Your Brand Story: 10 Events That Trigger a Review

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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.

 

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.

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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.

A Story: Keep Going

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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.

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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.