Which Came First — The Product Or The Story?
Every brand has a story — something that inspired the creation of a product or service. Or is it the other way around?
In my 20+ years of marketing communications experience, I love uncovering the story behind the story. It's probably my innate journalistic tendencies at work, but it fascinates me to learn what inspired an entrepreneur to do what he does. What put him on his path? Exactly why did he create this widget? What need did he experience to design a special service?
When you uncover the brand story, it's better than gold. And it sells every time.
And then you have the other side of the coin. The companies that design a product or service for whatever reason and then expect the marketing folks to come up with a great story...like that'll ever ring true. Maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars of advertising put behind the product will help it sell, but when a brand story is authentic, it truly works like magic if you get it out there.
Somewhere between the authentic and the fake brand story is the one I'll call the hidden story...the entrepreneur who has the fantastic story that will resonate with customers and yet he's unwilling to tell it. He purposely plays it down, takes the personal history out of it — and any shred of authenticity — until he's left with a flat, dull, boring narrative because it doesn't even qualify as a story anymore.
I've actually just experienced this with a client. He had the most amazing story — I'm talking service to Presidents and VIPs — and yet he's unwilling to tell it. After years of serving one master, he's now out on his own and venturing into business and yet he will not own his back story. A story that will make customers pursue him for business. A story that will make very important people want him on their team — which is exactly the business he wants to be in.
And so the watered down, filtered, limp narrative is falling flat. And my client tells me I'm not meeting his vision. My content is not jumping off the page. Yet he refuses to discuss what's missing, what he is not seeing, what he wants on the page, or how he envisions his brand being positioned. He refuses to articulate anything beyond sending emails saying "this is not my vision." Somehow we're not communicating what he does to his target audience — when absolutely every word of his service offerings is right there in black and white.
What's really missing is the story. The tidbits of his life that will grab and engage his target customers. The story he doesn't really want to tell. He's a shy, unassuming individual and he doesn't want the well-deserved glory that comes with the magnificent career he has had. And so we skirt around the story and end up creating a muddled tale that doesn't resonate. He doesn't want to embrace his story or own it in any authentic way. We've since decided to part ways and that's okay. If he doesn't want to tell his story, he doesn't have to. But he's sitting on better than gold, and it's an unbelievable shame. When you don't want to tell your real story or believe a product or service can thrive without any story, there's not much I can do as I'm in the business of brand storytelling.
What's YOUR story? If it led you to create something new, different, better in your industry, tell it and tell it well. The best possible scenario is when the story comes before the egg.... If you've got the product first and then you need to focus on hatching a story around it, well, you know, nature doesn't really work that way.