Developing a Brand Story

It’s a crazy, cluttered world out there, especially when it comes to marketing and advertising. There’s more brand pollution now than ever before. With the average consumer being hit by a constant barrage of branding, advertising, messaging and hype, how does a company stand a chance at standing out and connecting with potential consumers?

Theoretically, it’s easy. Just be compelling.

When a company becomes something other than ordinary it suddenly stands out as meaningfully differentiated from others in the same market or industry. And, it’s at that point where an emotional connection is made between the company and their customers. It all happens through a relevant and compelling Brand Story.

Here’s six steps that are extremely useful in developing a compelling brand story.

1) Develop Your Back Story

Back story in fiction writing is a set of events or history invented to lend depth or believability to the main story. In branding it is the background necessary to explain the problem that must be solved for the brand. It includes an thorough assessment of the brand’s past and existing culture as well as problems and opportunities it faces in the marketplace.

“Backstories influence expectations, perceptions and, ultimately, how consumers value a product,” says Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University and the author of New York Times bestselling books, “Predictably Irrational” and “The Upside of Irrationality.”

“Think about the experience of drinking coffee,” Ariely says. “Part of it is the actual smell and the sensation on your tongue, but the other part is what you expect it feels like to drink regular coffee versus . . . coffee that was picked in the mountains of Indonesia.”

2) Create a Brand Persona

Developing a brand persona simply means humanizing it, with a voice and values that come across as genuine and can connect with the consumer.

It’s a highly important step in the process, as brands that successfully take on human like traits are the most revered. People seek them out, become attached to them and assign human personalities to them. After all, brands are like friends, hanging out with them says something about us to the people we know and encounter.

A good example of a company who has successfully created a likable brand persona is Target. Not only has Target clearly distinguished themselves from competitors like Walmart and Kmart by skipping the whole ‘low price’ thing, but they’ve done a great job of incorporating style, design and lifestyle into content. Plus they’ve employed hip, trendy language in everything they do, which has become their friendly, fun brand voice.

3) Develop a Story Brief

A story brief serves the purpose of outlining the entire brand story in ways that promote an empathetic understanding of the brand. It should include story or narrative arc charts, which serve to establish a chronology of the plot or action. This is also the time when you’ll want to develop a strategy around the creative supporting the story and the methods for telling it.  Imagine the story brief as a detailed game plan or internal mission brief.

Here’s a few considerations to keep in mind when developing a story brief:

Tell a real story. Craft your brand story around people and their dreams, not around your products and business challenges or successes. “The best brand stories are irresistible, compelling and provocative,” says Mary van de Wiel, founder, CEO and global brand therapist at “The most memorable brand stories tell the unexpected, speak directly to the heart or dare you to live life to the fullest.”

Keep creative simple. The look of your story should reflect the mood and tone of it, and nothing more. A polished story cluttered by elaborate effects or overwrought imagery will only present a disjointed message.

Serialize your story. Find ways and places to tell the story in glimpses. Keep people coming back to discover more.

Give your story momentum. Make it exciting. Build revelations and twists into what occurs over time. Brand stories come alive for people when they feel they are participating in it.


Mass advertising can help build brands, but authenticity is what makes them last. If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand.” ― Howard Schultz, Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time

5 Tips to Success Using a PR Firm

There’s no real question, a concentrated public relations (PR) effort can benefit any company.  PR not only builds recognition but can increase sales, strengthen customer loyalty and set companies apart from their competitor in crowded and oversaturated markets.

A successfully deployed PR business-building strategy can yield significant and lasting results. “Two of our clients measured [return on investment] from PR and calculated it at $4 in new business to every $1 spent,” says Amy Bermar, president of Corporate Ink in Newton, Mass.

It all sounds great, but a good deal of success lie on the management of the PR agency. Otherwise you can find the focus of the effort shifting to their vision and your company suddenly redefined by their goals and expectations.

Here are a few guidelines that I recommend you consider when hiring a PR firm:

Make Sure There’s a Good Fit

Don’t get sucked in by fancy pitches and exquisitely furnished offices. If they don’t get the essence of your company or understand your market and its challenges, you are in for a wild ride. At the end of the contract you may feel like someone tried to force you into a tutu and turned you into a ballerina. Everything you’ve come to love and believe in your company will be redefined into something you can’t recognize and your budget will be blown.

There are a zillion agencies out there specializing in as many industries. Take the time to find the right one for you. Do your homework and interview carefully. It doesn’t hurt to visit their offices to get a feel for who they are and how they view themselves. And, don’t hesitate asking them to detail specific successes, then ask if you can call those companies for a reference.

It’s probably a good idea to make sure they have accreditation from the industry’s largest association, the Public Relations Society of America. Plus, you’ll want to make sure they have specific and comprehensive journalistic experience. PR is, after all, primarily about dealing with writers, editors and publications.

Finally, ask who in the agency you will be working with. It’s not uncommon to sign a contract with a big, well-known firm only to find you’re working entirely with junior staffers.

Phase in the Fees

Just about every agency is going to want to set up a retainer, and in most cases they’ll want a one-year contract at a minimum.

It will be to your advantage to start on project with a fixed price tag. That’ll allow you to, as the saying goes, date them before marrying them. It provides you with the opportunity to evaluate both the relationship and results.

You can always try the paying for customized services option. This allows you to use the cafeteria approach and only buy what you need/want. For example, you could hire a publicist to write as-needed press releases on an hourly basis.

Here are red flags to watch out for that usually indicate you’re in for trouble and won’t get what you pay for:

  1. A firm promises guaranteed results. Seriously, who can really guarantee anything?
  2. A firm spends too much time doing research. This is an easy way to build up the charges while staying away from the actual doing (where the real results can be measured).
  3. They don’t go into specifics. You should know exactly what is planned and how they intend to make things happen.
  4. You continuously get status reports, but they never seem to show ongoing results.
  5. You find a typo in anything they present to you.

Define and Measure Results

In many cases, agencies will promise a specific number of media placements over a given period of time. Normally it’s over a month. If they don’t, you’ll want to either hammer that into the contract or look for a different firm.

Tell them what you expect, such as:

  • A certain number of column inches, air-time, sound bites or web hits.
  • A feature in an influential journal.
  • An measurable increase in customer awareness of your brand.
  • A specific number of sales leads within a designated timeframe.
  • Invitations for your executives or thought leaders to speak at events or seminars.
  • Specific industry awards.

“Develop a survey before the publicist starts to set a milestone,” says Vince McMorrow at RMD Pubic Relations in Albany, Ohio. “After their work has had a chance to be absorbed by your market, re-survey to find if the needle has moved.” This will allow you to gauge and measure results.

Manage the Process

Managing the firm will be a big part of the overall success. Ask for regular reports, status memos and update presentations. All of them will be happy to send over progress reports but getting them back into your office, or scheduling meet-ups at theirs, forces a deeper back and forth, and allows for a more comprehensive discussion of tactics and results. It’s also smart because it gives you and the firm an opportunity to consider adjustments as you move through your initial strategy.

Be Realistic

And, finally, it is incredibly important to have a realistic outlook for your intended goals. Lea Conner, at Conner Dudley Communications in Spokane, Wash., has the perfect example of a client who lost touch with reality, a self-published author who wanted to appear on TV talk shows to publicize her book. The two agreed to build up to major media over several months by creating marketing materials and having the author gain local media experience. A month later, the author grew impatient, wondering why she hadn’t yet been booked on The View or Oprah. “It’s easy for clients to get so caught up in their own dreams,” Connor says. “They fail to realize the amount of work it takes to achieve major results.”

I hope these guidelines will help you charter the sometimes murky waters of public relations and build a great relationship with the perfect agency.

Happy hunting!

Rebranding Made Easy as Pie!

Of course the title of this post is ridiculous.

Rebranding is never easy. It involves a great deal of planning and strategy, a whole lot of hard work and some fantastic collaboration on a million different levels..

But, having gone through a major brand refresh and several small rebrandings, I have come up with these tips for, at the very least, making it just a little easier.

Define Objectives

The first step is defining drivers and key objectives. That means answering questions like, is this a brand refresh or a brand transformation?

Once you understand your drivers, you can focus more clearly on the objectives and deliverables.

For example, a transformation may included a new company name, logo, positioning, messaging and brand identity, whereas a refresh builds on earlier brand progress. That’s not to say that a refresh is easier. In nearly every case, a refresh is going to have a whole series of challenges built in that cannot simply be ignored and likely includes the creation of an entire brand system and architecture. Many times a refresh is needed because a company has not previously established a systematic approach to brand identity, architecture, or brand management. In that case, a color palette, graphic style,  naming convention and brand personality will need to be either created or changed.

Knowing what you need to accomplish, and clearly establishing that as a focus, will save you a lot of headaches during the next steps and the final implementation.

Determine Approach and Scope

The second key principle is agreeing on how to approach your objectives. What is the scope?  Over what time and at what cost?  Who will make decisions besides the CMO, Vice President or Marketing Director (depending on company organization)?

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SEO Strategy Development – Determining the Target Audience

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the visibility of a website or a web page in search engines via the “natural” or un-paid (“organic” or “algorithmic”) search results. In general, the higher a webpage is ranked on the search engine results page (SERP), and more frequently a site appears, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine’s users. SEO may target different kinds of search, including image, local, video, academic, news and industry-specific vertical search engines.

As an Internet marketing strategy, SEO considers how search engines work, what people search for, the actual search terms or keywords typed into search engines, and which search engines are preferred by their targeted audience. Optimizing a website will most likely entail editing content, HTML and associated coding to both increase its relevance to specific keywords and remove barriers to the indexing activities of search engines. Optimizing also involves incorporating elements from the overall digital marketing strategy to take advantage of social awareness, develop inbound linking strategy, and/or to create topic relevance and authority.

In order to develop a comprehensive SEO strategy, one needs to do a lot of homework, and it isn’t all just keyword research. It’s also extremely important to take time to know and understand a site’s target audience.


Many times SEO consultants or agencies will jump right into Google Analytics or Google Adwords and start throwing together list of keywords without taking the time to either reconfirm or develop a target audience profile. I personally think this is a flawed approach. Understanding a site’s audience is probably one of the most important things that can be done to develop a targeted and successful SEO strategy.

Knowing the audience means not only being able to predict their search patterns, but capitalizing on all of the ways they can be reached through digital marketing. And many of those mediums will need to be optimized for effectiveness as well (i.e., social media, affiliate marketing, online advertising).

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