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Note: this is part 2 of a 4 part series on brand storytelling.
People buy your story, not your product. So when you tell someone your story, where do you begin?
The knee-jerk response is to start by describing your product: the various features and attributes. If you’ve got the time, you might talk about how your company is different, your unique selling proposition, what makes you stand out from your competitors.
The problem with this, as we discussed in our last post about brand storytelling, is that customers don’t just see your business as what you make, but rather what you stand for. Or, as writer, speaker, and teacher Simon Sinek puts it, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
According to Sinek, the rules of biology and basic human behavior insist that starting with a description of the “what” is a backwards approach: people make decisions in the part of the brain that controls emotion and has no language. They then rationalize those decisions after they’re made.
By telling people what your purpose is, what you believe, why you get out of bed in the morning, you’re giving them a chance to see that they share the same beliefs and values. And in those people whose beliefs and values align with yours, you have a market delighted to find out more about your product.
Sharing the purpose and values of your company shouldn’t be difficult. In a way, it’s a lot like sharing product features. But in this case, the features are internal.
So what are these internal features?
(tick, tock, tick, tock) You’re stuck, aren’t you. No, it’s not that your business is value-less — it’s a safe assumption that most businesses are about more than just turning a profit — but in the mad scramble to survive and prosper, you didn’t take the time out to document these values clearly.
The guide below will help kick-start that process. For most businesses, your values will fall into one of three categories. Figuring out which category best fits will help you develop your values from there.
1. Higher Values
This category encompasses any commitment to higher causes like the environment, human justice, or poverty. While all businesses prioritize profit, some build contributing to larger causes into their business model. Sometimes that means making traditional charitable contributions; other times it means embracing those values in how you do business.
Ben and Jerry’s does both. Their higher values influence how they make their ice cream, treat their employees, and the materials they use. They also donate to causes directly through their foundation.
While many people buy Ben and Jerry’s ice cream without the slightest thought to whether it was made in the most environmentally-friendly or humane way, there’s a growing population who “vote with their dollars” on issues like environmentalism and cruelty-free ingredients.
For these customers, Ben and Jerry’s makes the decision easy. An interactive feature on their site lets you “see the stories” of the ingredients used in your favorite ice cream, from the fair trade vanilla to the cage free eggs. For anyone passionate about marriage equality, community service, or fair treatment of workers, Ben and Jerry’s wants you to know they care too. Their practices show you just how much.
What are your company’s higher values? Ask yourself:
2. Aspirational Life Values
How do your customers see themselves? If your company can put forth an image embodying the kind of lifestyle they want to live, they’ll feel a deeper connection to your brand and its values.
Take Red Bull, for example. The energy drink company has become closely associated with extreme sports and adventure over the years. They have sponsored numerous teams, tournaments and competitions in their quest to closely associate themselves with people following their dreams, breaking world records and tackling insurmountable challenges.
Another example of a company that uses aspirational values to connect with customers is GoPro. Technically, GoPro sells cameras, but what they really sell is the idea of a freer and more playful life. Their cameras make it easier to capture a record of any experience, however risky. GoPro encourages people to use their cameras to capture and share their adventures, making them part of a community of like-minded adventurers.
Is your company a good fit for an aspirational values model of brand storytelling? Ask yourself:
3. Day-to-Day Values
Day-to-day brand values offer a more grounded alternative for companies who can craft something special out of the details of their everyday accomplishments as opposed to more aspirational values.. Day-to-day values arise from the realities of what a day at your business looks like, the understated ways your company plays out its story. What do you do to make your products great, your employees’ lives happy, and your customers satisfied?
Costco, while somewhat benefitting from the bad examples of its competitors, nonetheless provides a shining example of a company that hews to some basic but meaningful values. The company’s CEO insists on providing all employees with a living wage and benefits – an almost revolutionary philosophy in the world of big box stores. Even so, they manage to keep costs low for customers by evening things out with more reasonable salaries at the top levels of the company. A greater focus on providing both employees and customers with an improved quality of life is enough to make Costco beloved by many loyal shoppers.
Day-to-day values are probably the easiest category for a company to suss out. You just need to think about some of the basics of running your company:
Find your values. Find your story.
Hopefully, this overview has demysitifed the process of identifying your brand values a bit. Don’t feel like you have to stick with one category; you can mix-and-match from the three. (Ben and Jerry’s certainly does.) Think about what’s important to you, your employees, and your customers. What makes you excited to come to work every day?