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What’s your story?
October 22, 2012 | Lynn Manternach, Ph.D.

Your brand’s story has the potential to be much more than just filler for your website’s "About Us” page. It could be your most powerful marketing tool.

Storytelling is an art. The best stories are about people, evoking a range of emotions and connecting with what really matters to us. The best brands are also about people, with emotional connections and powerful relevance.

Regardless of what business you are in, you have a brand story. Companies that can successfully communicate their story and values are able to connect with consumers in ways that really matter.

You have to make sure your brand is worthy of consumer time and attention, or you’ll be talking to yourself. Increasingly, the only messages consumer see or hear are those they choose to see or hear. The age of interruptive media is over. If consumers don’t like your television commercials, they’ll fast-forward their DVRs. If they don’t like your radio commercials, they’ll plug in their iPods or turn on satellite radio. They’ll block your telemarketing calls and throw your direct mail in the trash.

So how do you develop an approach that is worthy of consumer time and attention?

Start by understanding what is special about your brand from the perspective of consumers. You have to remember that your brand is not what you say it is, it’s what consumers say it is. So what is it? If you don’t know, find out. Conduct formal brand research. If that’s outside your budget parameters, conduct informal brand research. Ask and listen. Set a Google alert (www.Google.com/alerts) for your brand and examine what is being said about your brand. Read the online reviews. Set up a Twitter search.

Sort through the information to understand the human elements of your brand. Where does your brand connect with consumer emotion? How does your brand make life better for consumers? Don’t lose sight of the fact that this is not about your products – it’s about your consumers.

Interbrand’s recent Best Global Brands 2012 report ranks the 100 most valuable global brands based on financial performance and the role the brand plays in influencing the choices made by consumers. The number one best global brand, according to the 2012 Interbrand report, is Coca-Cola. It’s a name that is more universally recognized than any other in the world.

Some will say they drink Coke products for the flavor, but for most, it’s the way Coca-Cola makes them feel. Coke’s brand promise of fun, freedom and refreshment resonates across the planet.

In March of this year, Coca-Cola launched a Hug Machine at the National University of Singapore. The giant red machine has the words "Hug Me” on the front. There is no coin slot. When someone hugs the front of the machine it delivers a free can of Coke. As you would expect, there are plenty of photo ops and YouTube clips which generate PR and brand coverage for Coca-Cola.

Coke is a master at creating and maintaining emotional relationships with consumers. According to Josephy V. Tripodi, executive vice president and chief marketing and commercial officer at the Coca-Cola Company, "It’s less about what you sell and more about what you stand for as a brand and company.”

Consumers will continue to avoid being "sold,” and will seek connections with brands that are relevant to them. Your brand story is your opportunity to clarify what you stand for and how that might be relevant for consumers.

Responsibility for a brand goes well beyond the marketing department. Building a brand is everyone’s job, and companies that understand that have a significant advantage.

That’s why it is so important to engage your employees in your brand story. If your employees understand your story and can see the ways your company’s brand values connect to their personal values, you’re on the right track. If you can take the next step and help them understand how they are connected to the story’s outcome, you have the potential to engage them in your brand story.

Once your employees are engaged in your brand story, you have a lot of allies to help your customers engage in the brand story as well.

This article originally appeared in the Corridor Business Journal.

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