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How to create a better story for your brand

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In 2011, one of the most popular posts on Retail's BIG Blog was about brand perception: "How to know when your brand needs a heart transplant." Ken Schmidt, of Harley-Davidson fame, walked us through the step-by-step process that the iconic company had gone through to develop the most recognized motorcycle brand in the country. His biggest point: Company executives need to know when to make a change. Brand perception and building an engaging brand story are fundamentals to consumer awareness, engagement and sales. This month, as we've focused on all-things retail marketing, we asked The Creative Company's President Laura Gallagher to explain the core elements of a building a brand, and techniques aspiring retailers should follow from leading brands in the industry. Read on below for her thoughts on best practices for each. 

Laura Gallagher, President, The Creative Company, Inc.

 Why is it so important to understanding your own brand’s story? Never has the story you’re weaving into the marketplace been more important than it is now. As retailers are continually challenged to drive sales through price and promotion, they must remember that the brands that are successful are two-dimensional. As in any relationship, they are not only asking for what they need, they are also explaining why buying into the brand is good for you, the consumer. Are there any companies that are providing a good example of how to tell their brand’s story? How are they doing it? Recently, I heard Angela Ahrendts, CEO from Burberry, speak. Burberry had a rich history, but the brand had become far less relevant to today’s consumers. Over the last six years, she and many others at Burberry have been focused on reigniting the brand. They have listened to the voice of a new generation and put their experienced senior level leadership team to work on building the architecture and implementing the tactics to make it happen. In Burberry’s case, they fully engaged new media to bring people into the brand and they’ve carefully combined their history with their future in a way that is captivating and astonishing. Turning the Titanic takes real effort, and I applaud everyone at Burberry for having the courage to write a better story. Their bottom line reflects the success they are experiencing and should be like a lighthouse to others that is possible and good for business to write a great story. Without the redemptive story line though, it wouldn’t be quite as good, so regardless of where your brand is at this moment, know that turning it is what makes the story worth being a part of, worth investing in. How can a brand begin to build its story? A recent cover for the Harvard Business Review lead with the title, “How Great Companies Think Differently.” The very straightforward answer: “They create value for society, solve the world’s problems, and still make money, too.” What if each one of us put that on our “to do” list for the day? How would that affect our decisions as marketers of the leading brands in America? Brands aren’t islands unto themselves but woven deeply into the fabric of our lives. Most major brands are doing good things in the community, within their niche areas or have causes they are closely aligned with. They are also doing interesting work in terms of innovation, but letting others into the process is the secret sauce. That way, you win together. How does building your brand’s story translate into sales and customer retention? Smart marketers bridge the gap between “we’re doing this and we’re terrific” to “come join us and, together, we’ll solve this problem.” These brands not only let people in, they welcome them in and give them the power to create a better story for the brand. Then the consumer is invested and invested consumers spend. If you look at some of the brands with the best stories – companies like Apple, Nike, Target and Disney - and their related stock value, it is an up and to the right position. If you had one piece of advice for companies looking to build their brands, what would it be? May is marketing month, but your challenge as a marketer is to begin to write a narrative for the brand that will stir hearts, change minds and move people to action for the good of all throughout the year. Harvard Business Review says that, “up to 90% of spending goes to advertising and retail promotions. Yet the single most powerful impetus to buy is often someone else’s advocacy.” How do you get someone to advocate for you? Write a story worth reading and invite your best audience to be a part of it.