The protagonist’s ambitions drive every story. Their desires are the narrative’s main thrust; the rest is a journey to know whether the hero will get what they want.
It is the same with a brand story. The protagonist, your customer, is looking to fix a problem, and it is the story’s purpose; the rest is about your brand’s role in their journey to achieve what they want.
The first step in building a brand story is identifying your target audience. Next is to determine what they want as it relates to your brand. Unless you identify something your customer wants they will never feel invited to your brand story.
So, build your foundation first. By identifying and talking about the problems your customers face, you succeed in heightening their interest in your products and services. Most brands fail to realize that a customer experiences problems at three levels: External, Internal, and Philosophical. Typically, they try to sell solutions to external issues. If you read the article, Why your brand story must have a three-tier conflict structure, you’ll understand why customers are more likely to engage with a brand when it resolves their internal and philosophical problems.
To create a brand promise that will connect with customers at a primal level and at their deepest points of need, you must understand and address all three levels of problems. It will earn you the loyalty of your customers and create passionate brand evangelists.
You must read the article, How your brand story playbook pages should look like.
Connect your brand story to customers' sense of survival
After defining what its customers want, a brand often fails to connect it with their customer’s sense of survival. As a way to attract as many customers as possible, they define a blurred outline of a desire that is so vague, which leads to confusion among potential customers as to why they require it.
You must read the article, How to cut the noise and clutter to clarify your brand message.
What do we mean by a sense of survival?
We all have the instinct to stay safe, healthy, happy, and strong. To survive, we need economic and social resources to eat, drink, reproduce, and defend ourselves. To which area of survival does your brand belong? Create a sense of urgency in that area; urgency is critical to survival, and you must position yourself in that zone.
Remember, customers are considering your brand because they believe it will fulfill a need they cannot ignore. Therefore, your understanding of their needs must be sharp, clear, and unambiguous. If your brand promise is vague, it will quickly disengage them. Customers want you to tell them what they should aspire to, so if your brand voice is not confident, it’s unlikely they will pay attention. Plus, confused brand messaging damages your credibility and appeal.
How does survival apply to desires?
The brain must design a system that will allow us to physically survive — eat, drink, and move around safely. The first requisite is having a job with a steady income. The brain then worries about safety, which means having a roof over our heads, followed by wanting a sense of power and well-being that prevents us from becoming vulnerable. Our brains then turn their attention to relationships, which include everything from sexual reproduction, and nurturing romantic relationships to forging friendships (a tribe) that will stand by us in the event of social threats. After this stage, the brain becomes more concerned with the deeper psychological, physiological, or spiritual issues.
Let’s look at these examples:
Customers need to conserve resources to survive and thrive. Simply put, this means saving money. You have exploited a survival mechanism if your brand helps customers save money. For example, the US chain Walmart’s promise of consistently low prices is its bedrock. Its tagline ‘Save Money. Live Better’ communicates value and savings, tapping into a basic survival need – the conservation of resources.
Most customers in developed countries have moved beyond the hunter-gatherer survival stage and view time as money. Are your services helping customers enjoy more time with family or to work on other things? Perhaps they would be interested.
Building social networks
If your brand enables customers to find a community connection, you have forged another strong link with their sense of survival. Social ties are critical to lend a sense of comfort and safety. For example, when you bring your coworkers coffee, you are not just being nice; you also ensure you stay connected to a tribe if the bad guys knock on your door. Humans have a strong desire to nurture and be nurtured, another survival mechanism.
Do luxury brands like Mercedes and Rolex make sense in terms of surviving? It seems detrimental to survival to spend a lot of money on a luxury car when a more affordable model would suffice. But this is flawed logic. The truth is, in any tribe, status is a means of survival. If we convey a sense of abundance, we might entice strong allies and ward off potential adversaries. Brands like Rolex, Mercedes, and Louis Vuitton sell an identity associated with strength, prestige, and refinement in addition to selling products.
If your goods and services help people earn money or gather resources, their survival instincts are fortified. Our customers will be able to acquire many of the additional survival supplies they might require with more money. Increased productivity, increased revenue, or decreased waste has a strong correlation with survival and growth in the context of B2B offerings.
The desire to show generosity
The aspirational nature of sacrifice promotes something genuinely redemptive — our desire for others to survive — and protects us from outside criticism, builds trust among our tribe, and so forth. Most people are not Darwinian in their outlook, and we are compassionate and empathetic beings happy to make sacrifices for others. In truth, our interests extend beyond our survival to include others, particularly those who lack the opportunities we have.
The desire for a meaning
Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl was correct to disagree with Sigmund Freud and suggest that a man’s primary desire is meaning rather than pleasure. Frankl made a compelling case in his book Man’s Search for Meaning that when a person’s life lacked meaning, they would most likely be tempted to divert themselves with pleasure.
So, how do we convey a sense of purpose to potential clients? We invite them to participate in something bigger than themselves, like giving customers a chance to be kind, have an issue to support and undertake a heroic struggle against a villain, whether that villain is a natural person or a destructive philosophy.
What is the story question for your customers?
Your brand promise is prepared for the market when it has a distinct and clear tagline for your business that addresses the survival of your customers and conveys a sense of urgency. Your customers’ brains will interpret this message into various survival categories, such as social networks, status, an innate desire to show generosity and kindness, the chance to acquire resources, and the search for deeper meaning.
In business, we diminish if we don’t communicate clearly. To engage our audience, we need to define their desires. Customers want to know where you can take them; they will unlikely listen unless you give them something they want.
Consider that your client is a hitchhiker. When you stop to offer him a ride, his one and only thought is, “Where are you going?” However, as he draws near, you roll down the window and begin chatting about your mission statement, the fact that your grandfather built the car from scratch, or the fact that your road trip music is exclusively the 1980s alternative. This person doesn’t care. All he wants is to arrive in San Francisco wearing a flower in his hair.
The goal of branding is that every prospective customer should be able to identify your brand and know where you want to take them: to a five-star resort where they can unwind, develop into the charismatic leader everyone admires, or save money and live better.
Would a prospective customer be able to respond if you asked them at random where your brand wants to take them? Could they precisely recite what your company offers to them? If not, confusion is costing your brand money. This can be fixed. If you define a desire for your audience and tie it to their sense of survival, the story you’re inviting them into will have a powerful hook.
You must read the article, Does your brand story address the question: What’s at stake?
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