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An important aspect of branding is where you do it — and that should be absolutely everywhere you possibly can. Branding is an opportunity to put a stake in the ground that puts your business in the hearts and minds of your consumers. The more you can get your brand right between their eyes, in a way that matters, the more your consumers can engage with it, build loyalty and develop a deeper relationship with it, and understand why you swing your legs over the side of the bed every morning to make it happen.
However, it’s important to understand that this is more involved than putting your logo everywhere. It’s more complex than consistently using your brand color palette, typeface and tagline everywhere you can. Branding is more than what you find in a brand standards manual — it’s multi-dimensional. It’s a combination of both tangible and intangible things that all add up to the story your brand tells to its audience.
Powerful branding, in its broadest sense, is having a brand story. And using your brand’s aesthetic elements is just one piece of the narrative that tells the story of your brand’s values and why it does what it does.
A lot has been written on the importance of brands having a story, and you should read every word — having an authentic and relevant brand story is the foundation of branding. But beyond that necessity is another important element of storytelling, the telling part. No, I’m not talking about the merits of one form of media versus another, it’s about weaving your story through every single thing you do to interact with your audience.
Your brand story must thread through everything you do
To put a big red S on the chest of your brand you need to thread its story through every piece of brand communication, every behavior and every interaction, to create a consistent and unifying premise for people to buy into — from your website to a sales call, an annual report to advertising, employee communications, social media, even label copy or the way a customer service representative answers the phone. Everything is an opportunity for your brand to build its story with the audience and connect your audience to the story. And you must believe that everything matters. Nothing is too small, or too unimportant, to use the brand story.
I call it “story threading.” You can call it powerful branding.
A great way to think about story threading is to think of a Chuck Close painting. Close painted a series of individual, small abstract shapes, each acting on its own but, ultimately, contributing to a whole. When you step back and look at it from a distance, each shape works with all the others to form a single, complete image. And it’s brilliant.
However, if some of the shapes didn’t work with the others, the image would be an inconsistent mess, and probably look more like something I’d paint.
A powerful brand is consistent
To be successful at story threading you need to understand that each and every piece of your brand’s communication and interaction has its own job to do and a way to do it most effectively, but that doesn’t preclude it from doing that under the umbrella of its brand story. Consistency threads each different piece together under the brand story so the audience is funneled down the precise brand path you want them to take. No detours or alternate routes. And consistency builds on itself so that the effort you make — and the money you spend — work harder. Even small efforts get the benefit of the bigger picture.
Unfortunately, many brands don’t do this. Many brands go to a lot of trouble and expense to develop their story, only to use it in some instances and leave it on the side of the road in far too many others.
Brands like this, as well as many of the agencies they work with, squish their thinking, pick favorite channels to focus on, ignore what they don’t find exciting, and don’t discipline themselves to unfurl their story into a wider array of opportunities.
Avoid this trap and your brand will benefit immensely.
Story threading should be all-inclusive
Using your brand story for every brand interaction requires creativity, effort and leadership. It takes discipline and a willingness to see the forest as well as the trees. It means not only seizing opportunities but creating them.
Powerful brands not only look at the obvious brand storytelling opportunities like advertising, social media and websites. They also look at less-obvious opportunities like email signatures, annual reports, presentation slides, instruction manuals, employee communication and a whole host of others. Heck, I’ve even seen a brand use its receipts as a tool to amplify its story.
Importantly, great brands use both externally facing opportunities and internally facing ones. That’s because they see their brand’s audience as more than the end customer. They also see every employee, stakeholder, and stockholder as an important audience for their story. They understand that a powerful brand story needs to be consistently delivered to anyone and everyone.
And then there’s brand behavior — every bit as much a part of the brand story as a logo. Whether it’s a sales interaction or the way the brand responds to a poor customer review, how it behaves in the world can either amplify its story or stuff it full of inconsistency and confusion.
Look beyond the obvious to make everything a winning opportunity
As I mentioned previously, story threading takes creativity, effort and leadership. It takes using all of the things you already use in a more brand-effective way. But this isn’t always easy and it can take some different thinking to see opportunities that may not have their hand raised.
The perfect example — hang tags. In the world of apparel, every item a brand sells needs one. It’s often used to display the brand logo. It also provides a place to put a price sticker. And, if desired, it can provide technical information about a product. They may not be sexy but hang tags are important items in the world of apparel. And with a little effort and creativity, they can do more.
Why not use that real estate to also help deliver the brand story? Some people might say, “Nobody reads hang tags so why waste the time and effort?” But maybe nobody reads hang tags because there’s nothing interesting to read.
Recently, I noticed a small, start-up apparel brand that had created a strong brand purpose and story of helping people empower themselves to do great things. This brand saw their hang tags as more than a logo-delivery device and, as a result, created them to be a tool for consumers to use to inspire themselves, just as the brand promised. Each hang tag was a motivational tool that could be taken off the clothes and kept to be re-read for inspiration and self-empowerment. It was a brilliant way for the brand to live its values of helping people achieve the things they want.
On the other hand, I was recently in an Adidas store and looked at some of their hang tags. They contained a logo. Nothing else. Some might argue that Adidas doesn’t need to tell their story on a hang tag — they’ve got television for that. But really? Why not? It wouldn’t cost them anything more than some effort — and aren’t they a brand that’s all about making the effort?
If you want to maximize the power of your branding you need to spread your brand and its story around more. You need to communicate as your brand and behave as your brand. And that means threading your story through every single thing you can.