OPINION: BRANDING ISN'T STORYTELLING

WE ALL WANT TO DO SOMETHING WORTH TALKING ABOUT. 

When I was a kid I wanted to be a hero. I loved all the stories and characters, but out of of them all my favourite was Batman. I liked him because he was human. He didn’t have super human powers, he just used the resources at his disposal to be the saviour Gotham needed. 

I think all of us have an innate desire to be a hero, whether its selfish desire or a longing for justice, or the way we were raised. We all want to be wanted, we all want to do something worth talking about.

When we start a business or represent a brand, its easy to want to be the belle of the ball or the hero of the story. Our instinct is to view ourselves as prince charming and our consumer as the damsel in distress. 

Maybe its not our fault, maybe we've been taught to think this way.

The whole concept of branding as storytelling could have been a big part of that ideology. It has us believing that our audience or subscribers are following us because they actually care about what we ate last night, or how successful we are, or what mountains we're climbing. Newsflash, your story doesn't really matter to your audience, and it definitely won't impact your sales.

In the years we've been learning and practicing the art of branding, the most important lesson we've learned is to view ourselves as the guide in the story rather than the hero. To let the consumer be the star.

 

YOU'RE NOT THE HERO, YOU'RE THE GUIDE.

This is the earth shattering realization that our audience is already experiencing a story, and it's their own. They are currently living a narrative from the hero’s perspective. They are the protagonist, not you.

Some common characteristics of any protagonist are:

  • They want something.
  • They’re troubled by a problem they’re experiencing.
  • They’ve got to overcome that problem in order to experience "success", or what writers call an “obligatory scene”.

That’s every human on the planet. That's every single person you're trying to reach and convert, but here’s the catch. The hero in any good story can’t solve the problem on their own.

They have to bring in another character, the guide.

  • Yoda was the guide to Luke Skywalker.
  • Hamish was the guide to Katniss Everdeen.
  • Jeffrey Rush’s character in The King's Speech was the guide to King George.

If we have any hope of being relevant, of gaining buy-in, of attracting customers and brand ambassadors, we need to shift our perspectives to position ourselves as the guide to our audience. Your customers or followers aren't tagging along for your creation ability, or even your curation ability. Your customers buy in for one reason only, your relatability. 

CONTENT IS NO LONGER KING, USEFULNESS IS.

There was a time where quantity mattered. Noise got attention. Aesthetic won the day. But it’s not enough anymore to just produce or create content for the sake of content. These days people aren’t interested in the squeakiest wheel. They’re interested in the wheels that are going to get them where they want to go.

Instead of pushing out content that is gratifying to our sense of self, or looks good on our grid, or gets us a bit of free swag, we should be looking at our content as an opportunity to add value. 

This is the death of storytelling as we know it. 

This is the realization that your consumer doesn’t care much for your legacy. Telling the story of your company, or reciting memoirs of your business prowess is not going to impact sales at all. Your consumer is already caught up in their own adventure where they own the spotlight. But, since they can’t solve the problem on their own they're looking for a guide. 

Your experience matters only as it relates to their need.

Branding isn’t about getting the most attention, or even about the biggest following. It’s not about telling your story, its about writing yourself into the stories that are already happening without you. It's about making brand or your product relevant to these other protagonists in some way. This can only be accomplished by offering value, or bringing a solution to the problem that they are currently facing. We need to be creating content that establishes relevance, and invites a relationship with our audience. We must become the awesome sidekick they can't live without.

So where do we go from here? How can we salvage all this time we've spent crafting the narrative, and perfecting our image? Well, I'm happy to say it hasn't all been a waste.

In my perspective it's less about changing our image, and more about changing our posture. When we position ourselves in a humble way, and express an honest desire to be a value to our stakeholders above all else, we set ourselves up for real impact. In time our friends become like family, our followers become ambassadors, and our customers find the happiness and validation they've been searching for all along. Here are some practical steps for positioning yourself as guide instead of hero.

PRACTICAL STEPS:

  • Spend more time listening than talking. When you stop to hear what your customers are saying, you'll be able to actually create a connection and provide a solution to their problem rather than trying to sell them on something they don't feel they need. Allow your content and dialogue to be informed by what you know to be true about your customer rather than simply making assumptions.
  • Stay in your lane. Instead of spending your energy analyzing the competition and reacting to exterior industry threats, use that time to deepen your connection with your customer, learn more about their needs, and refine the value that you offer. Focus on being the best, instead of just better than the rest. That makes you irreplaceable. *More about this here*
  • Own mistakes, and be generous with credit. We have an instinctive drive to protect ourselves at all costs, but loyalty is built on selflessness and trust. This doesn't mean we should seek to be self-deprecating, but we should be willing to "take one for the team", and be quick to celebrate the successes of our stakeholders.