Why Brand Storytelling is the New Love Letter
This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post website.
Brand storytelling, when it's good, is about love.
Most marketers are working to create worship relationships. Idolatry. Worship is established when we feel like a brand is cool, or sexy, or topical, or all three. Elon Musk is currently being worshipped by many today. Steve Jobs has been for years, both before and after his passing. Carli Fiorina is being anti-worshipped in her presidential bid right now.
As I have been reading stories online, I've been asking the question, do I love Elon Musk like I love my wife? Like I love my parents? Like I love my executive team who has been through the trenches with me? And I had been answering "no" to that question for a few weeks, because he was mostly one-dimensional to me. He hadn't been made emotionally accessible. I knew his accomplishments, I knew his track record, and I knew his impact. But who is he as a man? He is being painted like a hero in the media, just like Carly Fiorina is being painted by the media as a one-dimensional villain.
And then I read this piece by Tim Urban: I had a two-hour lunch with Elon Musk at the SpaceX factory, and it was just as surreal as you'd expect. And I felt my adoration for Elon Musk deepening. I felt his heart in his work. Elon made himself accessible to a writer who fell in love with him and then shared the experience with us. That is great marketing. In reading that piece, I felt I shared Elon's values. By shining a light through himself in that interview, I saw my own work and ethos, and I felt more beautiful as a human being. And that made me want to buy his car.
So what's love got to do with it?
Brand Storytelling and Love
If you're not first falling in love with what you're promoting, you're doing your client a great disservice and wasting their money.
Some readers will get this immediately. They understand what it is to love a client; to believe so passionately in a person or mission that writing and creating on their behalf is intimately rewarding. And some people will balk at this notion. To them, marketing is a transaction; pay rendered for services.
For most marketers, work is a bit of both. You have one or two accounts you're passionate about and many more that are jobs. Therein lies the tragedy. A major portion of the world's marketing clients are being treated as jobs.
Nearly four years ago at Round Table Companies (RTC), we stopped taking on book and brand storytelling clients we could not fall madly in love with. As the gatekeeper, it was my responsibility to determine whom our family of twenty at the time could love. I started turning away transactional work and while that was a scary proposition for a small company, it made the space for more clients who were in delicious alignment, and we have since doubled in size to a team of 40 who LOVE what we do almost every minute of every day.
Brand Storytelling is not Transactional
By choosing the right clientele that my staff can love, they feel protected in knowing that they will never be asked to do transactional work, that they will always be asked to bring their loving souls and spirited energy to our projects. And they do.
So how does one fall in love with a client? How do we find the access point to their soft belly, to their fear, to their humanity so that we can then create on their behalf? Here are the ways in which we invite love into our business model:
- We never allow work to be produced until we feel "in love" with a client.
- If someone on the team is not "feeling the love" we call it out and lovingly shift them to a project they can more deeply connect with.
- Before we create anything, we devote serious time to upfront listening that invites the team into the love space.
- We have created a culture of "presence" where we listen to our clients without distraction.
- We provocatively interview clients to understand their motives, their passions, their fears, their challenges, their hopes, and their dreams.
- We poke around until the team understands what our client is running from (fear) and what they are running to (desire).
- We track each client's hero's journey so we can identify with their humanity.
- We work to ensure every aspect of our process enhances trust to support the safety of our relationship so we can request vulnerability from our clients.
- Our creative teams write love letters internally about the client until we feel their heart in the work and approve them to begin creating on a client's behalf.
This is the new age of marketing. It's not about being clever and smart. It's about being real and uncovering the humanity within brand storytelling. Vulnerability is sexy. Fear is human. Passion is inspiring. As human beings, and human-run organizations, there is so much juicy content waiting to be explored.
Create a sacred space. Align yourself with clients you can love. Infuse trust into every aspect of your process. Admit, own, and evolve what is imperfect. And in all interactions, lead with love. It's the future of marketing, and your clients deserve it.