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Book Club: ‘Story Driven’ – Bernadette Jiwa

So we’re back with another book review and this time it’s a little book called ‘Story Driven‘ by Bernadette Jiwa.

I’m not sure how I came across this book. If I’m honest, I think it was probably just that it was reasonably cheap on Amazon and came with a recommendation from Seth Godin, so the thinking was: win, win! And, you may have seen that it’s provided the inspiration for a few blogs already and so for that, it’s been well worth the money.


In the book, Jiwa explains how so frequently we are conditioned to play to win, but that those businesses and individuals that we admire and respect play to a different set of rules. They are driven by a strong sense of identity, where rather than focusing on how to differentiate themselves from the competition or ‘obsess over telling the right story’, they focus solely on their truths. Telling the real story is what matters.

The book itself tells you most of what you need to know in the first couple of chapters, and there’s no denying the value in what Jiwa offers up. What follows though, is a vast number of short ‘case studies’ on what she calls ‘story-driven’ companies doing things the right way. In the interest of being completely transparent: it drags and contains far too many examples to leave a lasting impact and so I skipped about half of them… But, the real gem of the book is in the last chapter so make sure you persevere to the end.

Anyway, my takeaways:

Don’t be like VW

Almost the entire first part of the book revolves around the Volkswagen scandal of a few years back and how it was their drive simply to ‘win’ that led them there. I’ve written about this more extensively in my post ‘Pursue meaning not more‘. Instead, Jiwa suggests that those who are driven by a story and sticking to their truth, are less likely to create a culture where good people do bad things.

Don’t read this book if you think VW has nothing to be ashamed of. Or rather, do – you’ll soon change your mind.

Align story with strategy

This is something I’ve banged on about a couple of times already. So let’s be clear:

You. Have. To. Back. Up. What. You. Say. About. Yourself. With. Actions.

Jiwa does a great job of explaining that often brands start out with a grand vision for the future, but without a plan to make it a reality, it can be easy to focus on succeeding in the present and taking your eye off the long-term goal. Having a strategy that aligns to your backstory and the future you’re looking to build, is the way you’re going deliver. Your strategy is your ‘how’ – the stepping stones to achieving your vision. Make sure they are aligned or you risk failure.

(pp. 69-71)

Invest in yourself

This is the gem.

It has nothing really to do with branding, and everything to do with your own personal story. The whole chapter is excellent and beautifully-written. I can’t quote it all but it feels particularly relevant. I’m just going to quote part of it here, so if you take nothing else from ‘Story Driven‘, remember this:

“We spend a lot of time looking at our reflection […] to wonder how our appearance will be perceived and what we need to do to perfect it. Our days are consumed with measuring up in all kinds of arbitrary, superficial, ungrounded ways. What would happen if we spent as much time reflecting – wondering about and working on the inside, nurturing the things that make us who we are?”

And while we’re here, there’s also this zinger:

“Exceptional performance is not a result of expending the most effort. The secret to being exceptional is the small choices we make moment-to-moment.”

Sorry it’s a bit of a lengthy one!

Sam

‘Go play football’

In football, it’s well known that a manager’s philosophy has a big impact on the success of a team.

Asking a team of individuals to pull on the same coloured jersey and just ‘go play football’ without any direction – an idea of how, why or what’s expected of them – rarely works.

This past season, Liverpool and Manchester City were the embodiment of teams that all gathered round a single footballing ideology and went on to dominate, while gaining mass recognition for the way they played.

From performance on the pitch, to transfer strategy, the training ground and commercial teams, the best football clubs create a culture around a single unifying idea. Everyone inside knows what it is, everyone knows how they fit in and what they have to do. It just works.

Why is business any different? What’s your single unifying idea?

Why bother with a brand?

It makes things easier to sell.

You might have something niche that on its own isn’t easy to shift. A brand with a story, that makes the effort to connect with the humans who are willing to listen, turns your niche product into the complete package.

You might have something everyone wants to buy. Great, but if it’s that good someone else is going to come after your business sooner or later. A brand with heart and soul, that matters to those who buy it and represents more than the sum of its parts will protect your business when you need it.

Rather than saying ‘I’ve made something, do you want to buy it?’, you have the choice to create a brand. You do that by telling your story effectively and building trust with your audience. That way, when you show up with your new shiny thing, people are already ready to do business with you.

So, why bother with a brand? Because it makes things easier to sell.

Get it right, and it can even *become* the thing you sell. Easily.

We’re all human

Just over a week ago, Rory Stewart was one of the most talked about politicians in the country. Today, most of you would probably struggle to recognise him in the street. It’s funny how it works – a week’s a long time in politics after all.

During his recent leadership campaign, I wrote about Mr Stewart a couple of times. He did things differently, challenged the norms and said some pretty thought-provoking things, so I make no apologies for that.

But there’s one thing he said that particularly jumped out at me.

To paraphrase him quite heavily:

To rebuild trust between the public and politicians we have to realise that they are just people like us. People with the same flaws, the same errors, the same prejudices; with the same ignorances, the same strengths and the same weaknesses. Not engaged in some grand conspiracy, they just don’t know everything.

Quite a unique thing for a politician to say. Take it however you like, but his point is an interesting one.

It’s easy – whether it’s politicians, business owners, your customers, or people from other cultures – to assume that there’s a fundamental difference between us and them. Somehow your B2B customers are more corporate and serious, while high street shoppers are more impressionable than others, and those running the country are far less competent at their jobs than you are.  It somehow feels easier that way.

The reality is, everyone is a human being, with the same flaws, errors, prejudices, ignorances, strengths, and weaknesses. The more you can remember that, the easier it is to empathise and connect with others on a human level.

Whether you’re an individual or a marketer, *that’s* key to effective communication, no matter the platform.

Sam

Let me explain

I don’t write this blog to try and appear like a high authority on brand strategy. That would be entirely false: I’m not, and you know that full well*. I do it because I have something to share that I’ve found interesting.

This is why context is so important.

Yes, I write semi-regular articles that talk confidently about branding and brand strategy, but I do it within in the context that I’m learning about it; I’ve usually found something interesting, I’ve processed that thought, decided someone else might find it interesting, and then gone about noting it down and publishing it.

Without that context I’d just be making bold claims about something I currently have little experience in and no right to lecture anyone about. I’d open myself up to (justified) criticism.

Context is equally important for brands, too.

A ‘brand story’ is the term you’re looking for: it provides a ‘why’ to your business’s ‘what’. It explains eloquently where you have come from and why, where you wish to go and why, how you wish to do it and why.

Without this context, not only can it be confusing for those outside your organisation to understand fully everything you do and say, but there’s also no internal reference point to make sure you’re continuing your the story the way you set out to.

Write your brand story out and make it public. Let the people who matter hold you accountable: your paying customers.


*It would also be wrong of me not to admit that my intention is to one day be good enough to be a proper authority on branding… See, context: it’s important!

Clearing up ‘brand purpose’

If you’ve never heard of the Cannes Lions festival, I don’t blame you. But, it’s this one week a year in the south of France where the great and the good of advertising and marketing industries get together to pat each other on the back, schmooze, and mull over the big talking points of the business.

This year, almost everyone has been talking about two phrases: ‘brand purpose‘ and ‘woke-washing‘: the manufacturing of a brand ‘purpose’ where it doesn’t really exist, in order to tap into morally-fashionable trends. The whole subject has sparked debate on both sides of the argument.

There are those who seem to believe strongly that creating a brand around a ‘purpose’ is the only thing that matters right now. Consumers care more than ever about what their brands stand for and are willing to go further than ever to avoid giving their cash to a brand they socially or politically disagree with. They have a point.

Then there are those who dismiss it all. It’s a vanity act and a futile pursuit of moral one-upmanship. Not only is it often meaningless (see woke-washing), but it’s not very differentiating if everyone’s doing it, is it? They too have a point.

Here’s my take:

Your bullshit won’t cut it!

If you’ve read anything of mine over the last few weeks you know I’m a believer in standing for something more meaningful than margins and turnover. But, let’s get one thing clear – you’ve got to mean it. Like really believe in it.

Everything you do has to be authentic, not just because consumers are more ‘woke’ than ever and can smell BS a mile away, but because how else are you going to make it work if you don’t truly believe what you’re saying?

If you’re struggling to think of a *thruthful* but meaningful reason that you exist, start by asking yourself “what do we do?” – that be should be easy. Then, ask yourself ‘why?’ as many times as necessary until you feel it in your belly. Verne Harnish recommends going until you reach “to save the world” and then backing up a step or two.

Purpose ≠ Politics

This is really the thing I want to say.

Don’t be drawn into thinking that by having a ‘purpose’ you have to be all holier than thou, or overtly political in your stance on things. For a lot of small businesses, it simply isn’t feasible to risk antagonising your customer base by being overly-vocal on issues that aren’t relevant to your products or services. It’s also not always financially realistic to ‘put your money where your mouth is’ on major cultural issues. But your purpose doesn’t *need* to be that.

Just be authentic

Your purpose can be as simple as being the leading example of exceptional customer service, or to pioneer a new way of working in your industry. It’s could be that you love something so much that your sole aim is to get others enthused about it too. As long as it’s authentic and you truly believe in it, then you’re on to a winner.

No matter what it is, you can find your ‘minimum viable audience’ – those who buy into that same vision – and go on to succeed.

Yes, social injustice, or tackling climate change and inequality are all honourable causes, but let’s not get blinkered about what ‘brand purpose’ actually means.

Sam

Customer Services

For a large number of consumers, Twitter has become the ‘go-to’ for customer service enquiries. Especially complaints. Tweet your grumble at Virgin Trains and someone will get back to you reasonably promptly, usually in a friendly/amusing way, and your complaint gets dealt with just like that. No need to speak to anyone directly and far quicker than writing an email.

But the thing with customer service is, it’s a hell of a lot more than call-centres and Twitter responses.

It’s become fashionable to re-brand your customer services department to ‘customer experiences’. The idea is a noble one, but the responsibility for your customers’ experiences doesn’t lie at the feet of one department.

From your email newsletter to your salespeople’s manners, the speed with which you process invoices and even the things your company does when you think no-one is watching; everything contributes to the ‘customer experience’.

No one area of the business operates in isolation. Someone is always watching.

After all, ‘experience’ is about how you feel: making a customer feel valued at every touchpoint. Allowing them to connect with your vision and purpose every time they see your name mentioned. Every time.

When you’re building a brand – or in old money, your reputation – you can never let your guard down, you can’t have one team member let the side down. Walking the walk is what you do. ‘Customer services’ is everything.

 

People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Maya Angelou

 

Sam