Once Upon a Time, There Was a Brand That …

Every brand has a story. Some are better than others, but how you tell that story is the most important part. Why? Because good stories, told well, connect with the audience in a memorable way. Humans are hard-wired for stories: it’s how we learn, remember and build our understanding of everything in life. However, boring stories cause the audience to tune out and forget the intended message the minute the story ends. The mind quickly perceives that there was nothing interesting or of value to retain and moves on to what’s next.

Much like how traditional stories have defined and expected components—think introduction, a struggle, climax and conclusion—so does the repositioning of brands. And storytelling elements can and should be employed at each and every step. Consider the Five Gates that we’ve identified to branding success.

Positioning: Where do you stand?

Identifying your place in the market helps customers understand who you are. Stories can make that understanding more clear and turn that understanding into an emotional connection. Take the grocery chain, Trader Joe’s, for example. They began life as a convenience store, and then changed their focus to “a neighborhood grocery store with amazing food and drink from around the globe and around the corner.”

If you’ve been to a Trader Joe’s, you’ve seen that the descriptions about their products have more detail than just facts about the nutrition and ingredients. It’s as if a neighbor was describing this great new item they found—which is exactly what Trader Joe’s want you to feel.

You’ll also recognize their commitment to great value and prices. You know right away that you are not passing through an impersonal big-box supermarket full of everyday items. They’re not a corner convenience store that is going to charge you extra for the convenience. They’ve staked their position as your friendly neighbor committed to finding you amazing and different things with value—and they tell their stories from that foundation.

Offering: What are you really selling?

Knowing what you are really selling is key—and it isn’t always what you think it is. Your audience will ultimately decide. The beer Corona is a good example. Corona is a pale lager from Mexico. If you pour one into a glass next to several of its closest competitors in any random bar, you would be hard-pressed to tell them apart. That setting, in a bar, in a glass, is not the Corona story. That’s not what they are selling. And, in the United States they’re not selling the fact that they are one of the largest beers in Mexico or one of the largest exported beers in the world.

Instead, Corona’s theme, “find your beach,” takes you away from the present to someplace better: a warm, sunny beach.

There are no glasses of beer at the beach; there are coolers and ice buckets. The bottle is clear, like the sunshine. The traditional lime adds citrus and gives it a distinct ritual as much as flavor. They’re not selling beer. They’re telling a story of your chance to escape to somewhere else and letting you fill in most of the details. They’re just setting the scene.

Audience: Who are you talking to?

Football is the most popular sport in the world by a fair margin. When I say football, I mean it in the global sense, what’s called soccer in the United States. That’s why I watched with great interest and anticipation when the Major League Soccer (MLS) débuted in America, and most specifically, the Columbus Crew.

When the Crew first started in 1996 their apparent goal was the diehard soccer fan in America. Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that the population of diehard fans didn’t exist in the numbers required to regularly fill the stadium. At that time, they needed to grow their audience from the ground up, literally. They heavily recruited from the area youth soccer ranks—fans that needed a ride to the match. Translation: soccer moms.

This group required a different message and experience to get them engaged. It had to be family-friendly from the parking lot to the final kick. Most moms were not interested in taking their children to what they might describe as a hooligan fest. They wanted to see a more advanced version of the game their kids played on Saturday mornings, a family package deal and maybe an autograph. They were less interested in what a traditional fan might call “atmosphere” or “environment” which might or might not involve adult beverages and language.

Fast-forward 15+ years and now an entire generation have grown up as Columbus Crew soccer fans.  As Michael Malo, the team’s senior vice president of sales and marketing put it in a Columbus CEO article: “We finally have the first generation of fans who grew up with Major League Soccer and don’t know a country without it. That’s why we’re seeing such significant growth opportunity with this 18- to 30-year-old demographic. They’re the first generation now that is old enough to buy tickets with us and get involved in the supporter culture.” The message and experience are transitioning back to a group of diehard fans that now exist and that the Crew helped to grow.

Messaging: What do you say?

Jack Daniel’s might be one of the most well known brands of spirits in the world. But why? There are literally hundreds of other very similar brands. But the way it’s made really sets it apart. But even more than that, how they tell the story of how it’s made is even more revealing and engaging to their prospective audience.

Make no mistake; Jack Daniel’s operates a state-of-the-art distillery. But talking in scientific or engineering terms about the facility and production, while it certainly helps them produce a consistent product, isn’t an engaging story. It’s true, but not interesting. Instead, Jack Daniel’s tells the story of how it started the original recipe. They tell how much of it is still made the same way and how it’s still crafted in a way that separates it from other Tennessee Whiskeys. On their home page you’ll see this: “This isn’t a history lesson. This is a story about independence and craftsmanship using years as chapters. Scroll down and enjoy.” They see their years of history as a definitive asset in their story—but they haven’t let it prevent in the way of extending their brand.

On the contrary, Jack Daniel’s has been able to extend their products by using the same whiskey and story as the foundation to move outside of the alcohol realm. For example, Jack Daniel’s has partnered with the restaurant chain T.G.I. Friday’s to create, Jack Daniel’s Grill with different barbecue menu items. It enables Jack Daniel’s to take their message of quality and craftsmanship to a completely new—and potentially under legal drinking age audience—in a friendly and responsible manner. The message is Tennessee pride and craftsmanship done their way, whether it’s whiskey or barbecue.

Delivery: How will you communicate your story?

Finding the right time and place to tell your story will dictate how you deliver it. And today, there are more options than ever before. From online video to live events to blogs and social media, audiences are more dispersed and fragmented than ever.

For example, while many people have been shouting that print is dead, the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) defied that trend. Their founder, Joe Pulizzi, has a background in print and never bought that message. They discovered that while their audience loves and embraces digital, a significant portion is ready to step away from the screen for a period of time. But they still want the valuable information CMI has to offer.

Following their mantra of useful content on a regular consistent schedule over time, they kept the blog that started it all, but also created an actual print magazine, Chief Content Officer (CCO). This was at a time when print publications were shutting down by the score. And it’s been an unbridled success.

Print has a sense of permanence to it. This gives the reader the permission and confidence to consume it at their own pace. It doesn’t have to be gobbled down like so many fast-food burgers. It will still be there and still be good later. That’s something that many in marketing are looking for and that CMI realized. Being one of a few print magazines helps them stand out, and because it is a physical object, it doesn’t disappear into the digital netherworld a week later. And their brand story lives on with it.

… And they lived, happily ever after.

Knowing your audience is the key to helping define your story and discovering the best channel to tell it. It can work and does work at any stage of the brand repositioning process.

If you noticed a pattern of food, soccer and drinks in this post, well that’s not a coincidence. We love all that. If you’d like to get together and partake in one or all of that while discussing repositioning your brand, we’d love to hear from you. Consider it a standing invitation.

If in the meantime you’d like some more information on repositioning your brand, check out our ebook, The Five Gates, that outlines our process.