Marketing used to equal advertising. If you had a better product/service, or at least it was perceived as better, and you made enough noise, then you made the sale.
Now marketing equals storytelling. You must connect with your customer at a core level, reinforce their worldview of themselves, and tell a story that supports how they see your brand fitting within that framework.
Most companies fail to differentiate themselves from the competition because they fail to tell a story that resonates with their customers - and consequently are relegated to being just another commodity.
If you are only interested in a quick buck and are okay with a race to the bottom by becoming a commoditized company, then stop reading now. If you want to stand out from the competition, lean in and then let’s talk later.
Presumably you want to avoid that. Every decision you make impacts your brand story – telling the right story and selecting the right customers, employees, and agency.
In today’s marketplace you must tell a story that connects - and prove it at every turn; every time; every day. Which means EVERY touchpoint with a potential customer either propels your story forward or derails it.
That also means that company culture must be authentic and carry that same story from top to bottom; inside and out.
The wrong hire of staff or of an outside agency will do as much damage to your brand as anything. Why? Because your team (internal and external) is the frontline to your customers.
If you select the wrong agency, your story could be jumbled and inconsistent.
Regardless of how amazing your product/service is, if you have employees and touchpoints that don’t evoke the same brand story and personality, you WILL lose customers.
And your customers are the ones that help carry your story for you over time. Once they hear the story, it is theirs to share and to modify. And they will do so according to how they are treated.
How you treat customers, how your employees treat each other, and how you treat your brand, website, store/office, emails, phone calls…everything…. tell a story.
Start by treating everyone well and removing the people or things that don’t align with your brand. (And yes, that means employees and that means customers.) Not everyone is for you. Quit trying to make your brand work for everyone and everyone work for you. It doesn’t work and costs you time and money.
Being selective and focused provides clarity. People want to feel special regardless of your industry. By speaking to a narrow group, you are able to show them they matter. Which means your story treatment must point the recipient to an aligned worldview.
Likewise, if there is any disconnect between your story and how your employees treat the customer and treat each other, there will be losses.
Meaning there is an economic cost in how we treat people.
Economics (Traditional and Behavioral)
In traditional economics we’re often taught that buyers are a homogenous group that within certain circumstances will act a certain way. But that is only partially true because everyone has different preferences and biases.
Behavioral Economics is one of our favorite topics at Paradigm. It is the study of how people actually make those buying decisions. Though it is often said, “People make irrational buying decisions”, I would say they make rational buying decisions (within their preference/bias framework) that perfectly align with their world view and the story they tell themselves, about themselves.
To the buyer their choices are perfectly rational and justifiable.
I personally don’t understand why someone would pay for a certain brand of a phone any more than they understand why I pay for mine. (Mine’s cooler than yours by the way, but I bet we would argue each other in circles.)
Both Apple and Samsung make quality and competitive phones, but both tell very different stories and speak to different audiences. Nothing is wrong with that. They seem to know their audiences and focus primarily on them. Sure, they want to pull customers away from each other with new features, but that only provides short term gains and is a very expensive way to grow your brand.
Though the actual number of sales in recent years if fairly even between the two, Apple slaughters Samsung when it comes to customer loyalty and profits. Their customers irrationally see value and benefit ratios in a cult like fashion. However, they rationally decide to purchase because their worldview aligns with Apple.
To support their brand, Apple is consistent with their products, in-store and online experiences, customer service, innovation, and perceived value.
So, as we talk about framing a story that a customer can believe in, we have to balance how that looks economically to them, providing measurable benefits, and how the business can maximize its return on investment. The customer’s worldview will influence how they see value and benefit ratios (cost and justification).
Apple does this by providing a clear story that aligns with what potential Apple owners believe about themselves – “they think differently and challenge the status quo”. Therefore, they can’t even imagine using another phone. Good luck changing their minds.
It is really difficult and expensive to try to change someone’s mind. So why waste time on that? Tell YOUR story and pursue customers that want that same story in their lives.
Most people make every decision, purchase and argument to validate what they believe about themselves and their worldview. People are not easily persuaded when dealing with things they know and have experienced.
We must provide a new way to frame the worldview if there is any chance of changing minds. This means we speak to them in terms they understand and support their worldview.
As soon as we are caught up solely on features or price point, we have lost the story. Can you obtain customers being the cheapest and having the best specs alone? Yes, but you won’t build long term loyalty and you won’t have other people sharing the story. You will be relegated to being the commodity we previously mentioned.
Think back to when the iPod first came out. It was hardly the first portable music player. But Apple was brilliant in showcasing how many songs the device could hold, how easy it was to get music from the store and how much fun you would have. Every music player before that was focused on specs. The size of the hard drive, how cheap, or other features. Apple knew they had to change the “picture frame” of the story.
Your goal should be to provide clarity and to remove as much risk as possible for the customer in their selection of your product/service.
Owning or running a business brings risk. A lot of risk that only other business owners truly appreciate. In fact, sometimes overwhelming risk, which can generate fear or sub-optimal decisions which the compound the problems.
So, prioritizing how to manage all of the risks becomes a large task on its own. One such risk is the marketing of a business. And as previously mentioned, your marketing, your storytelling, matters a lot.
But often in the course of managing our businesses, marketing falls to the bottom of the list. After all, we think or are told “marketing is an expense”. We’ve all heard horror stories of wasted dollars on advertising, chasing tails with social media; and we can’t see the direct connection in marketing and sales.
Likewise, your business should also be just as careful in the selection of a marketing/branding agency that is tasked to guide the brand story and touch points
You might be thinking, “You are just trying to justify what you do at Paradigm so I’ll spend money with you.” And sure, that would be great, but I do believe in the power of marketing because we have so many client success stories. I know that a company can never reach its full potential without clear marketing, brand identity, branding strategy, and execution – Consistent, Comprehensive, Cohesive.
Can you be successful in spite of yourself and without a clear brand story? Sure, but it is much riskier in the digital and noisy environment we all live in.
To say it directly: marketing and branding actually help mitigate risk.
Clarity is essential to success – whether it means building something, changing direction, or knowing when to stop or go. Thoughtful marketing and branding clarify strategy and positioning internally and externally.
Many companies/organizations decide that they can/should handle marketing/branding internally because that will save money and give them full control. After all, an agency is going to be expensive.
While it is true that an agency can be expensive, as with any financial decision, we have to decide where the investment and return provide us the most benefit.
To just think pragmatically for a minute, if you hire a marketing person in house, you need to realize there are very few unicorns – people that are excellent at strategy, branding, design, social media, web design, writing, etc. In fact, they don’t exist. Which is why you see wise companies making one of two choices – hire a large enough staff in house with solid and diverse skills to cover design, strategy, branding, writing, web, digital and traditional advertising, PR, SEO, designed environments, photography, video, etc. - OR outsource most if not all of the work to a capable agency.
Having the entire marketing staff internally certainly gives you control, but it also removes external resources that often have much broader and deeper experience. Likewise, you are stuck with salaries and overhead even though there are seasons in marketing and branding where they may not be needed full time and others when you need to ramp up.
An external agency truly provides greater flexibility and return on investment. They are designed to ramp up or down for your needs, and by using a larger group of people than you can probably provide internally, you have access to a broad and deep skill set without having to maintain a staff.
Let’s say you agree with all of that. What now, how do I truly mitigate risk?
Select an agency that has similar core values to yours. They seem to get you, and feel right. Of course, they have to have the right skill set. But don’t make the mistake of being excited by the flash, client list, or their presentation. Now that doesn’t mean an amazing presentation, client list or a bit of flash is necessarily negative. It may be the right indicator for you. But I implore you to make sure the agency has your best interest in mind. That they will walk with you through the strategy and everything that follows.
Look for a partner, not a vendor. Vendors don’t mitigate risk, only partners in life and business do that.
Carefully select an agency that believes in your story and is focused on helping you differentiate your business as they become part of your team, just like your employees are.
A person that isn’t pleasant, that only believes in parts of your brand story (the parts that personally serves them) rather than how it serves your customer should be cut loose. They will undermine your brand.
Of course, you should try to coach employees that have potential, but have time limits. Short ones.
For instance, let’s say you have a middle manager. They have a real talent that you need, but they constantly create internal strife with other employees or customers (direct buyers, vendors, franchisors, etc.). They will negatively impact your brand and thus cost you money through loss of customers and employees.
They are breaking your brand story. They are working against your story. They are costing your company because they truly are only for themselves. And if an employee is consistently creating problems with other staff, customers, etc. – mitigate your risk and let them go, quickly.
Hire for culture and character. Or, as is often said – Hungry, Humble, and Smart people. If any of those three are missing you already have big problems.
Forget wasting time and money chasing customers that don’t believe in your story.
Not everyone is your customer. Be okay with that. You choose brands that you like because they tell you a story about yourself. Embrace that for your business and your customers.
Focus on understanding the customer and how they want to be treated. Understand their worldview and how your brand fits into it. An agency should help you with the customer profile, brand personality and bringing consistency to your story and touch points.
Now ask yourself these questions to see if you are mitigating risk through your brand story.
· Do you really know who your customers are?
· Do you know what makes them connect with your brand?
· Do you know what story you are telling to them or should be telling them?
· Do you have employees that don’t fully buy into your story or undermine it internally or externally?
· Do you have the right agency partnered with you?
· Have you considered how you are mitigating risk and pushing success?
· Are you trying to change minds rather than aligning worldviews?
· Do you understand the economics – financial and behavioral?
· Are customers and employees treated as individuals rather than objects?
· Do you have a story you believe in?
Once you have clear answers, good or bad, you need to bring it all together into the consistent, comprehensive and cohesive brand.
Remember, Marketing equals Storytelling.
Let us help you tell your story.
Charles T Gaushell, Principal/Founder
Paradigm Marketing & Creative