Brand ideals

Express your truth

2017.11.27 PSS blog image - Express your truth.jpg

Surely you’re over being told that. I am and can’t really believe I’m about to write about it, but I’ll tell you why I’m going to to do just that … it’s because the easiest and hands-down most effective way to create content, and content that actually engages people, is to find your truth, and then practice expressing it.

I know, I see you with the eye-rolling after reading that first paragraph, and no doubt I’ve lost some of you by now, but I wouldn’t be writing it if I didn’t think it was true and worth thinking about.

On one hand, it sounds so easy and basic, there’s a tendency to ignore it. Like, yeah, yeah, got it. Yep, heard that, already know it, read it before, 10,000 times in fact, and have definitely earned the right to now ignore it. 

Yes, that was me too. It makes so much sense, it’s easy to trivialise and disregard. I do it too, and yet, as a content creator for my own brand and others, it’s something I’m starting to realise is more of a fundamental content creation skill (and being a proper human being online skill) than just a throw-away, woo-woo, content fodder line.

Because actually doing it can be surprisingly tricky. I mean for a start, you have to know what your “truth” is, right? And even if you know that, why does it matter to anyone else anyway? Besides, on top of everything else, it then takes courage and guts to express that stuff, doesn’t it?

But here’s the thing; it’s not actually all that hard, but it does take practice and it does make content a lot easier to produce and a lot more engaging. In fact, in that way, it’s a lot like the effects of meditation on life.

On the surface meditating, that is, in essence, not thinking, or letting thoughts go without getting ‘involved’, is both extremely simple, and yet something that takes a lot of practice to master. It’s worth it though because even if you’re not that great at it (who’s judging anyway except for you?!), the practice itself is good for you. Just practicing it makes you feel better.

It’s the same thing with your truth and the content that expresses that - it takes practice, but the practice itself is good for you. It’s not an end-game thing, it’s the journey. And when you practice expressing your truth, you’ll get better and better and expressing it, whatever the subject at hand is.

The truth is that we’re communicating and connecting more often and with a far more diverse variety of people than ever before because of the channels and conduits available to us. Therefore we’re all having to evolve so that we can work out what’s relevant to us and what’s not. With so much choice and so much information, so much content, the way we’re getting really good at coping with it all is by finding what really lights us up, resonates and connects deeply. We look for something personal, we want real people, real connection.

Information is gigantuous, overwhelming - it’s too much and at the same time, not enough. We need to step back into our human instincts to make sense of it all, to filter what we’ll take in and what we’ll ignore. And our instincts are emotional. We sum people up on gut feelings, in the blink of an eye, and we do the same with content and information.

Your truth, who you really are, and what’s actually important to you is the way you connect with people. It’s in the subtle things you say and nuances in how you say them. It’s the stuff that lights you up. It’s the things that don’t change no matter who you’re talking to, what business you’re in or why you’re creating content. It’s also in the things that make you stand out, the things that are truly unique, and the things that can never be copied.

Yes, it does take some practice, no, actually, it’s an ongoing practice, like meditation, but one that benefits you unquestionably and one that allows other to connect with your meaningfully, which is, after all, the point of creating content in the first place.

Ok, I hear you say, that all sounds well and good, but how does one actually practice expressing said truth in one’s said content?
 
Here’s an idea - try this;

For the next 2 weeks, create one piece of content every day that’s purely based on expressing your truth, in whatever form that may take.
You don’t have to publish it, or do anything with it at all, just do it.
Make it, say it, write it, record it, paint it, design it - whatever it is, just do it as if no one else will ever see it. Complete freedom, complete privacy.
Just you, what you care about and how you feel like expressing it.

Do this once a day for 2 weeks and see what comes up. Write it in a journal, in Evernote, record your voice, or a video, create draft posts in Facebook or your blog - whatever, just allow yourself to create without constraint. See how it feels, see what comes up - be open and brave and remember that no one’s watching so go for it.

This should be a very revealing and inspiring exercise. You may end up with a heap of content that’s perfect as it is and ready to use. You may end up with recurring themes and ideas that you hadn’t noticed before. You may find that it was the easiest and the best content you’ve ever produced and be wondering why you haven’t done this before. You may even have revealed a slightly new path, opportunity or passion that’s been dying to be given wings.

Go on, try it - what have you got to lose?
Nothing, but you just might come across some well-deserved and really valuable insight.

So if you’re keen to do this and want daily prompts within a community of people doing the same, join the Not Rocket Science Facebook group. No one’s going to make you post your stuff, but it can be really inspiring seeing what comes up for other people on a similar journey.

Also, if you think you might need a bit of a kick-starter for thinking about your truth and your mission, you can download the ‘What’s your mission anyway?’ workbook here.

You can also download my flagship content framework right here. It's a simple visual PDF that shows how to start with your mission, create flagship pieces, align your other and link it all together to create that journey and experience for your audience. ... and it's kinda pretty so you can stick it up where you can see it when you're creating to keep you on track :)

For more about what to write or say, the Stuck For Words blog post gives some suggestions for getting unstuck, and Say What You Want to Say is more riffing along the same tune.


Thanks to Neven Krcmarek for the photo via Unsplash.

How your brand story helps define your audience

Maya Angelou said that there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. Sometimes we don’t even know what those stories are until we start telling them, but a pretty cool kind of magic happens when we start engaging our imagination in story.

 

My friend called me out of the blue the other day. “I’ve got this idea for my business”, she said, “What do you think?” … And what ensued was about an hour-long call during which we crafted a story. A story that came from an idea, was questioned, teased out, explained and injected with the wide-eyed wonder of “What if …”

 

“What if …”, comes from the space of creative imagining. It’s a juicy alternative to the "What IS…” question, which is often what we ask, and which often gets us stuck, when we’re trying to think of business ideas and solutions. We get the idea, the creativity happens, we get all inspired imagining the possibilities … and then we stop imagining, become robotic and serious (AKA clever and astute business people), and start trying to nail down the characteristics of the ‘target’.

 

And sure, I know it has to be done and I completely understand the value in doing it. Knowing your audience is critical so it’s worth getting right. You absolutely need to, no question. But I also see how dry and ineffective addressing questions about the problem you’re solving, the profile of a person with this problem and why they’d choose you to solve it can get. Ironically, the ‘personality’ you’re trying to paint and bring to life through this questioning is at grave risk of becoming, well, rather lifeless and one-dimensional.

 

When you’re imagining and wondering “what if …”, you're naturally thinking in terms of story, a good story. Unconstrained by what’s plausible and measurable and even realistic, your values and desires start to show up all by themselves and if this is a story you’re creating with another person, then all sorts of good starts bouncing around between you. What’s happening is that you’re engaging imagination with inner values, and that stirs up emotion. Once you’ve got the emotion happening, you’re starting to tell a pretty compelling story. It’s believable because it’s got a bit of heart in it and humans connect with their hearts, not business analysis.

 

And keep talking! Now that you’re in there, telling that story, seeing the vision, try asking one of those targeting questions. Now try asking what problem your product or service is trying to solve. How does your answer sound now? Long? Detailed? Passionate? And what about describing the person who experiences this problem? What are they like? Who are they? What does the problem look like and how does your brand show up for them? When you’re in the story, these questions take on a whole new dimension. Your answers are juicy and ripe and full of the thing that’s going to allow you to stand out - heart.

 

Knowing your brand ideals and enveloping them in a brand story emblazoned with detail starts with imagining that story. Wondering “What IF …”, rather than asking “What IS …” can unlock the heart in an idea and craft a story that really comes alive. A story that makes it easy to pin-point your target audience because you’ve allowed them to become real in that story. And when the story’s real with real characters and real heart, that’s when you’ve got the seed of potential for real connection and serving your audience with outstanding usefulness and personality. 

Photo credit: Image by johnhain via pixabay

Brand story - not just for your customers, but a road map to success through consistency

Developing your brand ideals and crafting those into a solid brand story isn’t just something the marketing department does to connect with customers. It’s an underlying fundamental encapsulation of guiding principles that inform every decision you make, every direction you choose and every message you craft. Before it’s an outward story, it’s an internal one.

 

The most successful brands are genuinely loved by their loyal followers and are instantly recognised by those who’ve not yet engaged with the brand. These brands represent things to us that are not specifically articulated, but we come to associate certain thoughts, feelings, associations and expectations every time we experience them. This happens over time because the messages and the way we experience these brands, every time we come in contact with them, is consistent. A brand can’t claim that valuable real estate in the minds of their customers and audience without consistent messaging and although that’s a lot harder than it sounds, your brand ideals and a strong brand story is your knight in shining armour.

 

Imagine having a set of ideals, beautifully articulated and represented in ways that are accessible to everyone in the organisation on an every day basis. Imagine having the kind of culture where things could be that simple and that inspiring, because feeling part of something, understanding what our mission is and feeling confident in making decisions IS inspiring. In many ways it’s starting from the inside with how you want your brand to show up on the outside, and when you can harness those ideals and that story, there are many, many benefits beyond just ‘marketing’ a great brand story.

 

Here are just a few of the practical benefits that can flow from nailing your brand ideals and making them real in your business;

 

  • Certainly referring to your brand ideals and your story, but going beyond that into internalising them, guides you in making the best decisions for your business when there are so many competing options with differing benefits. Your ideals and story are unique so measuring your options in terms of how well they align goes a long way in embedding that culture and feeding that story.

 

  • Living your brand ideals and story keeps your message consistent. Whether they’re encapsulated in a few poignant words emblazoned on the wall, or a recurring whisper in your subconscious, contributing consistently to that story is critical in developing a strong brand.

 

  • Embedding those ideals into your brand culture gives your employees an ideal to believe in and something tangible to be guided by. Everyone who represents that brand contributes to its story so be clear about what that story is and therefore how their contribution fits.

 

  • Brand ideals and story together form a lighthouse that allows for excellent planning and scheduling - knowing the principles that underlie the story and the direction you want it to take means you can much more confidently map out a meaningful and reliable path for getting there.

 

  • Being part of a story inspires greater creativity - clear direction coupled with strong ideals, can be just the right amount of constraint to get those creative minds to flourish. Even the most creative of creatives need some kind of direction and reason to hone their talents and make their work more meaningful.

 

  • A strong brand story that encapsulates your ideals enables you to more easily, accurately and confidently identify peers and affiliates with whom to form alliances and synergies based on shared values and complimentary core beliefs. Not all competition is created equally, and strong, intelligent and meaningful alliances can help your brand achieve more than it could on its own. Imagine merging tribes with similar ideals and aligned stories.

 

  • It’s not just your employees that contribute to your brand story - your customers do too and in fact are probably the most pivotal contributors. Continuing the evolution of that story through the input and contributions of your customers is the thing that gives them something real to connect and grow with. It’s not just about a brand and a brand story, it’s a story about them, something they’re part of and something they believe in.

 

  • Leadership is underpinned by strong ideals. Your ideals crafted into a bespoke brand story is the secret sauce that enables you to be less reactive to your competition and gives you a framework for market leadership. Reacting to and following the pack might ensure your survival, but true potential is realised only when your brand is able to map its own path.

 

Brand story is more than just a marketing tool and your ideals are more than just a box to be checked during strategic planning sessions. Together they form the foundation for greatness, for leadership, belonging, for doing things that matter. They can and definitely should go beyond the  conceptual and be harnessed as the most practical and valuable tool your business can invest in.

Don’t just ‘refer’ to your ideals and your brand story - make it your culture. Let those ideals be so ingrained, so integral, so normal in everyone who represents that brand, that they come through in everything everybody does. Incorporate and infuse those ideals into every aspect of your brand and let that story come alive, evolve and grow as a living, breathing organism. Then, and only then, will you have on your hands, a brand that will be impossible to ignore. 

Your brand story is not for everyone

Within every brand story are its core benefits, beliefs and values. The story begins with these, they’re its foundation, at the heart of the matter and they represent the core of why a brand exists. The reason developing that story is critical in developing a brand that people want to engage with and which they will come to love is all about the things that make us human. Truly loved brands are those that go beyond doing and making stuff to doing stuff that matters to people and making them feel good about having that brand in their lives.

 

When you first start thinking about your brand’s values, beliefs and ideals, it can be daunting and confusing. It’s not something that’s going to bring any benefit if done superficially, you have to go deep. Going deep and getting real about why it is you do your thing and why it’s important people know about your thing and the message you’re bringing to the world is sometimes confronting for people. It feels hard to think about something that deeply, but stick with it. Take the time and the effort and keep at it until you start some momentum because once you get some flow, once you start hitting on the things that really matter to you, it gets much easier and you know you’re getting there.

 

The reason it starts to feel much easier is because you’re starting to touch on core values and ideals that resonate and reflect your own values and ideals. Your business doesn’t have to have the same core values as you do personally, but they will and should resonate with and reflect your own. When you start to feel that, you’re onto something you genuinely care about and the reason this is important to distill is because these are the things that other people will resonate with and care about. It’s that human connection and reflection of values that’s at the heart of every really outstanding and truly loved brand.

 

The reason you have to take the time and energy into drawing out your brand ideals is of course because it’s the thing that people connect and identify with, but that won’t be possible unless you’re able to communicate those values and ideals in a way that people understand and resonate with. It’s no good to create a heart-drenched mission with your values and ideals meticulously set out if no one knows about it. That’s why you have to turn that mission into a story and that story becomes your map, your guide, your beacon and your message in every single thing you do. Your brand story is what wraps up your brand values and ideals and gives them to your customers and clients in a way that connects with and reflects their values and ideals.

 

Your brand story, therefore, is not for everyone. Not everyone will understand, connect with and resonate with that story and that’s ok because it’s not about pleasing the masses. What it is about is being crystal clear, stoically true and utterly committed to the ideals that underpin the very existence of your brand, your business. That’s the human thing about business and the only thing that makes business real; human relationships. Being authentic and solid in who you are doesn’t attract or please everyone; not everyone will like it and in fact, many won’t like it at all. But what it can do is initiate the potential for deep connection, engagement, loyalty and trust based on shared values. 

Photo credit: Image by tsg1 via pixabay

Brand ideals: no longer a touchy-feely "option"

I was talking to a good friend of mine today, about all sorts of things, it’d been a while, but our conversation eventually came around to social media. She LOVES social media and even admitted to what sounds like a slight addiction and ‘sneakily checking her phone behind the cereal box’ … you know who you are my friend, but I don’t stand in judgement and neither will I tell a soul, promise. The truth is actually she’s definitely not alone and I’m sure many could, and would, relate if they were as candid and honest as my friend.

 

The really interesting thing to me about the magnetism of social media were her reasons. She said she was drawn to the multitudes of interesting people doing good and interesting things in the world. People who stand for things that matter, people who are starting movements, people who are making a difference in their own and other people’s lives in many different ways. She described how inspired she felt to see the stories of these people in her news feeds and how she felt that social media gave her a way of surrounding herself with people who inspired and lifted her with the missions they’re on and the stories they tell. How it’s given ordinary people a vehicle for their voice, their message, and in doing so have allowed others to connect, identify and resonate with, and in, their own voices.

 

Of course there’s a lot of opportunity to see just as much negativity no doubt, but our current ability to choose who to read, who to follow and what, and who, you wish to be influenced by is unprecedented. And that’s a really important point - with the opening of communication channels, greater accessibility and connectivity, I believe people are, collectively, becoming a lot more aware of the many different voices, opinions and view points that the world is made up of. Awareness is core to identifying our own ideals and we’re naturally drawn to people and organisations that reflect those ideals back to us. When my friend feels inspired by the people she wants to surround herself with, via social media, or in person, or any in other way, she’s feeling like that because she resonates with the ideals they’re espousing and she therefore feels connected to them. She feels connected to them because they’re acting as a conduit, in a way, and a mirror for her own ideals.

 

Once upon a time, but not all that long ago, marketing students were taught the 4 P’s of marketing - I was, and actually I wouldn’t mind betting that even if you’ve never studied marketing formally, you’ve probably come across the 4 P’s in one form or another. Price, product, placement and promotion. So if I were to turn this story into one about marketing and branding, as I always do, then where exactly do you think ideals would feature amongst those 4 pillars?

 

Tricky huh. I guess you could argue that all 4 must cohesively and consistently communicate a brand's ideals, but it’s still pretty, well, you know, clinical maybe, isn’t it? Perhaps that’s because ideals would be better accounted for in the 5th P - People. The one they don’t teach you in business school. However, without people there is no business because every business is about relationships with people. People connecting with one another for some shared reason. Possibly, and more commonly now, as my friend describes, over shared ideals. If this is the way people are communicating and connecting with one another, then how can business be separate, different, play with another set of rules, when business IS people?

 

When you think of it like that, ideals become really important. Not just to have brand ideals, that is, for your business to be on a mission to bring higher order benefits, beliefs and values to the world, but to be able to communicate those ideals in a way that people that understand and connect with. We accept that the best performing brands in the world have strong brand ideals, a bigger purpose or mission, but part of their mission is also to meaningfully communicate those ideals in everything they do. The more consistent they are in delivering that message, the stronger the message is and the greater the connection.

 

The 4 P’s is, or was, all about mass marketing, but it’s different now. Mass marketing was about things and stuff and volume and the masses, but now we’re more about connection marketing. It’s about how we feel, how we connect and how we tell and identify with a story. Brand ideals are no longer a ‘touchy-feely’ option and neither is the crafting of a solid brand story and brilliant strategy to communicate that story.  Brand story is the key to communicating ideals in a way that reflects what people are already genuinely feeling and caring about. It’s more than product, price, placement and promotion - it’s about people, our need to connect and have our values reflected back to us. 

Disclaimer and note: For the picky ones amongst you, me being one myself, please note that I realise the image more accurately represents brand attributes than ideals, but hey, I was pushed for time and I think you'll get my gist :-) Forgive?

Photo credit: Image by johnhain via pixabay