16 Feb Anatomy of Authentic Brand Storytelling
It’s a complex and competitive marketplace, although the selling equation is still pretty simple. Customers and prospects have pain or problems and they want value-driven solutions that deliver better outcomes than they can generate by doing nothing (aka the status quo).
We help them put us on their consideration list by having strong social proof of our competence, trustworthiness and value creation expertise. We demonstrate this experience by living our brand values consistently. One of the ways that ideal customers find us is through our social media presence.
It’s how prospects get to know us, see who supports us and how we show up every day. These are the preferred platforms we engage with.
The Anatomy of Authentic Brand Storytelling
Every company should have a founder’s story or a descriptive telling of one of their core values. My commitment to integrity is defined in this story framework that shares my experience about validating assumptions. The foundation of an authentic value proposition is defined by our stories and lets prospects and customers know what to expect from our brand approach.
Context – The Background
In June 2009, I still believed that my worth as a human being came from what I materially produced. I was a successful account executive for a Database Marketing company and just returned to work after a four-month maternity leave at 41 years old.
I’m not proud to admit that I was a workaholic who motherhood landed on with a vengeance. For the first time in my life, I had to give unconditionally without the expectation of an outcome. This was probably the reason that I returned to work so quickly, although I told myself it was because the economy had been flushed the previous fall (aka The Great Recession).
Catalyst – The Event
A couple of months before I gave birth, I secured a new contract with a bank. The 5-figure deal was significant and immediately the client became one of my top six customers. I was thrilled to have the business; it was validation of my worth. I come from the world where second place is the first loser.
Upon my return to work, I set about demonstrating that their trust in me was warranted. I would provide more value than I had ever offered previously. Over lunch one day, they afforded me that opportunity, which unleashed an unintended chain reaction.
Complication – The Obstacle
First names on direct mail pieces generate a better response. It’s natural to feel a better resonance with “Dear Jean” versus Dear J. Given my desire to please at any costs, they presented me with what I thought was an ideal challenge. Finding a vendor who could append full first names to a file with initials.
I struck out with the reputable vendors who all had similar complaints. “We can’t accommodate because of privacy, we don’t want to release that data to end user, it’s against our policy. etc.” I was ready to give up when I reached out to a colleague in the digital marketing department. Did he know any vendors who might be able to help?
He did know someone that would append first names to the file. We proceeded with an initial file run on 150,000 input records. The production process was smooth. I had come through with finding a solution to a seemingly impossible challenge.
“The Change” – The Transformation
It was about a week after the direct mail campaign dropped that I received a call from the client. Someone had come into branch with a mailpiece addressed “Dear Fartmuncher.” My heart sank and I felt physically ill. What could have possibly happened?
I reached out to my colleague and found out that he had never actually used this vendor before. Now I really started to worry. We checked the returned file, for the first time and found a number of non-standard names including ass-kisser and not one but two fartmunchers on the file. Interestingly nobody had looked at the file. Not our company, not the client or the lettershop. It was a perfect storm of disaster.
Consequence – The Resolution
I have honestly never in my entire life never felt as awful as I did when this happened. I pride myself on being an even or better odds professional. That is, I never leave someone worse than when I find them. My identity was shaken and I felt shame, embarrassment and a deep well of grief. I emailed an apology, I couriered an apology, I would have sacrificed myself if it would have made a difference.
It was then and there that I made a promise to that client and to myself. I could not undo what had happened and could not make their reputation whole. But I could promise and prevent this from ever happening again to anyone with whom I did business. From that day forward, I’ve been committed to asking the hard questions, verifying reputations, and always, always checking the data.
There have been occasions when people have asked me to trust them. That it’s not necessary to confirm references, validate a data sample or have another more detailed discussion. Every time I’ve considered a shortcut, I go back to that day. I remind myself of how bad it was, and I don’t want too ever be there again.
The gift of that unfortunate situation is an even bigger lesson. No matter how bad, difficult, or troubling the circumstances are I’m living through, I have this thought: What is the bigger lesson that I can learn here? What’s the upside of this situation? What can I take away so I can fully live this lesson now?
Because it’s been my experience that lessons that are not learned will be revisited in increasingly painful and expensive ways until they are learned. Fortunately, I’ve not had to revisit this lesson again.
New mother returns to work after 4 months to restore her self-worth through work.
Client offers an opportunity to take on a difficult challenge to improve their marketing results.
Unable to find the solution through trusted sources and use an untested vendor.
The new vendor disappoints and there’s a substantial fall-out.
The silver lining of difficult times is to learn the lesson now versus at a greater expense in the future.