Almost two weeks ago, I was invited to conduct a creative workshop for Ministry of Commerce's Smart Startup 2018 in Chiangmai, Thailand. With the ultimate goal to inspire entrepreneurs to create, communicate, and deliver value for their businesses, here's the summary of my 3 key takeaways from the workshop, as well as additional examples for the purpose of this article:
When we attend an event full of people or the first lecture on our very first day of college, we naturally search for a familiar face, a friendly smile or someone we can identify with in one way or another (e.g. someone with the same ethnic or professional background, someone our age, a friend of a friend). Duh! It's human nature. This is why an identity is so important for businesses. It helps your brand stand out from the crowd when people are looking for "someone like you" or "someone just like them." It shows people--customers and non-customers--"who you are" even when you are surrounded by the big guys or—at the other end of the spectrum--me-too and lackluster competitors.
First, understand the context (aka story) in which your brand (aka character) exists. The context may be a particular country, region, province, industry, field, system or community in which your brand operates. The context may be a generation of people, a niche or an unmet need your brand serves. Second, understand why you exist in the context. What is your role and contribution? What is your desired impact? Are you a leader of a movement? A rebel against the status quo? A breath of fresh air? A buddy? A helping hand? It's important to not spread yourself too thin and try to be a superhero with too many promises and unrealistic superpowers. Instead, focus on developing and becoming that one identity. Be the "one thing" you set out to be. You want to be "everything in something," not "something in everything." When people hear your brand, you want them to go, "I LOVE IT!" or even "That's not for me," rather than, "Is it the one with...?"
When you are passionate about something, you have a lot to say about it. You may even be so knowledgeable that you can write an entire book or teach a class on a very, very specific topic like saliva (I'm thinking about 23andMe--a saliva-based genetic testing company), feet diseases (I'm thinking about TOMS) or drunk driving (I'm thinking about Mothers Against Drunk Driving or MADD--a non-profit founded by the mother of a victim of drunk driving with a mission, according to its website, to end drunk driving, help fight drugged driving, support the victims of these violent crimes and prevent underage drinking). But just because you have a lot to say, people don't always have the time or the willingness to listen, let alone the ability to understand. Therefore, you have to find a way to keep your message clear and memorable so that--even by driving past your billboard or storefront, stumbling upon your Instagram post or seeing your logo or business card at an event--you immediately catch their attention and hopefully urge them to find out more.
People should be able to feel your attitude through your message even before they hear your lengthy story or see your tangible product. Give people a little something to think about--some food for thought—but not to the extent that they still don't know what you are trying to say after giving it some time and serious thought. "Just Do It" is loud and clear (and memorable) when you sell athletic footwear, apparel, and equipment. When you hear the message, you think of a wide range of words: Focus, action, effort, determination, strength, confidence, and progress. These connotations all enhance the identity of the brand, as well as the identity Nike customers look up to or strive to be. "Just do it" most likely wouldn't work as well at all if it was the message of Uber (just do what? Hail a cab?), AirBnb (just do what? Travel? Book a place? Rent out space?) or Chanel (just do what? Buy a $3,000 bag?). While words like focus, action, determination, and confidence sound great, they may or may not work for your specific brand and the specific context in which it operates. So find your own words--those that capture your attitude and represent your values--and craft your own clear and memorable message. For Chanel, the words may be luxury, legend, femininity, strength (but obviously not the same "strength" as Nike).
What are your words? When you have your authentic words figured out, what is your message to the world?
3. Something unique
Even with a strong brand identity and a BAM! message, brands will be short-lived and lackluster if they don't actually have something unique to offer. If people simply "buy" your product or service, they can also "buy" the exact same thing or a similar offering for cheaper, faster, or even better from your many competitors. If people simply "buy" from you, your brand is vulnerable to external factors and all kinds of unpredictable outcomes. If people "buy into" your "brand," however, you earn their conviction, trust, loyalty, and even respect. People don't necessarily care what they are eating as long as it's Gordon Ramsay cooking it. Fashionistas and global fashion houses don't necessarily care how bizarre or, the opposite, mundane a trend is as long as it is Anna Wintour-approved (or commanded). Any other chef or magazine editor won't have quite the same impact. Those chefs and magazine editors are "somebodies"—they just aren't the "one."
Why do people anticipate and tune in to watch the annual Victoria's Secret Fashion Show every winter? It's not just for the sake of watching girls wear lingeries (there are many other channels for this purpose), watching supermodels on a runway (these supermodels walk on runways for a living so we don't have to wait for winter to see them) or watching a spectacular larger-than-life performance (again, there are many other channels for this purpose). When we watch the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, we feel the excitement, fun, empowerment, and confidence that the brand stands for through every beautiful smile, every Angel wing, every bold movement, and every kiss sent at the end of the runway. We walk into the brand's stores and get the same unique vibe we get when we watch the fashion shows on TV. Other lingerie brands can try to do something similar. They can have a hot pink collection, decorate their products with glitters and diamonds, or be endorsed by a top model, a bombshell, or a superstar. But they can never be the same as Victoria's Secret. People have already bought into Victoria's Secret. When we think of the brand, the "something unique" is so unique to us. When something is so unique about us, other people or brands will simply make a fool of themselves trying to replicate.
Don't just make people "buy" something from you. You will be a desperate salesman or a human loudspeaker of promotional efforts (e.g. Buy 1 Get 1 Free, 50% off, 3 times whiter teeth, pay $100 for extra legroom). Show people the real benefits, not just the features or attributes. Make people feel something and they will come to you.
What people want more of, give them more of it and tell them why. Instead of telling them the complex science behind how an extra ingredient they can't even pronounce will whiten their teeth, tell people this: With whiter teeth, you can smile wider for your next business presentation and win your client's heart from the get-go. Instead of telling people what they have to sacrifice ($100) to get what more of what they want (comfort), tell them: With the extra legroom, you will be more well-rested and relaxed at the end of the flight and can therefore do more and achieve more on your trip. A happier mood and a more productive trip alone are worth more than the extra $100. Start with what more they will get, not what they will have to lose or trade to get it. Make the AFTER images really clear. For example, think about the footage in slow motion of an Olympics runner passing the finish line. The defining moment when all your hard work is finally paid off and you have made yourself, your coach, your family, and your entire country proud. This image can easily be an ad for Nike's Just Do It.
What people want less of, take it away from them and tell them why. For example, many women buy lingerie just because they have to. Because they just have to, they buy for the sake of buying. They will probably go to a good enough brand, with a good enough price, of a good enough quality. But if you can show them that with the right lingerie (from your brand), they will noticeably feel more confident and they can run faster, stand taller, walk gracefully, and wear anything they like on top without fail, they will see the hidden or previously unclear benefit that most lingerie brands overlook. With the right lingerie, women won't look sloppy, hunch their shoulders when they walk, feel bloated or awkward when they sit or stand, or have to worry about how they look because their undergarments don't fit right. When you can paint these BEFORE and AFTER images, undergarments aren't just items. They are solutions for many women's common first-world problems.
It all comes down to 3 things: Who are you? What do you have to say? What do you have to offer? Make sure your responses to these 3 questions are authentic to you, relevant to your specific context and customers, and consistent with each other.