By on July 29, 2014

Finding your authentic story is not a luxury for the touchy-feely. Given our overloaded channels of communication and the general lack of trust (and boredom) with advertising messages, finding your brand’s true emotional core as expressed through its story is a must. But first, you must know what you’re looking for. Don’t look to your elevator speech or your unique selling proposition. Your authentic story isn’t there. Your elevator speech may take you one floor up while you tell prospects about functional differences that make your brand unique. But your key to the higher floors is in your authentic story, your belief, your cause, or some human value with which you want to be associated. And if presented in a way that will emotionally resonate with your prospects’ worldview, and if you can walk the walk, short-term purchasers are bound to morph into brand evangelists. Underneath those boastful sales claims, those self-descriptive tag lines, and that overly logical reason-why copy, a genuine and compelling brand story probably sits waiting to turn customers into joiners. Lying dormant, it also wants to provide your entire organization with an obvious way to discern right from wrong, good from bad, and relevant from irrelevant.

To find, claim, and clarify your authentic brand story, you must first look inside the heart of your brand. It can’t be fabricated by its head. Chances are it’s beating below the noise of all those meaningless facts that have been given a higher priority in your messaging. If you can’t hear it yet, following are five ways to turn up the volume.

1. Ladder up
Start with the most important functional outcome that your product or service delivers: time and/or money savings, ease of use, or greater security. Then consider the underlying value associated with that functional benefit, e.g., freedom, simplicity, or safety. A way to get at this is to ask yourself why the functional outcome your brand delivers is important. Then ask again, why is that important? Keep asking why until you get to a human value (inventiveness, love, peace of mind, relaxation, etc.) that your brand supports above all else. Once you’ve landed on it, then ask yourself how you can go about owning it.

2. What your story isn’t
Another way to get at your story is to decide on what its opposite is. If you were to do things the wrong way, what would that look like? What do you value least? What is the last thing you’d want your brand to be associated with? Oftentimes it’s easier to describe what your purpose isn’t to help you better define what it is.

3. Describe the enemy
Think of the enemy that your brand is setting out to overcome, e.g., time waste, stress, slow response time, etc. Then start to develop your enemy character. Describe what your enemy values most and what you value least. Sometimes a road paved with what you don’t believe in will lead you to a place where you belong.

4. Find a role model story character
Think of your brand as a story character. Many books are available that describe brand archetypes that your brand might be best associated with (the caregiver, the maverick, the wise man, etc.). If you don’t have access to these, try to identify a story hero that your brand is most like, and explain why in terms of what that hero values as important. But know the difference between what they do and why they do it. For example, Superman’s purpose was not to jump tall buildings in a single bound. It was to protect the American way.

5. Get feedback from customers and employees
Ask customers and employees what they think you value most. Oftentimes, they will interpret your purpose based on their experience with yours and competitive brands. You’ll either gain clarity or more reasons why you need to better tell your story. I don’t pretend this is an easy exercise. And it’s not something that can always be discovered in a flash moment. Stay with it until you can see, hear, and feel your brand’s authentic story. Your excavation will be well rewarded.


About Jim Signorelli

Advertising JIM SIGNORELLI has always had a passionate interest in advertising. As a paperboy, he would build his subscriber base by market testing inserts he composed. “If you buy from me, I promise not to throw your paper in the bushes,” won out over, “You need the news, I need the money.” That passion led to a career in advertising that spanned more than thirty years. Learn more about Jim Signorelli at Story Branding