Often that which is unspoken, unmarked or otherwise unheralded is what carries the strongest message. The Trader Joe's near me is packing groceries in unbranded brown paper bags. Not sure if their intention is to make a statement about an environmental issue or frugality.
Nevertheless, it sent a message that feels in line with their brand. Have you ever resisted the urge to put your logo somewhere? Or chosen subtleness over shouting?
As an aside, the flat bottomed paper bag was the brainchild of Margaret Knight in 1868. She had to fight a legal battle for a patent against a man who tried to steal her idea. Hear the story in this 11 minute podcast: https://thememorypalace.us/no-116842/
Who is it for? This is one of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself when crafting your story. Look at your offering from the perspective of your intended target. To do this well is not easy. You are going to have to make some assertions about how they think and what they believe.
I was rummaging about the pantry and found that we had two containers of olive oil. They are both the same quality (extra virgin) and from the same region of Greece. Ostensibly they are going to have very similar cooking properties and taste. But the story conveyed by the packaging of each is very different. The signals of authenticity and quality are going to be interpreted differently by two different buyers. These customers are both going to perceive that they are making the right decision based on the way you are telling the story. They will tell you that they bought the "better" one. But you can't fall into the trap of communicating that your offering is "better."
My assertion is that the customer who buys the olive oil on the left simply has different ideas about what is "better" than one who chooses the other. But here's the thing, they are both right. Just like the person who decides not to hire your organization has also made the right decision.
How is that? Because they are different people telling themselves a different story. Be intentional about the story you are telling so that you connect with the "right" person - the person that you seek to serve with your solution. The one who sees the world in the same way that your offering presents itself - the promise the marketing makes.
Have you ever seen an advertisement for a jackfruit? Or sand? It doesn't make sense to advertise a commodity. If they are all the same, I'll just pick the cheapest one. Unless you have a monopoly, you will likely only see a financial benefit if you’ve built a brand - or at least registered a trademark — for your offering.
Ten years ago a navel orange was what you'd put in your kids lunchbox. But California farmer Bernie Evans changed all that. (The Wall Street Journal article here). A bad freeze devastated the state’s citrus harvest and he looked for a cold-hardy orange. He learned that one option, clementines, which at the time were imported from Spain, were selling well on the East Coast. He signed a deal with a nursery to multiply clementine trees and sell them to him exclusively. He then trademarked the name “Cuties®” and launched a $20 million national television and point-of-sale advertising campaign. You’ve probably had some on your kitchen counter recently.
Think carefully about the name you’ve chosen for your product, service or business. It is an important part of the story.
Did you take a moment this week to commemorate George Washington, or the leadership qualities of any chief executive important to you? Or did you buy a mattress or enjoy a long weekend of skiing? Were you just annoyed that you forgot the post office was closed? Did President's Day mean anything to you?
When we take time out to celebrate the significance of a shared event or the contributions of an individual, we are really talking about what is important to us collectively. I'm not advocating for or against the holiday, but it reminds me that a helpful question to ask about any communication to a specific audience is "What is this for?"
If the answer isn't "This helps build trust with my client or gets the attention of someone I'd like to work with," then you should rethink it. What you are doing might just be an artifact. It takes empathy to see what your customer really wants.
Also, happy Mardi Gras.
The same story told by different artists can radically change how an audience connects to it. The same is true of your marketing story. Your presentation is important. Last night the NFL paired a country music star, Eric Church, with an R&B singer, Jazmine Sullivan to perform the national anthem before the Super Bowl. It symbolized the need for unity in an ongoing charged time of racial discord for the nation - a smart move for the NFL.
When Jimi Hendrix played the "Star Spangled Banner" at Woodstock it became a protest anthem about the Vietnam war. It reflected the pulse of the nation at that time. Very different from Whitney Houston's patriotic version at the 1991 Super Bowl.
How you present the material changes everything. Same content, different delivery. How are you communicating?
Often we ask people "Where are you from?" What we are really doing is looking for common ground, "Oh, I have a friend that's also from Buffalo!" Or we are seeking to understand her, "So you must be a Bills fan." Our origin stories communicate the experiences and values that shape our worldview.
That is also true of organizations. I saw this ice axe displayed on the wall at my REI sporting goods store. It is a symbol of company's roots which started as a co-op to buy mountaineering equipment in 1935. You can read that story on their website here.
Sharing your organization's origin story communicates something important to your customers. Tell that story with an intention to connect over shared values.
If you are invited to make a speech at a conference in Madrid and deliver the talk in German, it isn't likely that your remarks will have the impact you hoped for. It's more helpful to speak in the same language as your audience.
The same is true in your marketing efforts. The people you want to connect with often have a particular way of sharing ideas. They might prefer terms such as "scalable" , "best practice" or "synergy". But if they put on a "brain bucket", are proud of their "1 kicker" and look down on "crotch rockets" they might be interested in your "hog". Tell your story in the patois of the people you want to serve.
On my regular running route I have to cross a street where most cars ignore not only the speed limit but also the painted crosswalk. And since there’s no stoplight at the intersection, almost no one yields to pedestrians here.
Which is why it was so unusual on this busy traffic morning for a UPS delivery truck to come to a complete stop. With a smile and nod the driver waved me across.
I’m sure she’s instructed to strictly follow all the rules of the road. And that the safety record of drivers is a critical performance metric. But I also assume that on-time route completion is tracked and recorded with diligence. If she hadn’t stopped would anyone ever know? Would that decision make any difference – other than to slow her down?
That is brand building. The behavior that you and your employees make every day creates a promise. A promise of what it is like to interact with your brand. Even if you are not a customer, it gets noticed. Now I have a different story in my mind about the work that you do and how you do it.
What promise are you making?
In news reports that Elon Musk had surpassed Jeff Bezos as the world's richest man, the label "visionary" was used. We tend to reserve the term for people we think are exceptional. Those with some rarified ability to see around corners.
But the truth is, you also are a visionary, Nobody has ever seen the world and the possibilities in the same way as you do. When you launched your latest project (decided to volunteer at that non-profit, cold-called that prospect, started your business) -- you had a vision. A one-of-a-kind view of the world and how your offering could solve a problem.
Share that vision. It is the best way to connect with your clients and customers - anyone that you want to serve. You are not persuading them as much as you are telling a story about your vision. That is visionary.
The story you are trying to tell - your message - is always delivered with two other important markers - tone and context. Here in Georgia voters are deciding a key Senate race. Millions of dollars have been spent on both sides and we have been inundated with political ads before every YouTube clip, billboards on every block and more junk flyers than we received since AOL launched (for the under 40 crowd a lesson here).
On a smaller scale, individuals have expressed their political standing through polite signs displayed on well-manicured yards as well as aggressive posters slapped on telephone poles. While the sentiment is the same - people like us vote this way - the tone and context are radically different.
Keep this in mind as you tell your story. How your audience perceives the message and whether it drives them to take action is influenced by tone of voice and the medium you use to deliver the message. Tell your story with intention.
I have a variety of interests and enjoy sharing my reflections on them here.