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  • Varun Sharma

Take risks to write a better Brand Story

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

A brand is the end result of the choice it makes. It's not just a banner or a tagline it uses, but rather the key decisions it takes and how those decisions translate to other people. This holds true for both self-branding and corporate branding. In the case of corporate brands, many refer to companies as "brands" but they aren't the same. The difference is that your brand is what communicates value to the audience, so much so that people often conflate brand with everything a company offers. Sales, operations, UX, partnerships & marketing all should show the commitment to a larger belief aligning with the values. Only if others can see the commonality between the actions, a brand has successfully added meaning and spirit to the company. Put differently, a consistent denominator resonates with people, laying a foundation that connects with people, but executing such a vision to life is what many brands and their campaigns get wrong. A good example is Starbucks as it goes a step ahead and taps deeper into our beliefs about ambition, work, networking, and creating connections, and that's the reason why you and I choose Starbucks over other coffee shops, even if the quality of the coffee might be lower than many other authentic coffee shops.

A factor that makes a brand stand out is the risk it takes to differentiate itself at tough times. I love Nike. I believe the company has great advertisements and a beautiful brand story. It’s influential in the right essence and has taken steps over time that deepens its brand story and are risky at the same time. Of course, risk brings in a lot of controversy over its practices, but Nike is possibly the best advertiser in modern business history. Over the years, Nike has positioned itself as a brand that isn’t selling just athletic shoes and apparel. They inspire people to become better athletes and achieve their personal best, and that's a secret to their differenciation. Back in June 2020, Nike has a twist to its iconic “Just Do It” campaign:

That was a pivotal moment for its brand story and an enormous risk. Racism is a big problem, but brands who just put up a 30-second advertisement don’t prove they are serious about it. Nike took a stronger stance for the socially conscious millennial and Gen Z who have been growing as a large target market for the company. Embracing Colin Kaepernick was another risk they had taken. The campaign around him was divisive because it jumped on America’s biggest fault lines—race, patriotism, sports, and business. But according to Nike founder Phil Knight, that was kind of the point. “It doesn’t matter how many people hate your brand as long as enough people love it.” The question here is why did they take both these risks? One because it brings headline attention - something nearly every company seeks and two because people of color have a higher representation in Nike’s customer base than the population. Market research has revealed that the campaigns were in sync with the race, age, and political views of a large customer base. Their brand story moved previously from promise to performance and is now transcending from words to actions. Nike took risks that aligned with the company’s core principles, and it did bring a lot of heat from people outside the target demographics, but at the same time, it simultaneously strengthened the brands with the target demographics. Nike’s mission is to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. Colin Kaepernick, through his advocacy, conviction, and talent, exemplifies those values in the strongest of terms. Coupled with Nike’s commitment to diversity and community, particularly against the backdrop of today’s America where politics have amplified cultural divisions, Nike took the opportunity to lean into their mission and values. The shorter term backlash they face as a brand will possibly overpower the strength of its belief in “Just Do It” messaging being sent out to the younger fans and athletes that will ultimately determine their future success. Customers too want to resonate with brands that align with their beliefs. By their actions, they recognize that their products are ultimately the vehicles to address higher aspirational needs. By defining their brand according to what customers aspire to accomplish rather than limiting their identity to their products, Nike motivates its employees as well to “bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete.”

Early-stage entrepreneurs feel the risk appetite is much lesser and that's true. You can't end up risking too much early on. This is why they come with different versions of their story. The version they tell and the version they hide. A good brand strategy should take all of it and combine both versions into one meaningful story. At Laumière, we often face the challenge of how to combine the story together on what we are doing, what are trying to do, and, most importantly, why we are doing it. We believe having clear values and thorough understanding is essential. Once done, getting it translated via the right medium is the next step. When we say we use only all-natural products, we take a minimal risk of losing out on people who shy away from the brand but at the same time, people reciprocate with the brand and give it a try. Own the entire story. Communicate it clearly and your minimum viable audience will love the brand and resonate with its story.

Brands often ignore the level of personalized commitment they show to their customers. Transparency, accountability, and humanity are essential for a business and its brand story. A customer needs to believe that the brand is honest and stands for what it says. If customers find a grey area, they will almost always shy away from the brand. Put differently, a brand does well when the leadership signals honesty and accessibility. Customers love the idea of a brand having a face who they can resonate with. It's a risk because depending on the situation, the leadership will be the first person to come for when situations turn bad, but as a leader that’s what they have signed up for. Own up to your mistakes and it will pay off.

Actions always speak louder than words, and every action you take on behalf of the company is a brand signal. Sending the signal that you, as a leader, are willing to take risks is rewarding and is a base to set the brand identity. It also helps in acquiring loyal customers, getting better people to work with the firm, and fostering long-term partnerships. On the flip side, an organization is vulnerable to anything that damages the reputation. In terms of market value, 70 % - 80 % of it comes from hard to assess intangible assets like brand equity and goodwill. A company is the sum of its actions, not its words. Every interaction a customer has with your brand makes up the tapestry of its story. So create content, brand stories, interactions that tell people who you are and what you stand for. Better yet, get your audience to help you tell those stories with you by taking calculated risks to build your brand story and watch a brand story being built that resonates well with the audience.

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