their children to pursue a manufacturing career.

The good news (finally): The gap appears to be lessening. Misperception is changing. A growing number of people are understanding that the makers of our day are high tech global competitors. Educative, informative content gives manufacturers an open opportunity to rebuild industry integrity and set the record straight that making products is really cool.

When manufacturing companies share vibrant content, they too have an opportunity to change the tenor of industry perception. For people to understand something, they must see it.

Here are a few examples of vibrant content manufacturers can create:

•   Blogs about products solving critical problems from a human perspective

•   Best practices guides

•   Q&A with high school and college students attending plant tours

•   Articles and blogs authored by a diverse cross-section of a company

•   Inclusive job descriptions

•   Stories about living company values, social responsibility, community involvement, philanthropy and environmental impact

•   Podcasts around industry growth and the role of manufacturing

•   Books talking about manufacturing careers and education

•   Online journal (yes, actually on your website) detailing collaboration with community leaders and other manufacturers in your industry

•   Supply chain video series to educate youth about the big picture behind manufacturing

Manufacturing by the Numbers

From the National Association of Manufacturer’s Q1 2019 Outlook Survey, respondents remain optimistic about manufacturing in 2019. Here are some of the results from 466 manufacturers around the country:

·         89.5 percent feel either somewhat or very positive about their own company’s outlook (up from 88.7 percent in Q4 2018)

·         4.4 percent expected growth rate for sales for the next 12 months

·         2.1 percent expected growth rate in full-time employment for the next 12 months

·         2.8 percent expected growth rate in capital investments

·         2.4 percent expected growth rate in product prices

How Are Your Stories Being Told?

In a fun, light-hearted way, @Jim Carr and @Jason Zenger founded the Making Chips podcast where they tell stories of success, talk about challenges. Associations, like the VIA, Technology & Manufacturing Association and Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center are sharing member stories through award ceremonies, workshops, seminars, email campaigns, member spotlights and more.

The bottom line: the content that manufacturers distribute is extremely important because it elevates the perception of manufacturing.

So how are you telling your stories? Don’t forget – it’s OK to be like Mr. Dardis and reveal your vulnerability and how you overcame it.

Oftentimes, those are the most vibrant stories of all.

Roderick Kelly is co-founder of K+L Storytellers, a brand storytelling and vibrant content writing company that works with middle market and funded start-up companies that are hungry to scale.

This Spring Break, Ask Your Children to Tell You a Story

As a corporate storyteller and copywriter, words are my playground. I would flip through our 30,000-pound, hard-covered dictionary as a child, my finger landing on random words. This is how I learned the word "philoprogenitiveness" (it means a love for one's offspring) at age seven. (My offspring, by the way, cringe when I share this quirky childhood indulgence😂.)

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3 Questions to Turn Values into Palpable Energy

Values fuel our lives. They are our uniques — for us as individuals and as companies. Our flags, planted firmly in the ground, show red with vibrant love for others, pure white for honesty in all matters, green for our respect of the earth, and rough hewn browns for the value of being approachable and down-to-earth.

What are your colors and how are you changing the world of your customers and work-mates with them? Let’s explore together.

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Hiding in Plain Sight a True Art Form


What if we had only three ways to communicate with each other?

·         Writing a letter and sending it via the United States Postal Service to a business or residence

·         In-person visit at home or at work

·         Calling a business or residence on a land line telephone

In the first three decades of my life, these were the only methods of “getting a hold” of someone. And they were effective because each method nearly always elicited a response.

Today, we can reach someone instantly. Multiple applications provide a direct pipeline to your mobile device, tablet or personal computer. Besides email and texting, we’ve got Uber Conferencing (they have a great hold song if you haven't heard it), Facetime, Skype, Slack, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, SnapChat, and LinkedIn. Leaving a voicemail is almost shocking to the system (it requires a lot of energy and time to hit “play”). An article in Psychology Today cites that inboxes are one of the most common triggers to social anxiety and productivity-related anxiety.

It’s easy to see why we all want to run from the mayhem.

Hiding in Plain Sight

There’s no place to hide, so we’ve become creative to avoid being reached. We hide in plain sight.

Phone numbers and physical addresses of business are disappearing from websites and business cards. Instead, we leave a note and send it off into the web abyss and cross our fingers that it will reach the right person AND they will be kind enough to respond.

When a phone number we don't recognize pops up, we watch our phones do the dance. We need “approval” from someone to connect on LinkedIn and other social platforms and, oftentimes, contact information is buried or nonexistent on profiles.

But the No. 1 way we hide is by ignoring the call, text, letter, email, IM, social request, etc. altogether. We simply do not respond. That fact has nothing to do with technology. That fact has to do with people making a choice.

While we haven't done a formal survey on this, we sure have heard people talk about this phenomenon that, with all the ways in which we can communicate, it is getting harder and harder to elicit a response. Is that the story a company wants to convey? How is responsiveness a reflection of a company’s brand?

What are some of your experiences with unresponsive responses?