I love a good story. You probably do, too. Stories influence, inspire and capture our imaginations like nothing else. We tell them all the time, whether we realize it or not. And they scare the heck out of many of my clients.
I’m not talking horror stories here, and I certainly don’t mean my clients are literally afraid of narratives. What sometimes gets me a deer-in-headlights look is suggesting they need to know and live and tell their own story in the world to have a really successful brand. Maybe it’s a little intimidating to realize that answering the question who are you? is what jump starts a compelling brand identity—but it’s the surest path to being seen, heard and appreciated for something that draws the right clients, members, donors or other important audiences to you.
Traditional branding strategy says you should start by understanding your target audiences. And of course you absolutely do need to know what they care about and what makes them tick. First, though, you need to understand who you are and what you’re uniquely prepared to do so that you can have a vibrant, vital, authentic, arresting conversation with the world about it. This applies whether you’re a solo practitioner or running a firm—a “self” is either an individual with a personal identity or a collective with a discernible character and capacity (which usually adds up to a strong group culture).
When you understand yourself, you have a foundation for creating the kind of zeal that gets attention. So if you want to get crystal clear on your unique value, start by typecasting you or your organization as the protagonist in a story you’re truly moved to live and tell in the world. Then frame a narrative that’s based on the two key components of a truly great story:
- Every inspiring protagonist has a quest—it’s the purpose that captures your reason for being; a fuel that enlivens and animates you. Getting in touch with purpose keeps you and/or your people truly engaged in your work.
- Every great story has a happy ending—it’s the promise or outcome you can always be counted on to deliver. Getting in touch with promise clarifies what makes your story matter to anyone else.
I’m a Creator with a quest—and a purpose— to help my clients understand and let others know who they really are in the world. I’m a zealot for “empowering self expression”—the kind that positions organizations and people to talk about what matters most to them. Why should anyone care about that? Well, I promise to help clients find a voice that will inspire and influence others (added bonus: they’ll probably experience more aliveness and even joy while they’re doing it, too).
You’ve got a story as well, and it really should be the foundation for your brand personality and messaging. You can start the process by “story typing” your enterprise, which involves exploring what kind of protagonist you or your organization is most like—and articulating a purpose or promise its story arc suggests. Is that kind of process really good business? You bet it is, and here are some of the many reasons why:
- Story-based branding is built on the motivational drivers that have inspired and engaged human beings since the beginning of time. You can use other techniques to inform your audiences, promote your services, and even connect with them on a personal level. Nothing motivates better than evoking a narrative that suggests how everything is going to turn out, though (and casting yourself as the protagonist who can resolve whatever conflict might get in the way).
- A great storyline helps you leverage both your strengths and your values. The protagonists in great stories rely on a combination of strengths (what they’re good at) and values (what they care about) to accomplish their missions. There’s no story without both. Strengths are critical, but they’re actually not nearly as memorable as values. At the end of the day, you’re most likely to be defined by the value system that others associate with you. It makes great business sense to be deliberate about how you want to be perceived instead of letting other people draw their own conclusions about what you stand for.
- An authentic storyline is your most powerful trust-building tool. Truth-based communications build credibility and draw others in through genuine attraction to something that has a true pull for them. That sets up an entirely different dynamic than basing your brand on what you think your audience wants to hear, and establishes a trust-focused relationship from the outset. Conviction and passion just ring true, and that’s what story-based branding is all about.
So let your sense of self breathe life into your brand—and let your brand become an authentic expression that creates more success and fulfillment in your world.
This post was adapted from an earlier version that appeared on http://www.caprsa.com/news/.
Cindy Atlee wrote her first (and last!) novel at the age of 13. After a brief foray into journalism (interviewing Jimmy Buffet in a bowling counts as journalism, right?), she became a brand strategist, coach and facilitator—eventually serving as SVP, Branding & Organizational Culture, at the global public relations firm Porter Novelli. She’s now founding partner at The Storybranding Group, where she helps clients define and give voice to what’s best, most distinctive and appealing about them.