A point of view from Bill Faust, Partner and Chief Strategy Officer

August 18, 2013  

Building Authentic Brands from the Inside Out

Telling a true story

As a discipline, branding has certainly come a long way. Clever messaging, eye-catching images, and perfect packages are everywhere you turn. But too often, these brands and their stories ring false. Why? Because what they say just doesn’t line up with who they are.

Today’s customers are savvy. They’re information rich and time poor, and they can smell something phony a mile away. Your brand’s only hope is to be authentic and tell a true story.

Who are you? What do you stand for? Why does it matter? If you can’t answer these questions, honestly and straightforwardly, then you have some work to do. And that work has to happen from the inside out.

» In getting its core message out to a wider audience, 2Checkout tapped its employees (and even a few customers) to articulate its story. The result is a genuine and compelling portrayal of the company.

Digging deep

The process for getting at your brand’s basic essence may be less scientific and more intuitive than the work you’re used to doing. It requires digging deep where most people look last: your company’s heart and soul. And let’s be clear: you uncover the essence. You don’t manufacture it. An authentic story already exists inside every organization—yours included. Most organizations just aren’t great storytellers.

Now, rest assured: this isn’t a license to ignore customers, competitors, and the like. They are, as always, critically important. But here we’re talking about your company’s ultimate nature, its reason for being. Start by looking inward.

Then, once you can state exactly what you stand for, and start communicating that message, customers will start to opt in. And if your story is authentic and gets delivered consistently, your brand will align with the best kind of customers: loyal ones. In fact, the closer the alignment, the more successful the relationship.

» For the people at Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center, health care isn’t just a job; it’s a calling, rooted in a deep faith tradition. This message inspired a TV spot that also acts as a powerful manifesto.

Looking down the road

There’s one other important piece to the equation: a brand is not just about where you came from, but also where you’re going. Call it the perfect balance of inspiration and aspiration. So how do you manage your authentic story as you move forward?

The strongest brands stay faithful to who they are. To be sure, they correct their course along the way, but these are minor adjustments, always made with an eye on the brand essence. Too many companies lose their way by trying to change too much, too fast—all under the guise of being “market-driven.”

We say: stay relevant, but be yourself. And tell a phenomenal, true story. It’s a surefire way to stand out and build an enduring brand.

» Purdue University’s story traces to its original charter as Indiana’s college for science and engineering. This legacy persists today in a vibrant culture of discovery and creation on campus. These ideas were the genesis of the “Makers All” campaign.