It doesn’t take much reflection to realize that almost all Disney stories mostly have the same basic plot, yet people still watch them. What does that have to do with branding? Well, your brand is a story in itself, and you need to learn how to tell it best if you want to grow your business.
Authentic storytelling is more than how a lot of young and inexperienced startup founders might see it; it’s not as simple as having an about us page or a video explaining how their company was founded. To effectively differentiate your startup from the crowd, you need to build a deeper connection between your brand and the people that interact with it.
Yes, your story should be communicated verbally, like in your mission statement or message, but it also has to come across visually. Whether it’s colors, graphical elements, or the logo itself, if you want to influence your audience in their everyday lives, impress them and make them relate instinctively to your brand, then you need to make sure all those design elements tie in together to invoke the same feeling. All of this might seem obvious; you might even be telling yourself that you already know this. That’s precisely what we hear from our clients, and almost all the time it’s not true because you or the designer you hired to work on your brand most likely based your creative decisions on one of the following three things: Subjective taste, Design “Trends” or for the fancy design scientists out there you probably referred to one of those color and shape psychology infographics floating on Pinterest. These three common mistakes are so problematic that they deserve another entire article just about them, but now let’s only focus on what you need to base your company’s visual language on.
Simply put by branding expert Marty Neumeier “A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service or organization.” That’s it; a person’s instinct is the most powerful and most primordial emotion that makes a story or breaks it. This is where the connection with Disney becomes apparent; they have figured out a way to turn the most uncomplicated archetypal story into hundreds of different narratives that are mostly the same, taking the concept of “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it” to the next level. We are all familiar with the myth of the prince that defeats the monster to save the princess so that they can live a happy life together. Whether you know it or not, that one story has been embedded in our subconscious for longer than writing itself has existed. That’s what Disney capitalized on because they knew that was the surest way of making everyone empathize with their movies.
So, if a Brand is a story and if stories are as proved by Disney infinitely recyclable, then all you need is a formula. By merely taking a look at successful brands that are worth billions of dollars from Tesla to Mercedes, Nike to The North Face, or Apple to Google, we were able to reverse-engineer the way they tell their stories. From there, we developed the following formula that we now use for our clients.
1. What is Your Product’s Core Value
Everything starts with a mission statement. What value does your product or service add to your customers’ lives? What are the goals that your brand wants to achieve in the future? What is your vision? What is it that is going to make people want to buy from you and not any other brand? What experience do you want to create for your customers? These are some of the questions that we ask our clients to help us write their stories. According to an article published in Forbes Magazine, “Businesses can no longer afford to be faceless entities. To survive, businesses need to connect with audiences, pull at their heartstrings, and engage with them on a much deeper level than seen before. That’s where brand storytelling comes in.” So, what you can learn from this is that storytelling helps maintain a strong relationship with your audience, and to do that, you need to talk about the things that you and only you have.
To put this into perspective let’s talk about what we noticed while browsing the startup platform AngelList, to study how early-stage startups can improve we looked at the way they communicate with their audiences, and we’ve seen many mistakes like merely describing what they sell when what they should focus on is the feeling people get when they experience the pain points caused by the problem their product or service can solve or the drastic effect it can have on the customer’s life by purchasing it. As an example, let’s imagine a company that sells coffee thermoses.
– What not to say in your mission statement: “We sell the best coffee thermoses in the world, they keep your coffee warmer for longer and for cheaper.”
This was a descriptive way of talking about what you do; many businesses don’t pay attention to the fact that any of their competitors can easily claim the same things by mimicking their product or service. But what they don’t realize is that there’s only one thing that no one can steal from you, and that is your true identity, so here’s a better approach for a mission statement.
-What to say: “Changing the world into a place where lukewarm coffee doesn’t exist, one thermos at a time.”
With a little bit of humor and making lukewarm coffee seem like a first-world problem, you can better connect with the person reading that message because they feel like it’s the end of the world when they’re in a rush for work and their morning coffee is getting cold.
2. Who Are Your Target Audience
The second step in our formula is asking, “who?” this is for, in which we define our clients’ target audience and what they are like? What do they love? What can they expect from your brand? And what are the most familiar with? This makes it easier to speak directly to the ideal customer in a way they understand and can relate to, rather than trying to appeal to everyone in a specific demographic. It doesn’t get simpler than that. The messaging and tone of voice in which your business communicates plays a significant role in determining whether or not your audience can relate to your brand. Your brand needs to be unique, not unlike how every person has a different personality. By doing this, you can precisely filter your audience, leaving only the people that have the highest chance to become fans, customers, and then ambassadors of your brand.
Determining who exactly are you going to target is key to the success of brands because it makes them more approachable and more comfortable to relate to, it also facilitates communication between the brand and the audience and that enables you as a founder or a C.E.O. to provide insightful content that matter to your audience and that solve the problems they are experiencing in their lives.
We genuinely believe that the “One size fits all” idea of branding for consumer-centric businesses is in its last decade, this method is less and less effective because of how technology is making it so easy to start a business and because of social media brands now have to compete with more than their direct rivals, but also with anyone or anything that has an Instagram account with a lot of followers. This is enough to predict that the only way to survive as a new and growing business is to establish a unique and profoundly personal brand, an identity that no one else can share.
3. How Will You Communicate To Your Audience
Finally, you must define how your story will be communicated, or in other words, how you will execute your branding efforts to establish your name and identity in the minds of your audience. Once everything from your vision to your target audience is carefully determined, now it is easier to figure out ways to make it come across in your verbal and visual communication methods, all you need is just to be transparent with your audience and avoid being salesy through things like a descriptive mission statement or choice of clear but stereotypical images because people are brilliant. They know whether a company just wants to make money or is trying to solve a problem for their customers, which drove many companies to develop what we call the B.E.C. syndrome, which stands for Big Evil Corporation, something we talk about in this other article published by Startups Magazine. You need to merge design and strategy coherently together to tell the story ultimately, that consistency is what makes your brand recognizable everywhere. We advise anyone thinking about taking their brand to the next level to think about it seriously and have it be one of their main priorities, it is not wise to hire a graphic designer and just tell them exactly what to make, so if you are not sure of how exactly branding works you must seek advice from a professional to avoid rebranding every five years. Learn from the mistakes of other startups that tried to take this shortcut and ended up spending even more money trying to fix it.
In conclusion, our years of experience in the business of building strong and memorable brands have taught us that most designers simply solve “Design problems.” The more we thought of that, the more it became clear to us why businesses undervalue the work of creatives; it is because there is no value in an aesthetic design besides the fact that it is pleasing to the eye. But that is not why businesses need logos and visual identity systems; they need them because it’s necessary to tell their brand’s story. With that realization came our decision to shift our focus to solving “Business problems” instead. The only way to do that consistently is to have a formula that is precise and non-dependent on unpredictable variables like the subjective taste, Design “Trends” or non-scientific rules about design psychology.
Guest Author: Abdellah Rholem is an award-winning logo designer and branding strategist from Morocco. He has designed logos and built brands for a wide range of clients in the tech space from non-profits like the Agritech Association of Africa to startups such as Proto. With his company Uniqium and through his experience in both marketing and design, he aims to help startup founders realize the power of branding and its importance even at an early stage.