(So, what’s your story? And why should I care?)

Consider this: Your customers are living in a totally different world than they were a year ago. I don’t care what business you are in, your customers have new things to deal with, new ways to make decisions, and new uncertainties in their lives. Their worlds have been reset.

So, what’s your story?

How has your brand story changed?

Have you assessed, with intense scrutiny, how your story needs to evolve to match everything new in your customers’ lives, the new ways they make decisions, the new things they care about, the new ways they behave?

Have you recalibrated your brand story so that it will interest and motivate your customers, with their new perspectives?

Your brand story should be communicated at all points of contact with customers, helping customers form clear, compelling, motivating beliefs about you, which will encourage these customers to be more involved with you. What compels and motivates your customers is different now, so let’s discuss how your brand story needs to change.

I’ll start this discussion with a harsh, but true, point: Your customers don’t care about your story. They care about their own stories. Now, more than ever, it is critical to elevate your branding perspective beyond the “Look at me” chest-beating that characterizes so much of marketing, and focus on a way to make it easy for your customers to bring your brand story into their lives.

“I get it, I want it,
and I can’t get it anywhere else.”

Years (and years) of listening to customers talk about companies, products and brands they love – and those they don’t love so much – has taught me valuable lessons about what creates a powerful, motivating brand story. For a customer to engage in your story and then say to herself, “That is something I want to be more involved with, that is something I want to bring deeper into my life,” your brand story must cross three “hurdles” in your customers’ mind.

These hurdles are, “I get it, I want it, and I can’t get it anywhere else.”

“I get it” means your customer understands, clearly, who you are, what you do, and what purpose you can play in her life.

“I want it” means that she believes you are important to her.

“I can’t get it anywhere else” means that what you do for her can not be duplicated by others.

“I get it, I want it, I can’t get it anywhere else” is my litmus test for a strong brand story. If the story about you in your customer’s mind satisfies these three hurdles, she will invite you into her life, making your story part of her story. (For more on the concept of “I get it, I want it, and I can’t get it anywhere else,” see Chapter 4 in my book, Brand Harmony.)

“I get it.”

In this busy, noisy, confusing world, people are very likely to misunderstand what you do and who you are. People will rush to judgment, assuming they understand what it is you offer, scrutinizing you with incomplete information.

Think clearly: What do we want customers to “get” about us? What do we want them to understand, considering everything thing new they are facing in their lives?

We’ve tackled this “I get it” issue head-on at Yastrow & Company over the last few months, as we’ve recalibrated our business. We want our customers to “get” this: In this time of economic turmoil, we can help you recalibrate the way your company connects with customers, so you can thrive and unleash the latent profit in your business.

I don’t want people to think we’re a marketing firm. That’s too easy to misunderstand. I don’t want them to think of us as a branding firm. That’s only a small part of what we do. I want them to “get” that we can help them be more profitable in these tough economic times through stronger connections with customers.

Remember, A good brand story is easy to get and hard to forget.

“I want it.”

What your customers want now is not what they wanted last year, as the equations that run their lives have changed. New things are important, decisions are made differently, their attention is in different places.

The benefits you touted in the past may not seem so special anymore. Look deep into your relationships with customers to see what it is they really want and need at this time.

Example: Many of my clients who sell business-to-business tell me their customers have become obsessively focused on predictability. People are uncertain about their jobs, what will make them succeed, and how to avoid traps that can lead to failure. They want less uncertainty, less risk, and more protection from the downside. In these cases, I’ve helped my clients recalibrate their brand stories to reflect this, reinforcing things like measurability, stability and reliability.

Another example: Charles Schwab has new ads that have a customer say this: “I have a lot less money, and a lot more questions.”

“I can’t get it anywhere else.”

Everyone is trying to steal your customers. It’s become a buyers’ market, with fewer dollars available to buy an ever-increasing supply of products and services. Deals are rampant, with this week’s offers surpassing last week’s already aggressive promotions.

There are more reasons than ever for a customer to see your offerings as interchangeable with your competitors’, especially if your focus is on price.

As I wrote in a recent newsletter, The Differentiation Ladder, marketing communications and price are the least effective ways to differentiate yourself. Products and services are only marginally more differentiable, I’m sorry to tell you, because your customers are convinced, in most cases, that they can find suitable substitutes for your products and services. Relationships are the best differentiators available to you, and your competitors can’t copy the private relationships you have with customers.

Rethink the kinds of relationships your customers want in this time of economic uncertainty and mayhem.

This requires special focus now, because it’s possible that your customers, dealing with fear and uncertainty, may reflexively back away from relationships. One of my clients told me that he feels like his customers are “demoting us to vendor status.” Don’t let this undermine your relationship-building effort; an insurance agency I consult to has written a record amount of business in the past two months based on the strength of their relationships, including additional business with existing customers and new referral business from those customers.

Your customers need We relationships with you, now more than ever. And, what’s your alternative, slash your prices? As shown in the Differentiation Ladder, a strong We relationship is the best way to get a customer to say, “I can’t get it anywhere else.”

Download The Differentiation Ladder (Adobe PDF)

Recalibrate your brand story

So, don’t rest on the laurels of the clever copy in your brochures, on your website or delivered in your sales pitches. Question everything about your brand story, and be willing to update it to reflect everything new about how your customers think, live, decide and buy.

Recalibrating your brand story works to improve your business. Recently, I collaborated with a client to recalibrate their brand story prior to a trade show. They had a significant number of private meetings set up, and they used the new version of the brand story in their conversations with these prospects. From this one change, they earned their best results ever from this trade show.

Take Notice

With your “customer hat” on, notice if the companies that sell to you have evolved their stories to reflect the way you have changed.

How do you compare?

Has your company recalibrated its brand story to reflect the way your customers have changed? Do you know how your customers have changed.

Try This

List out all of the things that are different about your customers, now relative to a year ago.

  • What do they care about?
  • How do they behave?
  • What do they think about?
  • How do they make purchase decisions?
  • Are they different people?

Next, imagine this new customer raving to a friend or colleague about you, describing how she wants to do more business with you than ever in this time of economic chaos. What would she be saying? How closely would this match what you are currently saying in your sales and marketing efforts?

It’s time to recalibrate all aspects of your business. Focusing on recalibrating your brand story is one of the most critical areas for you to address. Otherwise, your story may be so irrelevant to your customers, in their new lives, that you could lose the hard-earned brand equity and relationship equity you have built up over years.

(Here’s my post today on tompeters.com, also on recalibrating your brand story.)


  • Amanda Cullen
    Mar 25, 2009 - 09:26 am

    The idea of a constantly evolving story is much more accurate than many organization’s thinking of their story as static. How many times do companies, “Build the website” then leave it for five years, or how many non-profits use the same list of donors from last year and beat them to death with entreaties for money? Both of those organizations need a new story.

    You have to have someone great in charge of the story all the times, not just hire someone once every ten years to completely overhaul it.

    During these overhauls, you get abrupt changes that shock both employees and customers alike. Broad declarations like, “Okay! We’re merging Department X with Department Y.” or “Electrasol is now known as Finish (even though it’s been Electrasol forever)” are disorienting for the recipient.

    If you can evolve these stories instead, you would achieve much more fluid changes that would make sense to everyone.

  • Andy Thorp
    Mar 26, 2009 - 17:08 pm

    I understand the argument that’s everthing is different now. The balls are all up in the air and we don’t know how they’re going to fall. Rule book torn up, what’s worked before won’t cut it anymore, etc. And I don’t disagree – it’s a different landscape now.

    But one thing hasn’t changed – human nature. People will still behave as they do for the same kind of reasons – moving away from pain, attracted to pleasure, staff responsive to recognition, and so on. I think that what we need now is to have a better INSIGHT into why people behave as they do. It was too easy before to get away with an average product, mediocre customer service, unimaginative marketing, under-performing employees. That’s not good enough now.

    My point is that in order to adapt to the new economic landscape, we need to get back to understanding (really understanding) what motivates people and how we respond to that. That’s never changed – it’s just more imperative now.

    • Steve Yastrow
      Mar 26, 2009 - 22:32 pm

      Andy, one of my biggest hopes as people recalibrate their approach to customer relationships is that they will veer away from the advertising-based marketing paradigms, which are so counter to the way people naturally communicate, and focus more on natural human encounter as the best model for engaging with customers.

Leave A Reply