Guest post: Simon Dean, founder of STANCE; an agency that specialises in brand storytelling for start-ups. Find your STANCE, stand your ground!
Spoiler alert: We’re not talking about logo design here.
A brand is a collection of thoughts, feelings and emotions that you have about a company. Yes, some of these thoughts pertain to the visual and verbal aspects of a brand, but they reach much deeper into the actions of the company.
Consider a person.
When you lay eyes on them, you become entranced. You love their smile, their looks and their dress sense. But what if they behave in ways you don’t admire or support causes that are contrary to your beliefs? Perhaps it’s politics, fox hunting, a rival football club, poor work ethic, or even a TV show that you find disinteresting! Despite how good their appearance is, if their actions aren’t becoming to you, you’re unlikely to hang out or introduce them to your friends.
It’s exactly the same with brands. If you think the job of branding is done when you have a new logo, cool font, and a nice website, you’re wrong.
Branding should talk the talk and walk the walk. This blog takes a look at how to get you out the gates and marching in the right direction.
Where does branding begin?
There are many different branding frameworks out there, STANCE being one of them, but the good ones will all have a few things in common:
They’ll have a point of view about what could be improved in the world.
They’ll have a belief that is meaningful to a target audience.
They’ll have a purpose or a mission.
If we imagine a person again, these elements could be likened to the heart and mind—the drivers of behaviour.
If you’re starting a company, these drivers and beliefs may simply be your own or those of your founding members. They may have been crystal clear to you from the inception of your company, or you may have evolved them over time.
If you’re more established, you may have been through a rebranding process because you felt that your brand was lacking impact or relevance. Lacking impact is when your message and your actions just aren’t cutting it with your desired customers.
Hopefully, the outcome of the branding work helped you arrive at the belief and mission statements that do cut it and are relevant.
Talking the talk and walking the walk
Once you’re happy with your point of view, your belief and your purpose, you can start living your brand.
Logo, website, business card, email signature, car wrap, tee-shirt, tote bag… That’s talking the talk, now let’s find our stride.
Below is a diagram we like to use at STANCE. Your STANCE or story goes at the heart of your business and drives all of your actions.
What follows is some advice from the diagram as well as a note on people.
Create the right product experience
For ease, I’ll include services here too. The experience of your product or service needs to reflect the brand you’re trying to create. Let’s take Spotify’s mission statement:
Our mission is to unlock the potential of human creativity—by giving a million creative artists the opportunity to live off their art and billions of fans the opportunity to enjoy and be inspired by it.
When I think of how that relates to my personal experience of using Spotify, it really marries up! I have countless recommendations of music and podcasts that are well-matched to my tastes! I find myself being creative by curating masterful playlists!
Now, this didn’t just happen. The product team will have chosen this avenue to walk down from an early stage, influencing how Spotify works in terms of data structure and algorithms. This really pays off in terms of the customer experience living up to that mission!
Also, consider the journey a brand might go on to deliver the mission in the product or service. Have you noticed now Airbnb has evolved to showcase neighbourhoods and tours? It didn’t always, but when they decided to “Belong Anywhere” gradual changes started to appear adding local richness to the customer experience.
I also like talking about fitness start-up Fiit. When the company started, they wanted to make exercise addictive! A great many features enable this, from studio design to soundtrack to the vibe of the trainers (see ‘hire the right people’ below). They were able to release some of these addicting features in v1 of their product, but others took a few years, like the interactive class leaderboards.
By being true to their vision, each product release took them one step closer to their ultimate goal. Now, in just 3 years, they’re considered one of the best fitness apps, frequently mentioned in the same breath as Apple Fitness and Peloton.
Partner in the right way
You want to partner with like minds, whether it’s media, sponsorship deals, or larger brand affiliations.
Consider the journey of Red Bull in Formula 1. You might know that they have an F1 team, but it wasn’t always the case: Their journey began with a sponsorship deal. Red Bull likes to endorse high adrenaline, high concentration, high stakes activities—living up to their old tag line, ‘Stimulation for body and mind’.
F1 is exactly that, embodying total harmony between the sports activity and Red Bull’s image. This is different from sponsoring say, chess, which ticks the mind box, but not the body.
When it comes to choosing partnerships, match the brand in question to your point of view, your belief and your mission. A well-matched brand partnership will be harmoniously aligned in all three areas.
Hire the right people
Have you been to an Apple store? If so, you’ll have noticed that all the staff have a similar vibe. They’re insightful, curious and lovers of Apple. They feel right for the brand.
Have you done customer service with Monzo? From my experience, even if I had a problem, the interaction has left a smile on my face. They’re good folk!
Have you seen the movie, The Internship, where Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn aim for a job at Google? They’re assessed on “Googliness” which is whether they have the right cultural fit.
The people you hire will impact the outcome of your products, services and cultural environment—pick wisely.
Bringing your brand to life
Step one is to arrive at the set of words that describe your company, the point of view, belief and mission—these are elements of your brand positioning and story. (Or in the case of STANCE, your brand STANCE.)
Then you have to use these words to fuel decision making:
On a micro level, employees should be able to recite the mission and use it as a litmus test for everyday actions. On a macro level, these words should guide the company’s strategy. At Airbnb HQ when they decided to “Belong Anywhere” that will have kicked off a succession of product development workstreams to get their booking site to where it is today.
Here’s the rub. If your brand story is bland or doesn’t inspire action, you don’t have the right words!
This is why brand agencies exist: To help sculpt and craft words that really do your business justice. Oftentimes, this exercise is easier from the outside looking in, with fresh eyes and zero bias to language that may have become encrusted in your industry. Words do matter!
Hold yourself accountable to your brand. The more consistent you are at delivering your brand in all areas, the more likely you are to truly connect with a group of fans who will become your most loyal customers and fervent ambassadors!
Fancy a crack at creating your own brand story? Check out the STANCE course, Robust Brand Storytelling for Start-Ups.