“Authentic brands don’t emerge from marketing cubicles or advertising agencies. They emanate from everything the company does.” – Howard Schultz, Retired CEO and Executive Chairman of Starbucks
A company or executive’s brand isn’t just about the product or service — it’s about how those products or services fit into and serve a customer’s worldview.
Brands help customers or clients tell the story of their personality, and if a brand fits into their customers’ narratives well, they build brand trust and loyalty. For example, a luxury car fits the story of someone who is or wants to be affluent; a free app appeals to those who wish to be more frugal.
It comes down to three ethical systems which define how most people think about the world and their place in it — and you can use this to help define the value of a business or personal brand.
The Three Brand Stories
1. Branding for customers who say, “I do what I should.”
Yes, some people want flash and innovation from a brand — but not everyone. There are still plenty of people who want stability, lack of complexity, and a rule-based narrative from a brand.
While some will go the Airbnb route for the possibility of something new, some people will always stick with Best Western — because it’s stable and has a long, trustworthy history. Their brand fits the law-abiding order narrative; it’s not going to be adventurous, but it will be reliable.
2. Branding for customers who say, “I want to be good.”
For a virtue-based narrative, a brand needs to be more than just stable and rules-based. For this narrative, customers should feel like they’re doing something to benefit someone or something as well as improving their personal character by purchasing a product or service.
There are multiple ways to appeal to virtue — a good example is a brand like Tom’s Shoes, which is entirely built around virtue. Because a pair of shoes is given to someone in need for every pair purchased, customers feel like they’re doing good without having to try too hard.
3. Branding for customers who say, “I want the best outcome.”
For some, all they care about is outcomes and consequences. This doesn’t just mean price — this means the whole picture of the results of a product or service, including the cultural and social value.
A good example is Apple — under Steve Jobs, they were notorious for rarely giving to charity, but that didn’t matter. For those who simply wanted the best, Apple’s brand was strongest. A pattern of great product after great product combined with stylish design and skilled marketing made Apple culturally prestigious.
This is the hardest brand story though, as constant innovation is required. Just a few bad products in a row will break the pattern and destroy the brand’s image.
Of these three brand stories, brands can mix and match if they’re clever, but mixing them too much will muddy things and make it hard for customers to get a clear idea of a brand. Find your brand’s story within these three larger narratives and stick to it.
Brand Story Consistency
No matter how you decide to fit into your customers’ stories, remember that consistency is key. Keep your pattern clear across marketing, products, and customer interactions — this will make it easy for customers to see where your brand fits in their narrative, and it’s what will build trust and loyalty.