This is the second post in our series on Values + Stories = Brand. If you haven’t read part one, read it here.
You should now have a list of values. You have thought about stories that go with these values. Right?
Now I suggest you try creating a new list.
Who do your customers want you to be?
Your brand is what people expect of you.
For Nordstrom you expect high quality, latest trends, great customer service. I shop at Nordstrom and it does live its values but I don’t feel the love. It is more of a mutually beneficial arrangement. They have shoes I like in narrow sizes and I buy shoes there. Way too many shoes (but that is a blog post for another day).
Trader Joe’s. Which side are you on?
Trader Joe’s is an entirely different brand experience. If you are not fortunate enough to have a Trader Joe’s near you, at least check out their web site and sign up for the Fearless Flyer newsletter.
I have met people who don’t care for Trader Joe’s. I have met people who are huge fans. I rarely find anyone who is in “meh” category. How can you be In the meh category when the stores have Tiki bar décor, employees dressed in Hawaiian shirts and the newsletter uses old school newsprint and Victorian era images. Best of all they tell stories. And boy, do they know how to tell a great product story!
Customers love the idea of their select offerings. Carefully curated from sources around the world. Foods you may have never heard of but just have to try after seeing the display and those fabulous, hand drawn signs. And the stories.
My husband is one of those non-fans. Me? I have bought more stuff than I am willing to publically admit just because of the write-up in the Fearless Flyer. I have driven out of my way to go to TJ’s and even endure their woefully inadequate parking lot just to buy something mentioned in the Flyer.
People who buy at TJ’s also shop at Safeway and other grocery chains. Mostly because TJ doesn’t carry everything you need. But those other chains are just utility players. TJ’s is the star. TJ’s gets the love.
And that love is what you want
Look at each of your ideal customer profiles. Think about what would get them to love you. Drive out of their way for your service. Tell everyone on Facebook about you.
Ignore the easy stuff like good assortment of products or timely service. Bah. Those are a given. Without those you aren’t in business. Move to those values that will create deep, long lasting connections. Create an experience for your customer.
This might be a tough exercise if you haven’t thought this way. Maybe it is time to call up a few customers. Take them out to coffee and try to do a Vulcan mind-meld on what they really want from your business.
Now compare your original values list with this new what-my-customer-wants list.
Whoa. Do they belong to two different companies?
Perhaps you just need to combine the two so you have covered both your customer experience values and your own internal culture building/employee loyalty values.
Review that combined list and start prioritizing. You can’t effectively have 35 company values. You can’t possibly live up to so many values. Get it down to a list you can live by.
Now comes the big test
Does your founding story have anything to do with any of these values?
If not, maybe you need to adjust that story to be relevant to the audience you are trying to build.
Maybe you started the business because you couldn’t get a job and needed the money. OK, that is legitimate. But why this business?
I once had a client who bought a franchise because he thought it would be an easy way to earn a living. He had no interest in the product. The franchiser would give him all the leads he needed and customers would come rolling in. Do I need to tell you the end of this story? Of course not. You know it ended badly.
Even if you started this because you needed to create your own job, fine, why this business? Dig deep and find the start of a passion that can become an authentic story.
This is a critical step. If you are trying to make an emotional connection with your customers you need to give them that reason to care.
I find that my clients often are hesitant to express their story. They don’t feel it is “good” enough.
If you find yourself in this situation here’s a way out: use your story as it is. Maybe it isn’t as good as you want, but it is authentic and from the heart. Then start looking at your customers. Find one who really benefited from your service. Now weave that story into yours. Use it as a proof point for why your business is important. Your story is much stronger and you have added the credibility of a customer success.
Getting to the finish line
Once you have a list of values and stories to go with them (or have identified story possibilities) then you can start to think in terms of branding and how these stories drive your marketing.
This is the critical step. You need to put those values into action.
This means they are woven into all your customer interactions and all your marketing efforts.
No hit and miss. Not when you feel like it. Not when you get some inspiration. Not tomorrow.
Starting now and always.
Anything less and your brand will have as many holes as your kitchen strainer.
This is where Apple shines and the local landscaper (often) fails.
You may think, well, Apple has all this money and a huge marketing machine and can hire the best graphic designers and brand managers. Yes. You are right.
But that is no reason for you to settle for a wimpy brand.
I won’t discount the advantage of having a great graphic designer to bring your ideas to life. Or of a professional, full-time marketing wizard on staff. Money rolling in so you can hire these folks? Sure every business owner wants that.
But don’t use your lack of these advantages as an excuse.
Why? Because none of these advantages will guarantee success. The business history books are full of examples of failed businesses with great marketing and no heart. And no audience.
Branding is all about the customer experience and how you make people feel. Artificially created stories only work until the truth comes out.
As a small business owner, your authentic story, full of its emotional content is what will serve your business.
Artfully designed web sites, emotionally-charged videos, smiling gekkos, mouth-watering photography are great.
But always remember my motto (from tennis great Arthur Ashe)
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
Want a couple of examples? Over the next 2 blog posts we will look at two established brands. One, Warby Parker is new and a product of our current tech-focused culture. The other is Claridge’s, London’s luxury hotel born of a very different age.
We will look at their web sites and their stories and see how they build their branding on their values and stories. Don’t worry you can’t apply the lessons of these two very well-funded companies, they have lessons for businesses of all budgets.
Between now and the next post, do the values exercise. Get your values lined up and your stories identified. They can be rough, maybe only outlines. Maybe you don’t have all of them, that is OK. But do have them written down so as we look at the two examples you can start finding ways to model how they use stories and values to create an unstoppable brand.