Businessman in a blindfold stepping off a cliff ledge with giantIn days long gone a company’s brand story typically emanated from a single place, from the company itself.  Today, technologies like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, blogs, Yelp, and (insert technology dijour here) have given customers a powerful platform to get in on the act.   Too often there are two completely different brand stories being told; the story you tell yourself about your own brand, and the story your customers are spreading.  Which version of those two stories is most likely to be believed by the public at large?

In fact, customers are so empowered now that even your company’s partisan leanings are now fair game.

You must accept the reality that large swaths of your company’s brand story are no longer in your control, and that isn’t a bad thing.  You can write, plan, and tell the perfect brand story about how your products are relevant and how your company desires to be perceived— but any incongruence between your story and the actual customer experience will become fodder for public consumption. If you fall short, that story gets told.  If, on the other hand, you meet or exceed the expectations set by your brand story, that story spreads like fire as well.

Smart companies embrace their customer’s narratives, especially the negative ones.  By understanding the stories that your customers are actually experiencing with your brand in the real world, you can then use that data to optimize your products, your marketing campaigns, and your customers communications.  It can even reveal who is and isn’t a likely prospect for your offerings.

Ty Montague author of True Story: How to Combine Story and Action to Transform Your Business says that good companies are storytellers but great companies are storydoers.  He outlines how to spot a storydoing company.

  1. They have a story.
  2. The story is about a larger ambition to make the world or people’s lives better.
  3. The story is understood and cared about by senior leadership outside of marketing.
  4. That story is being used to drive tangible action throughout the company: product development, HR policies, compensation, etc.
  5. These actions add back up to a cohesive whole.
  6. Customers and partners are motivated to engage with the story and are actively using it to advance their own stories.

It’s no longer enough to tell a great brand story, you have to work to live that story.  Start by uncovering the stories that customers are telling and believing about your brand.  Incorporate those narratives into the Buyer Legends you use to plan creative and customer experiences.Be prepared to find some surprises both good and not so good.  But have no doubt you will also find a treasure trove of new opportunities.

P.S. – Having, telling and living a brand story is one thing, but to insure that the story is compelling check out this article from Roy H. Williams “The Wizard of Ads”.