For many of us, the beeps, jingles and ringing of our smartphones are the daily tunes we listen for. Whether it’s a loving message from our spouse, a funny meme, work mail from a colleague or a fitness app notification, digital communication is increasingly shaping our daily lives. You’ll find the mobile phone in every pocket and a laptop on the couch, kitchen table or bedroom. As a consumer, you know this. It’s your digital life. But companies don’t always realize that digital has become the most important medium to communicate their brand messages to their customers. And that’s costing them valuable customers.
The online revolution opened up international commerce. But that also meant new competition. As a company, you’ll need to distinguish yourself from the competition. Why does your customer choose you and not someone from your competition? Are you the cheapest, do you deliver the best service or does your brand deliver so much value that customers want to connect to you anyway? Why would your customer tune into your brand?
Transactions or relationships?
If you want to be the cheapest, you enter an exciting playing field where you can be gone from one day to the next. It’s an online jungle where the competition on price is fierce and the customer shows no remorse for switching shop for a mere Euro difference. However, if you offer a high-quality service and build a lovable brand instead, customers will sooner want to connect with you and for a longer period of time.
Let’s face it. When you focus on price, you are no more than a shopping basket with a buy button and dollar-sign eyes. Your focus is on making transactions. Focus on added value instead, and you will build your brand, who you are and what you stand for. This way, you build customer trust, from which flows customer loyalty. You’re basically saying: I want to build a relationship, you can trust me, and I am accountable for my actions. This approach is called branded commerce: people identify and recognize themselves with your brand so that you connect customers to your brand. They’ll become brand fans and pass on your brand expressions to their friends and acquaintances, offline and online via social media. You gain brand influencers who stick by your brand, even if the competition is cheaper. Feel the love?
The rise of branded commerce
As you would expect, the use of branded commerce is experiencing an exponential growth. Which was overdue, because at some point in time, conversion driven ecommerce platforms were generated by endless A/B testing and built by IT-driven technology. Customers would end up on a page with a grid of products, dozens of filters, buttons and sliders to make the choice easier. Everything looked the same on your pages, because you were afraid to miss a product. Not much emotion and certainly no love. Why would a customer choose you and not someone else, if you’re not the cheapest?
You need a story, the 30,000-year-old trick that still works today. Storytelling is deeply rooted inside our brains. It’s the reason why we love Game of Thrones, Harry Potter and Disney. And also Nike, Tesla and Red Bull. Stories engage our emotional part and need for conflict. It’s how customers really connect to brands and where commerce and marketing interlock. Of course, you can’t just create fiction. It needs to resonate with your brand and your target group, so the result is a certain preference for your proposition. So, how do you start your brand story?
Creating your brand narrative
Any good story starts with a storyteller. So first, we need to determine your identity and your brand value. Who are you and what does your brand symbolize? Which core values and morals will you share with your audience? At Osudio, we use the brand pyramid to map these, also called the brand DNA. Step by step you determine the building blocks of your brand.
The outcome of putting together your brand pyramid determines the external image and the voice of your brand. It contributes to the Unique Value Proposition, to the development of your brand story, your marketing strategy and your communication plans. Your brand pyramid is essentially the blue print to fall back on to safeguard consistency in brand behavior. It’s your brand bible that ensures that all your marketing and communication initiatives are fully in line with the brand DNA. Now, with your storyteller sitting on his chair with his voice fine-tuned and honeyed, which brand story will he tell?
Once upon a time…
Think back when you were a child and you would hear a story, told by a parent or a teacher perhaps. Remember how the voice, the rhythm and particular words would image a story in your head and put emotions in your heart. You’d get the thrill of a new experience without risking any pain or hardship. As a listener, you live and relive events through the story. Do you feel the power of stories now? Let’s tell your story.
An authentic brand story typically has the following characteristics:
- The brands uniqueness
- The foundation
- The problem you solve
- The eureka moments you’ve had
- The development of your brand
And what better than to illustrate these five points than with a story? A famous brand story is from Sir James Dyson, the British inventor and founder of the Dyson Company. Straight from Wikipedia:
In 1974, James Dyson bought a Hoover Junior vacuum cleaner, which became clogged quickly and lost suction over time. Frustrated, Dyson emptied the bag to try to restore the suction but this had no effect. On opening the bag to investigate, he noticed a layer of dust inside, clogging the fine material mesh… And of course the story continues. Dyson discovers that giant cyclone systems work better, but that these are usually not applied on a smaller scale because of the higher cost. Then, using cardboard and Scotch tape, he realizes the principle actually could be applied for a much lower cost.
Stories are easier to remember than unrelated facts and incidents – they make strong connections in our brains that are more readily stored in our memories. Stories give context and meaning to our world. After reading the Dyson brand story, you don’t associate Dyson anymore with a highly priced vacuum cleaner that apparently works really well. You’ll remember James Dyson getting frustrated with his vacuum cleaner and then tinkering with scotch tape to find a better solution. You remember the why behind Dyson, something you can relate to.
Storytelling also works for B2B, HP shows in The Wolf featuring Christian Slater. As the top comment on YouTube notes: “This is way better than most of the stuff shown in movie theaters tbh.”
Inspire, surprise or inform
Besides creating stories yourself, you can also inspire your customers, specifically your brand influencers. With the behavior you exhibit as a brand and the great brand experience your brand gives, you can motivate customers to share their story on social media. Like National Geographic does with photo contests or Spotify with playful campaigns that feature unusual user playlists, like I Don’t Know How to Make a Playlist or root canal songs. That’s how you put your audience on a stage themselves.
Of course, for must brands the focus lies with their website. Today, a website should inspire, surprise or inform you thoroughly. A grid with only products says little, save price and description. That’s not how you sell Dyson products, unless you’re the cheapest. Also, in most markets the assortment and online competition are only getting bigger. Any selection given to the customer is more often a result of chance than of choice. Take a site like Booking.com for instance, that many of us will have used. Even if you're looking in a small area for some nice hotel, it feels like finding a needle in a haystack. Wouldn’t it be a great if you could always choose for the same hotel chain instead?
From trust comes loyalty
Branding helps the customer to choose. If I buy from here, it's going to be great. With a strong brand, the customer can rely on a certain quality or service that the brand promises. Or the customer identifies with the transcending idea of the brand, like the ethical clothing brand Patagonia that considers itself an activist company. Brands are not about fiction or fantasy, it’s about revealing the essence of the company and adding character to encourage people to identify with your brand. If you do this well, you’ll build a community that is loyal to your brand. And when they pass it on to others, they’re not talking about your prices. They talk about the values they share with you.