We First Webinar Part 1: The Most Costly Mistakes Brands Make in Their Storytelling and How to Fix Them

We First Founder & CEO Simon Mainwaring sat down with author, speaker and business innovator Ekaterina Walter to discuss the biggest mistakes brands make in their impact and storytelling efforts and key actions to address them. Even deeper insights can be found in Ekaterina’s latest book The Laws of Brand Storytelling and at We First Works — an online training platform that helps individuals and businesses define and activate their purpose.

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Below is Part 1 of our excerpts from the event which can be watched in its entirety here. Sign-up for the We First mailing list for updates on future webinars!

SIMON MAINWARING: When you look at the intersection between purpose and storytelling– the way we understand it is your purpose is why you exist. It’s this slingshot that informs your brand storytelling that allows you to lead a conversation out there that will allow your business to become a movement. That has to exist in several places: your strategy, your culture and your creative work. So, there’s a direct connection between purpose and storytelling in the context of driving business growth.

KEY MISTAKE #1: Broadcasting your schizophrenia.

SIMON: This is when a brand is saying one thing on one channel, one thing on another, and one thing somewhere else. And while from their perspective that makes sense because you’re being specific to that channel, to the consumer on the outside that sees all these brand touchpoints, it makes no sense. You’re like a person talking in different voices at different times. Instead, you need a single, simple, consistent and scalable message.

KEY ACTION: #1: Build a culture of purpose.

SIMON: The key action is not to just get more disciplined in your marketing, but to really build a culture of purpose. You’ve got to define your purpose in the first place and share that throughout your organization — not just through marketing, CSR or your foundation, but through all departments. When you do that, you suddenly find you’re not saying different things driven by different departments and considerations at different times.

EKATERINA: Being on the brand side, I’ve seen this so many times. Brand unity across your presence as a company, across geographies, business units, products and conversations on any channel (in store, face-to-face, or online) is what defines the story of your brand. Have you seen a brand do it well?

SIMON: AirBnb around their platform of Belong Anywhere. Whether it’s accommodation, city tours, or giving free accommodations to refugees — they really brought to life that singular idea very consistently and very different ways — but they always point it back to that same message.

KEY MISTAKE #2: Talking about your purpose in a self-directed way.

SIMON: Ever been to a party and see a guy who talks about himself all night. It sounds great, but eventually you’re like, “Peace out. I’m going to the punch bowl.” It doesn’t matter how good it is what you organization or brand does. If you lose sight that it’s not about you and that you need to speak about being of service of something higher than yourself, you’re going to lose people’s interest.

KEY ACTION #2: Co-create content with customers.

SIMON: As a tonic to this mistake, one of the most powerful strategies is to co-create content with your stakeholders. It forces you to talk about them. If you say, “Everything we’re going to do is going to give our consumers an opportunity to do something with us,” then you’ll have a totally different set of ideas if you just say, “How are we going to talk about ourselves?”

EKATERINA: One of the mistakes I always bring up is “Being the hero of your own story.” Brands are so self-absorbed. They beat themselves on the chest to show the world how cool they are. Just because you achieved success, that doesn’t mean your product is best in the market. It’s not about you, it’s about them. Also, the best influencers are on your payroll. You mention customers. But what about employees? Have you seen companies rally their employees around the brand?

SIMON: The TED talks that are done by corporations. TED at IBM or TED@Unilever. They reached inside their organization, identify 5–10 incredible people that are there everyday. That’s wonderful advertising for their brand at large, but it’s also a huge celebration of those employees.

KEY MISTAKE #3: Failing to tell your impact stories.

SIMON: There’s a company with a stated purpose that has done important, meaningful and measurable work — but then they don’t tell their employees, customers or consumers about it. The problem is you don’t get credit for it and people are less likely to do it again because, “We showed up, we participated…and then we didn’t hear anything.” You’ve got to close that story loop. You’ve got to tell the story of impact that was generated by everyone’s contributions. That’s when you build momentum that people want to do it again overtime.

KEY ACTION #3: Partner to serve something bigger than yourself.

SIMON: Similar to co-creating content, when you partner with someone in service of something bigger than yourself, it forces you to tell the story. Not only will you get to tell that story, but they’ll get that to tell that story. And you’ll both amplify each other. You see it with TOMS around gun control and the different advocacy groups they’re now working with.

EKATERINA: Taking it that one extra mile is one thing, but what about extending those stories in the right way? Look at some data that came out of it, share visual snippets, or share stories of people you’ve actually impacted. Your bigger impact is in the long tail of it. Repeating it year in and year out. Give the community a chance to engage and know who you are, learn why you’re doing it and why your partner is doing it.

We First Webinar Part 2: The Most Costly Mistakes Brands Make in Their Storytelling and How to Fix Them

We First Founder & CEO Simon Mainwaring sat down with author, speaker and business innovator Ekaterina Walter to discuss the biggest mistakes brands make in their impact and storytelling efforts and key actions to address them. Even deeper insights can be found in Ekaterina’s latest book The Laws of Brand Storytelling and at We First Works — an online training platform that helps individuals and businesses define and activate their purpose. .

Below is Part 2 of our excerpts from the event which can be watched in its entirety here. Sign-up for the We First mailing list for updates on future webinars!

SIMON MAINWARING: When you look at the intersection between purpose and storytelling– the way we understand it is your purpose is why you exist. It’s this slingshot that informs your brand storytelling that allows you to lead a conversation out there that will allow your business to become a movement. That has to exist in several places: your strategy, your culture and your creative work. So, there’s a direct connection between purpose and storytelling in the context of driving business growth.

KEY MISTAKE #1: Assuming brand storytelling is only the function of marketing.

EKATERINA: In some people’s minds, storytelling is content creation. The problem with that approach is that brand storytelling right now is the sum of all interactions real and perceived of all the brand experiences across all the touchpoints that people have with you. If I call your customer service and I have a crappy experience, that is your brand.

KEY ACTION #1: Break the silos across the organization, connect the dots around holistic consumer experience

EKATERINA: When you talked about the unity of how you present your brand, it’s also the unity of how you act. It’s not just a function of marketing. It’s a function of customer service, sales, PR, etc. At companies like Mercedes, every single person, even the one who sweeps the floor, knows that everything they do contributes to that better customer experience.

KEY MISTAKE #2: Staying neutral

EKATERINA: It’s funny what you said about AirBnb and how they live their purpose. Remember the travel ban happened and how they banded together and said, “Look this is who we are. This is what we stand for.” And an action. They created an approach to overcome the travel ban. They didn’t just talk about it. Staying neutral is horrible for brands right now. For years, everyone wanted to be Switzerland. You can’t be neutral anymore.

KEY ACTION #2: Take a stand

EKATERINA: Look at Nike and Kaepernick. Look at Patagonia and the environment. The best brands right now are saying, “We know who we are.” Which means it’s time to not just talk, but take an action. Don’t you find that people are tired of just talk? To them, brand storytelling isn’t messaging per say, it’s an action a company takes.

SIMON: I do. The fluff doesn’t cut it anymore. The titillation of the delivery platform isn’t enough. Don’t mistreat me, engage meaningfully, walk your talk, or we’re no interested.

KEY MISTAKE #3: Being ruled by fear

EKATERINA: That brings me to the next one. It’s interesting to me how scared brands are. Brand leaders are so ruled by fear and I don’t understand why because they’ve seen beloved brands actually try out new things and take risks. It’s not just about taking a stand, it’s about innovation internally. And not just product, but encouraging and nourishing small groups that build, create and scale total change within the company.

KEY ACTION #3: Draw outside the lines, get creative, take calculated risks

EKATERINA: I’m not saying jump off the cliff. Take a calculated risk. One of my favorite examples is Honey Maid and their Wholesome campaign. They knew when that campaign came out, where they featured parents of all kinds of walks of life (tattooed parents, parents of the same sex, etc.)… “Look, we’re going to take a hit by certain audiences.” And they decided that’s okay. Because this is what love is for us.

And when the criticism came at them, they addressed it globally. As a reply, they created this “Love” video where they took all the negative messages and created the word “love” out of it.” But the amount of positive [ feedback ] was 10x more.

KEY MISTAKE #4: Following vs. leading

EKATERINA: There’s such a thing as, “Oh my god, there’s a hot new thing on Twitter. Let’s get on it!” “People are trying out vertical videos — we’ve got to have one!” Just because something is a trend doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for you.

KEY ACTION #5: Stop copying others. Just because something is a trend, it doesn’t mean it’s the right one for you. Moreover, create your own trends

EKATERINA: It’s fantastic that you’re tracking trends. But if you don’t understand why you’re doing it or how to do it right, then you become another blip on the radar. Why don’t you look at creating your own trend? Do something unique. Start a movement people can relate to and be consistent with it. Have you seen examples?

SIMON: It’s an example everybody always uses, but as a writer on Nike for 4 years up at Wieden+Kennedy — they never looked at Adidas or other brands to work out where they should go. They were very self-assured. Very self-determined. Very clear-eyed about who they were. They had a huge tolerance for risk. You’ve got to fail forward. You’ve got to put it out there. They’re not afraid to try.

KEY MISTAKE #6: Benchmarking your brand against industry competitors

EKATERINA: That’s the next mistake. Nike doesn’t benchmark against their industry competitors.

KEY ACTION #6: Benchmark against the best storytellers in the world

EKATERINA: They benchmark themselves against the Apples of the world. The top brands. They look at what Elon Musk is doing. Who are your heroes? Who do you want to be?

SIMON: I don’t think we need to just look at other advertisers to get inspired. [ Another ] thing I took away on the Nike brand was how they were constantly looking to culture, unknown artists and different mediums to find inspiration. When you say the best storytellers, I absolutely agree. And the best storytellers aren’t necessarily advertisers.

Written by

CEO We First Inc, author NYT's bestseller We First, strategic corporate consultant and trainer, father, Australian, optimist.

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