In 2008, I was in India working with one of the world’s largest consulting firms. I was working for a Hi-Tech client that was keenly following Nokia’s strategies (yes, there was a time). Steve Jobs had just launched the iPhone, and many analysts were dissing Apple for bringing a sub-par product to the market. Phones with better features and technology options were already in the market. Yet, in half a year, everyone wanted to be Apple. Steve Jobs’s magic had worked. And this wasn’t because Apple had released the best product in the market. They had out done the market with better stories and a cohesive narrative. They brought in values which had suddenly made phones more accessible and user friendly. Their storyline focused on usage, not product features. Consumers embraced this notion that helped them see that Apple was making product keeping them in mind. What do your products and stories make your consumers feel?
Your Customers Don’t Need Better Products. They Need Better Stories!
Here are some creative questions that I would urge you to ask yourself, before you get out there marketing your products.
1. Does Your Brand Narrative Address the Perception Gap?
A colleague of mine many years ago was very vary of perception. He thought it can never be changed. I can see where he was coming from. It’s not easy to alter perceptions. But, the social world today, especially through digital media gives brands plenty of opportunities to create a new narrative and challenge set perceptions.
Take Apple’s iPhone example that I began with. Now competitors thought that people bought phones for functionality, brand and the latest ‘tech’. This clearly put a large group of customers who were more interested in design and working (or a way of life, as Jobs put it) outside their radar. When Apple launched a product that put consumer centricity and design as the key elements – suddenly the narrative changed. Other companies began to notice that customers didn’t just want a better product, they wanted a more relatable product.
It is critical to see how you perceive the market and your consumers, and often take a step back to see how they perceive you. Digital helps you bridge the gap between how you’re perceived and how you want to be perceived. It’s made easy because you can now own your media and change the conversation.
In the words of Markus Margolis,
“If you want to learn about a culture, listen to the stories. If you want to change the culture, change the stories.”
2. What’s Your Frame of Reference?
Recently on a Podcast I enjoyed (that you must listen to HERE), the host said, “if people make you believe that they have the same frame of reference as you, they’re trying to sell you something.”
Your consumers know that you are trying to sell. Everybody knows that adverts are adverts. People who have made that advert have been paid to do so. Some of these ads fail regularly. However, some others ads succeed too. What makes them succeed? If we look at all the successful adverts, we can notice some common threads: good humor, sleek visuals, smart copies. But strong storytelling is what sets them apart. It’s not about force fitting your frame of reference onto your consumers’ thinking. But it’s about sharing what you care about, and how you see things. It’s about understanding where your consumers come from, and what values they deem important. Allow your consumers to see the meaning behind who you are as a brand. And what your products stand for, in an engaging manner.
Stories work, because they are hardwired into our DNA. We are naturally drawn to them. We are told fairy tales as children. As we grow up and try and create our own version of these stories in reality. We like it when there is a sequence of events we can follow and have an incessant need to guess what happens next. There is no way to escape it. As a business you have to accept this reality and work on it.
I love the example of Color run or Paint Nite – both these companies have capitalized on people who seeing running and painting as creative and relaxing activities. They don’t necessarily run or paint to compete or be the best, but focus on enjoying with color or a glass of wine. Starting with a few thousand people, these businesses are now addressing hundreds of thousands of people (and customers) who had a different frame of reference with respect to these activities. They veered away from attracting serious runners or advanced painters, but focused on those customers who were often left out in the fringes. They gave them a narrative which said, you belong, and you don’t need to be competitive or overtly professional. You can do this for fun and a great time out with friends, socially. Here’s what makes Paint Nite a great social story:
The first Paint Nite in Boston, in March 2012, was a hit, drawing 50 people. (Tickets started at $25 and are now $45.) As Hermann built the website and McGrail schmoozed bar owners, they scheduled more parties and plowed the profits back into the business. Within a year, Paint Nite became a full-time job for its founders. Today, the company has 54 employees and operates in 115 cities globally. (Inc., 2015)
Which world are your customers coming from?
3. What Makes Your Brand Special? Do You Have Better Stories?
Storytelling and building a brand narrative are not necessarily about advertising or short term promotions. They are also about your long term vision. You need to create a long running, broad narrative that fits where you see the brand moving. What sets apart a Steve Jobs or Zuckerberg apart from great products is also an aura or a halo effect they have around themselves through personal branding. This does not happen overnight, but takes years.
The question you need to ask yourself is, what makes you special? How will you win the market? In a world of me-toos and extensive competition, how do you stand apart?
I have a great example to share from a local Detroit watch brand, called Shinola. They’ve created a great narrative around the city of Detroit and its working class roots. This is something people here related to, and helps them build an aura of a home-grown, American-made revival brand. Here’s a great story around the narrative they’ve built:
“What’s super-interesting about them is how they’re aligning themselves with Detroit, using a city and its history as an anchor to their values as a brand. Their framing of American-made harkens back to heritage and a high level of craftsmanship, and it puts them into the luxury space in an aspirational way.”- ” Jonathan Dien, Partner, Gravity Tank, AdWeek, 2015
What are you doing to win?
Developing a brand strategy requires precision, thinking, better stories, empathy and sometimes an outside-in approach to take a step back from the products and see the big picture. Do not hesitate to reach out to us, when you’re ready to create your own story!
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