Brand stories are not static. As a company grows changes and evolves, it must also ensure that the story it’s telling remains relevant and engaging to audiences. At the same time, B2B brands can’t constantly be reinventing or telling new storiess. Even the most fascinating and viral stories need time to gain a foothold and become ingrained in the minds of customers. Changing too frequently can create an identity crisis – a company that tells stories about anything and everything is one that has no story at all. So when and why should a business start telling a new story? We’ve identified 5 situations in which businesses should re-examine the focus of their brand messaging, that you’ll want to keep in mind:
New Product or Functionality
Adding new functionality can necessitate creating a new brand story. When NetLedger added CRM functionality to its accounting solution, we worked with them to update their message. Up to that point, their story had focused on the virtues of being an online solution. These were the early days of the internet, and very few others, including their main competitor, QuickBooks, were offering web-based (“Cloud” was not a thing back then!) accounting software. NetLedger’s entire message was geared towards the benefits of web-based accounting. When they introduced CRM functionality, suddenly it was no longer a story of accounting. Now they were offering a Suite, that combined BOTH CRM and Accounting. The new message centered on the power of a single, seamlessly integrated solution. Run your entire (small) business on one system was the new mantra, that appealed to a wider audience. The change was so significant they changed the business name from NetLedger to NetSuite, to highlight it. If your business expands its functionality, you may have a similar opportunity to reinvent your value proposition. Your product may now appeal to a different audience, expanding your market. Which leads us to…
New Markets or Customers
As your product expands functionality, it may now have a new target market. Suddenly, the accounting software that was purchased by the Controller now has a new key decision maker. The CEO, CFO or COO may weigh in or be the primary purchaser. Your brand story now must shift to address the needs and concerns of this new audience. What can you do for the new target market, and how does it differ from the previous audience?
A similar change happens when a company that started out serving one particular market or vertical expands to a broader audience. Let’s say you have an AI solution geared to the legal profession. Your story focuses on how you help attorneys make smarter decisions and pore over volumes of documents. Then you adapt its functionality to work for other professional services like Consulting. You need a new brand story to talk about the broader benefits that you offer, one that appeals to both audiences – and possibly additional audiences you plan to serve. Many companies get bogged down in their messaging at this point, believing that they need very separate messages for each audience. While this is true when you are further down the marketing funnel, you still need a message that provides an umbrella statement about your value proposition for the top of the funnel.
Think about that first panel on your home page. You can no longer talk exclusively to one audience or the other. You should make a statement on your homepage that speaks to your company’s broader vision, rather than favoring one segment. Once you’ve expressed the larger value proposition, then you can make a more specific outreach to the individual audiences. But the messages to each segment should be extensions of and variations on the larger theme you’ve articulated at the 30,000 foot level. There should be harmony within your messaging versus messages that confuse your sub-segments or contradict your larger value proposition.
Change in Competitive Environment
When a new competitor enters your market, or an existing competitor repositions themselves, you may find yourself at a competitive disadvantage. Your position and message which once appealed to prospects might now fall flat in light of new alternatives and offerings. Consider the disruption that’s recently happened to providers of office space for small businesses. Regus and others positioned their shared offices as professional, quiet environments that were simple and offered space for individuals or small companies to work. Offices were small, white boxes that barely held a single desk, but offered a way for people to look like they were big businesses with big business addresses. Then came WeWork. They offered great locations, flexible office span that could accommodate growth, incredible amenities and great infrastructure built-in. And they offered a community of other like-minded entrepreneurs who wanted a place to work that wasn’t stuffy and isolated. The game had changed, and now Regus and others are scrambling to reinvent themselves in the WeWork mold. The old brand story about making your small business looked big pales in comparison to WeWork’s story celebrating and cultivating an environment for small businesses.
Lack of Differentiation
When a new business is launched with an innovative solution, simply explaining what the product does is so new and different that it can immediately strike a chord with prospects. They’ve never heard of such a thing, so they remember your company and your name relatively easily once you say what your product does. 18 months later, when there are 3 or 4 companies whose product does what your does, it’s not so exciting or memorable. If you continue talking about yourself by describing your product’s functionality, you are effectively commoditizing yourself. “We do the same thing as other people!” is effectively the brand story you are telling.
We see this all the time. When we show how similar our clients’ positioning is to their competition – that they are essentially making the exact same pitch about what their product does – they often respond, “But ours does it so much better.” Sadly that’s what every one of your competitors claims too. And in a prospect’s eyes, you are all pretty much interchangeable. At this point, the only way you can win their business is in a costly, time-consuming bake-off. Which can devolve very quickly into a price war. Unless that’s what you want, you need to find a new way to intrigue, excite and differentiate your solution, beginning with the story you are telling.
Significant Growth/New Team Members
You start a business and create a message that fits for the time and place when you launch it. The small, original team knows the founder intimately, and understand the founder’s story on which the company was built. But next thing you know, you’re 200+ employees, maybe in cities all over the world. The founder’s story now seems a little outdated, and not as relevant to other countries and cultures. The new team members don’t have the shared experience that the original team members did, so they don’t have the same connection with the old guard. As your business evolves, and your culture evolves, so does your story. The founder’s mythology is still vital, but it should be woven into the fabric of a larger brand story that speaks to the updated vision, the new markets, and new employees of the organization. You don’t have to break with the past, but you should evolve and update.
Our client BlackLine was focused on automating the financial close for accounting departments. They had a charismatic founder who had built the company from the ground up, and didn’t want to lose the connection to the early values of “going above and beyond” for customers. This ethos was still important, but as they grew and matured, they needed to offer a bigger vision of what they stood for. We developed their new positioning around providing a source of truth and trust in the pressure-packed, complexworld of global accounting. “Trust is in the balance” has been their rallying cry since, and has resonated both with employees and prospects and the fundamental value driving their mutual success.
If you’re facing one of these 5 situations, it’s time to take a hard look at the brand story you’re telling. You’re probably ready for a refresh.
Any other situations that necessitate a new brand story? Let us know in the comments.