How can a word be both overused, and yet completely critical to a compelling brand story?
That word is authentic.
When there are ever more stories being told, you are connected to more people and yet people are not sure who, or what, to trust. If you’re told that the news is fake, the results are fake, then how do you know which stories to believe? Which ones to trust?
Whose story are you telling?
It’s tempting to look at the businesses and stories generating the most attention, the most noise and heat. If you’re not entirely confident in your brand story, then it might be tempting to borrow elements of those stories. Or there are those whose business model is to be someone else’s business model.
They tell a version of a story that someone else is telling. Perhaps with just a few details changed to protect the innocent so to speak.
And it might work for a bit. Until someone spots a crack in your story.
If you’re doing you, there’s no stress of hiding
Some years ago on my food blog and Twitter, I got into a debate with a large tea company. I say large. They were presenting and story telling as a small business. They were also quite stridently defending that position.
Now, 100 years ago, even 20 years ago, you could probably take the tack. It would have taken quite a lot of old-school, Columbo-style shoe leather and digging to get behind the cleverly crafted story. But in 2012 it was pretty straightforward to unpick. Reports from Companies House. Articles from The Times of India that contradicted the story in the UK.
It’s more common knowledge now, but the story was timely as it was about the time of the Harris & Hoole coffee shop chain, and their part ownership by Tesco made news. My little post ended up mentioned on the BBC.
Needless to say, that tea business had to make some changes to their story. And left some customers with a bitter taste in more than their mouths. And no doubt some customers lost.
Who cares about our story?
At the time, some people did say they didn’t care, they liked the products. Which is fair enough. Great tasting product, at a price you’re willing to pay. Who cares who owns who?
Except for some people it mattered a lot. The people who want to support small, independent businesses. People supporting people, not big business. To them, the story was important, as it was part of what they believed about themselves. It was what their “tribe”, people like them, do.
So their response to finding out this wasn’t really the story was always going to be emotional, almost visceral. They felt let down, duped, cheated. And they were cross with themselves for falling for it. None of those are emotions or reactions that anyone wants for themselves or their business.
Doing you is simpler
How anyone structures their business, or where they gain their funding from, is entirely their own business. It’s your decision.
So have the guts to stand by it.
Tell the story, and let people make their own decisions. Otherwise your business is built on sand. Of course you could have spectacular short term growth. But the fall is always waiting for you. Maybe not today, this month, even this year. But it’s waiting.
Isn’t running a small business stressful enough without making an extra layer of stress for yourself? If you’re honest and upfront, then there’s nothing to hide. You take the simple route of telling the truth.
Doing you is not bland
You might be thinking that the warts and all version of your business is not very exciting. It’s not building the aspiration of a brand.
It’s all in the telling.
For example, a properly small start up in tea, Bird & Blend, has a great story, but I’m not under the impression that the teas are blended by birds. But if you read their story you’ll understand where the bird comes from, and even why they changed their name from Bluebird to Bird & Blend. It’s a pretty substantial business now, but the story holds true.
They have only ever done their story. And it’s never been dull. I met them first in a marquee on a lawn at a small village event. Now I can pop into one of their shops around the UK.
Telling the story has not held them back at all.
How will you do you?
However you got going, whatever your story is, only your business can own it.
Only you can tell it.
How you choose to tell it is up to you. Are you the straight-talking, facts on the table kind of brand? Would you be the class clown? The start up video of Dollar Shave Club is probably still best in class for that one. Does help when you have founders that cut their teeth in improv.
You can tell it in photographs, drawings by kids, animation, even interpretive dance if you’re that way inclined. Just do it in the way that fits with your brand. For example, if you’re a brand with a core of fun, don’t give us a dull as dishwater about us page that could be for a traditional bank.
Just do you, your way. Remember what Oscar Wilde, apparently didn’t, say. “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken”.
Anyone can get attention. Strip naked and run down the street and you’ll get attention. But done with substance, the story that gets your customer’s attention also helps to gain their trust. Trust ultimately delivers action, and every brand, every business needs customers to take action of some description to drive growth.
So, skip streaking naked, and build a real story. Your story.