Josh Ritchie is a Column Five and Visage co-founder and the co-author of “Infographics: The Power of Visual Storytelling.”
Because, people care more about your culture than you think.
Terrence Deal and Allan Kennedy, early experts on corporate culture, say that “culture lives in the way things get done.” I love this thinking, and it’s baked into my definition of culture: the sum contributions – including the mission, vision, and values — of everyone who’s helped build and continues to build a company. Culture, when channeled through content marketing, is articulated as “brand” (designer speak), or “brand storytelling” (marketer speak). This is the part of content marketing that is interesting to me, and also why I think content marketing matters. Today’s companies have an unprecedented opportunity to develop a dialogue with their customers through their websites, blogs, email newsletters, and social media, which really is significant, if you think about it. Companies can literally publish whatever content they want, at will, and shape the conversation. With this type of opportunity, you might as well make the most of it, right? Right.
So, why should you care about brand storytelling?
Brand storytelling lets you stand out in a crowded marketplace and compete on value.
The most integral elements of your brand’s story—how you came to be, grow, learn to do good work or build good products, and choose what you stand for—are more interesting to other people than you think. Trust me: I’ve been talking to brands for years about this stuff, and it’s never boring to get a real sense of who I’m working with and why they do what they do. Likewise, I love when people ask about how we started Column Five. It’s exciting to get to share our story and talk about what we’re continuing to build. (It’s certainly been a whirlwind, not without its ups and downs.)
Conventional wisdom suggests there are two ways to compete as a business: price and value. Competing on price doesn’t just sound awful; it’s a race most brands can’t run forever, even if they wanted to. In most industries (brain surgery and rocket ships excluded), there’s always someone younger, scrappier, with a leaner team, who can afford to charge less for something similar to what you offer. Does it matter if their offering’s isn’t quite as good? Nope. Unless you scale like Amazon, it’s a race to the bottom—even if it’s a slow slog.
Competing on value, on the other hand, really is all about using your values to compete. It’s about finding ways to showcase your values and other culture elements as a competitive advantage. If you do it well, the pressure to continually low-ball your competitors’ pricing should decrease. By increasing your focus on your culture, you’re putting your values at the forefront of your business discussions and giving your customers an open invitation to decide for themselves if what you’re building is something they want to be a part of.
Every brand has a story; tell yours with purpose.
We live in an increasingly transparent world. Whether it’s clients, employees, or vendors, people expect to know what companies stand for, what they’re passionate about, as well as what they’ll put up with. This is, for better or worse, a by product of the Internet age, and if anything, more information about companies will be available (Glassdoor anyone?) in the future. That’s why it’s much better to develop your brand’s story by design (personally, and with intent) rather than by default (whatever the Internet conjures up). I don’t know about you, but I’d rather say who I am and what I stand for than leave it up to others’ imaginations.
At Column Five, we’re fortunate to rarely need to seek out new customers or employees, and I’m consistently blown away by the opportunities we attract because of the content found on our website and the interactions people have with our staff. In every pitch deck we create, we make sure to share to spell out our core values, to give potential clients as sense of what kind of people they’d be working with if they choose our proposal. Even job applicants can tell what we stand for and why they’re applying to work with us. It makes our leadership team’s job easier, allowing us to grow our agency with like-minded individuals. It also lessens the risk of bringing in someone who’s going to detract from what we’re trying to build.
How companies conduct themselves will become the defining characteristics of their supporters in the near future. Several years ago, Jason, Ross and I decided not to work with brands whose values contend with ours. Since making that decision, we’ve been asked to work on presidential campaigns and with countless less-than-savory organizations that we don’t believe in. Each time, the decision to say “no” was relatively easy. As a result, we’ve been able to avoid any potential experiences that we didn’t want to be part of our brand story,which is something we take pride in— and for good reason.
What’s interesting is that this type of thinking isn’t yet shared throughout the business world, and not everyone who’s starting to catch wind of this thinking is actually walking the walk. As a company founder and as a marketer, this is where I want to continue to grow and encourage others to do the same. To quote my friend Dan Martell, “Authority isn’t bestowed to the entrepreneur with the best message, but the entrepreneur most willing to express it.” If you have both an awesome story and the willingness to tell it, then congrats, you’re in better shape than most. Now it’s time to find ways to proactively get your story out there, by your own design.
Brand storytelling gives people an opportunity to connect.
The whole point of standing out and owning your story is so people can connect with you, your team, and your culture. Working the last 8 years in the world of content marketing, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that our team consistently operates on a whole new level when they believe in what they’re doing, and feel a connection to it. It’s simple: People want to work with people they respect, with brands they can connect with, and in support of causes they believe in.
Like rocket fuel for good work, they push themselves further because they’re engaged—and that’s a byproduct of connecting on a values level. Conversely, if people aren’t on board with the purpose behind whatever they’re working on, this type of connection cannot exist. Remember when Dwight Howard was on the Lakers? It’s kind of like that.
In short, connection leads to engagement, which leads to activation. When people are activated, they actively seek out opportunities to join in and help tell your story—through their unique expressions, which is the really exciting part. And this leads to increased business through referrals, attracting additional like-minded talent, gaining press attention, and more. Depending on your threshold for buzzwords, these activated individuals are what we marketers refer to as “net referrers” or “brand evangelists.” These guys and gals are the holy grail of marketing.
Tl;dr, brand storytelling allows you to create a dialogue and establish a connection. Audiences want to feel a connection to brands and the people behind the brands, but many tend to focus their content marketing on product features, and showcasing their expertise—missing an important opportunity to humanize what they’re dedicating a big chunk of their life and time to building. If you want to build a strong and loyal community,including customers, who believe in your brand and want to be a part of what you are doing, you need to get personal.
And please note: I am not not that accomplished when it comes to doing this well. I usually prefer to let our work speak for itself. But I’m starting to realize that the more we talk about our culture, the more it tends to engage our audiences:new and existing customers, other agencies, and potential hires. As I begin to tell more of Column Five’s story in more public forums myself, I want to help others understand the importance of sharing this type of content for their own companies, too.
This post originally appeared on Column Five.