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Telling your story is important.

Working in the music and manufacturing industry for over two decades brought me a lot of insight into some amazing brands. How their stories evolve, sometimes deviate, but more often than not return to their true roots in times of need.

It was a great privilege to have spent nearly 2 decades at Marshall Amplification working at their HQ in the UK. Even more so it was amazing to have been able to speak to and hear the stories from founders like Jim Marshall and other industry legends, many of whom are sadly no longer with us.

"Stories evolve, sometimes deviate, but more often than not return to their true roots in times of need."

At the beginning of the year, I began working on an exciting project with an evolving guitar brand who were looking for some support on driving their vision forward of providing players with easily playable, accessible guitars and accessory products. Like many brands that exist regionally they have a good reputation and some good solid values but most importantly for me they were looking to be able to tell their story.

To clarify the important part of that last sentence “to be able to tell their story” that was the part that resonated with me. All too often as a brand consultant I am approached by businesses who exist on the merits of their products, but struggle to grow or gain relevance on a larger scale because they approach the subject of branding from the perspective of “we want you to create our story for us” the difference between these two phrases might be subtle, the value is anything but.

Being self-aware as a brand even if you don’t yet know how to communicate your values is a critical element in my opinion, in ensuring that you offer your customers the best experience and value in the long term.

If you are approaching a consultant or agency with a blank page, you may find you have to bend and distort your story to fit their new narrative. Is that sustainable? Does it even allow you to preach the truth about your brand, products, and vision? I would argue that a brand that wants to be supported to help tell their story is in a far better position to success than one that is trying to artificially generate one from the ether.

The difference between changing the narrative and changing the story.

I don’t think I would have even written this article if it wasn’t for a moment of illumination that occurred on a recent video call. I was online to an awesome friend who is also a veteran in the music industry, and like those more seasoned among us we got to discuss the big boy brands that everyone is infinitely familiar with. Between us we have been to pretty much all the places where music is made, Abbey Road studios, the Marshall Factory, Fender, Gibson, Eminence, Sun Studios the list would literally take weeks to remember and write out.

One of the things that we discussed related to the sense of brand and how some companies over time lose the essence of what makes them feel unique.

When discussing one brand in particular, neither of us could find the words to describe why it felt different and, in some way, less appealing. Then I blurted out “it is almost as if it is missing that thin layer of dust you expect to find when you see the products or experience from the brand” his response was “I might use that”

Brand stories - "it is about evolution not revolution."

You see there is a massive difference between changing the narrative and adjusting the perspective of the story to make it more understandable for the viewer, to changing the story itself.

In the wise words uttered to me once, it’s about evolution, not revolution.

To put that into context, it is important to state, that change itself when it comes to brands is essential, the world evolves and so along with it must businesses and products to remain relevant, provide value and compete in the ever shifting social landscape. However, how quickly the journey from point A to point B is delivered and how different the brand appears when it reaches its destination can make or break the evolution of a brand. Try explaining to a child that man evolves from apes and with some images and simple explanations it is relatively feasible that they will at least agree with the concept to some degree. Try explaining to the child that man evolved from fish and you are likely to be met with somewhat more of a barrier to belief.

In literature, aficionados seek the first edition, not only the first edition but the first revision of the first edition. It is the holy grail of the story version. However the latest edition will for the most part be wholly relatable to the original. The words may have been modernized, the spelling will have changed and in some cases the work may have been simplified to make it more relatable, easier to digest or use modern references to enable new younger readers to grasp the context more easily.

Regardless of how ambitious an evolution of a brand might be to reach its goals and transform its products or brand image, without a common thread and story that maintains some semblance of consistency the people viewing what you do will begin at some stage to either disbelieve what you are telling them, or forensically deconstruct what you have done, working backwards from where you are now and call you out. Its why change needs a plan, and why a brand needs “its story”

Where do you start if your brand is new?

For many founders the focus of their business brain will often be on the competition. It should be, and being aware of what other brands are saying is important. But all too often this laser focus on the failings of the competition is the foundation of what they think their brands story is.

Rivalry based story telling can be a great tool at buyer to buyer (B2B) and buyer to consumer (B2C) level sales to help leverage points of difference in how you will provide better service or value to a distributor or retailer. We offer no quibble returns while brand X requires you to follow a convoluted process, We offer higher margins, we don’t enforce minimum stocking quantities. At a business level these levers can help cement your relationship with stakeholders because it buys into their needs as a business to operate efficiently.

Unfortunately though these things are not going to help sell your brand or products to the end user. Instead, it is important to focus on “why” you exist, did you design and produce a new soft drink that is sugar and artificial sweetener free because no other brands were doing a product in your flavor niche that delivered this. Did you make your brand of outdoor coolers to not require ice because ice is heavy and makes trips to the beach more strenuous?

Then we delve deeper, what made you see this problem, were you the person who enjoyed days on the beach and couldn’t enjoy your niche sugar and sweetener free beverage at an ice cold temperature because the cool box was too heavy and the drink didn’t exist?! There you have it, the beginnings of a story.

You might opt for a fictional route to explain the journey. Perhaps to make the story more relatable to the consumer you are trying to reach. But the foundations need to have some genuine and tangible element that can be told.

Its easy for an existing brand right?

Actually as difficult as it is to develop and craft a new brand, making changes to an existing brand can be as difficult if not more difficult to achieve.

In addition to whatever stories and information you may have used when communicating with your customers before, it is also likely there will be rumors and myths that have been created along the way which may try and derail your evolution of an existing brand.

The other big reason why evolving an existing brand is difficult, is that you already exist and people will need to be able to at least make some logical link in the transition between where you existed, and where you re-appear after any changes you make.

There are some brands who famously made numerous transitions throughout their history. In fact in some cases business owners I have spoken with have tried to argue these exceptions to the rule are reason enough to make a jump in brand development. While it is perfectly true that for example Peugeot started their brand story making pepper grinders long before their first automobile. It was 79 years between these two things occurring and in the 19th century consumers we less aware and sales and marketing was far more primitive than it is today. I am not entirely sure people would accept a brand like McDonalds branching into home décor any more than they would Nickelodeon providing banking services (unless they were targeted at kids, Nickelodeon if you are reading this DM me, I am open to helping make it happen) You see sometimes there is and sometimes there isn’t a story to aid a transition and help evolve and grow a brand and sometimes,… there just might be. But selling it, is a whole additional exercise.

What are the barriers to crafting a brand.

Some founders, business owners and custodians get it. They understand the brand, its story and its “why”. For those people the biggest barrier is communicating this to their teams in a way that can be replicated effectively. Generally that is why they will employ a brand director to be the brands advocate and communicate with sales and marketing teams to make sure this is upheld.

Some struggle to communicate the story effectively, and unfortunately, others simply don’t understand their own story, and after weeks or months of overthinking, artificially create a fiction that is difficult to convey and doesn’t resonate with the customer.

"the illusorily truth, when you you tell yourself something so often in your mind it becomes reality. - maybe its time to break the mirror and ask what your potential customers see."

The last and most common manifestation of brand crafting and evolution tends to be the overriding flaw of human nature of hearing something often enough, that in their mind it is true. For most executives in business the fear of change is an understood concept and the phrase “we have always done it that way” provides the ultimate in impenetrable concrete barriers to making any meaningful evolution in terms of progress.

If a story is received enough times, it becomes in our minds impossible to eventually discern reality from fiction. This phenomenon even has its own name “the illusory truth effect”. With our ever-connected world this effect is more and more prominent. It is used in propaganda and conspiracy theories all the time.

So how do you separate this “illusory truth” from reality and use the process and outcome to deliver a stronger and more effective brand? Unfortunately, it requires an outsider with new eyes and a fresh perspective.

I can’t count how many times I have walked away from a product development meeting or sales event questioning everything I have been told, because the internal team at a company has used outdated information, or information that has not been adequately researched to make a claim that they intend to stake their brand reputation on.

Examples are everywhere even in pop culture, for instance in the Will Ferrell film Elf his character decides to take his friend to get a cup of coffee, he is proud that he takes his date to the place that claims to make the best cup of coffee in New York! The audience all knew it wasn’t true, but he didn’t. Funny in the film, but not so much for the customer when they realise you are not in fact the world’s leading software solution for accounting, or most cost-effective solution in management training. The damage using outdated, incorrect information can do is tangible, and even the most well-meaning, experienced, and effective brand or marketing director can over time become susceptible to illusory truths.

What is the solution, how can I enhance my brand and business?

The simplest form of transforming your brand is not as many misguided creatives might tell you “change the logo and brand colors” the truth is far too many brands think changing what they look like and adding an inspiring tagline will alter the trajectory of their business. But the solution isn’t overly complex either.

The first and most simple route is to get a brand review or audit. Using someone from outside of the business to look at your products, marketing, website and business model to assess what you believe to be true, what you tell people is true and what others might think is true based on your competition.

A brand review takes time but provides an insight to what barriers might be preventing growth. It also provides a reality check to the business by highlighting the things you may do through years of incremental change that simply make your brand less appealing than others.

A brand review is a great way to highlight things you need to address and provide some visual information on where you can go to improve and evolve.

The more comprehensive way to drive your brand forwards is to engage with a consultant for a more detailed project to re-imagine your brand and positioning. They will work with you and internal team members, to provide additional research usually culminating in a full brand review and brand guidelines. They will also be able to recommend a strategy for implementation and recommend other specialists you might want to work with to tackle specific issues they observe, while working with you to help increase your brand values, both internally and externally.

Depending on the resources you have at your disposal you can then choose whether to undertake the work using your own team, a mixture of the consultants and in house, or opt to find and allocate an external company to undertake the work based on the findings of the review and project.

From experience I would always recommend opting for a hybrid internal and consultant-based approach as this will enable the consultant to help mentor your staff, transferring valuable skills and understanding into their tool kit and will provide you with much greater long-term value for your brand. This method also enables your team to be active stakeholders in the project, which means that they will be more invested and proactive in the future in applying what they have learned and contributed to.

What are the key takeaways?

· Creating or evolving a brand is a specialized skill. Using an external company allows your team to focus on their day-to-day critical tasks while contributing to brand development if you want them to.

· Internal teams, founders and CEO’s sometimes struggle to separate their preconceptions or “illusory truths” from the perspective of the market and consumer. Using an external professional to help you navigate this avoids repeating brand faux-pas and invites new and exciting ideas.

· There are many ways to visually change your brand, but true and long-lasting improvement and results can only come from more in-depth and focused efforts to ensure the whole of your brand is aligned and your “WHY?” is used effectively.

About the author

Hi, my Name is Luke Green and I have spent over 2 decades working with some amazing brands, during that time I have worked with designers and manufacturers across a wide variety of market segments.

I founded Ballistica as a Product and Brand Consulting company to enable me to provide support and advice to companies around the world. I enjoy nothing more than helping founders and executives unlock the power of their brands by working with their teams to help provide insight and direction to unlock their potential.

I own and run Ballistica as well as provide my support to multiple businesses as a Non-Executive Director to help them deliver better products, services, and brands.

If you want help in brand building, are looking for a brand or product strategy for launch, or simply want access to an experienced product and brand specialist to help you with a specific project I would love to hear from you.



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