Richard Fouts

Article Summary:

How to develop a brand in less time and with less money by using storytelling techniques.

How to Develop a Brand Using Storytelling Techniques

Over the years I’ve used a number of techniques for revitalizing existing brands or building new ones. One particular approach which I’ve come to call the Wall Street Journal Exercise works really well — and delivers results particularly fast.

How it works
Imagine for a moment that it’s one year from today. The Wall Street Journal wants to feature your company on its front page. In fact, the reporter and his photographer are in your lobby right now. And they want to run the story in their next edition.

How do want your story to read?
How do you want your story to lead? Do you want to feature growth? Your advances in product innovation? Your key to enviable service? As the story unfolds, why do readers want to continue reading? Do you reveal how you lured some prize accounts from your lead competitor? What did you over the past year that is making your competitors especially jealous? And what are your customers saying about you? What are you saying about your customers?

A proven technique
The Wall Street Journal exercise was inspired by one of my first bosses, David Packard, who also co-founded the Hewlett-Packard Company. Dave didn’t go for whiteboard, pie-in-the-sky exercises that created a bunch of aspirational goals we would never be able to reach. Rather, he asked us to imagine what WE would want the Journal to be saying about us in one year. By keeping the timeline to a year in the future, we kept our feet on the ground, but still challenged ourselves with some good stretch goals.

Of course, you’re not really going to submit the story to the Wall Street Journal. This exercise simply provides a framework for telling your story. But if you don’t tell your story the way you want it to be told, someone else will. And it will most often be told from a negative angle. This exercise gives you an opportunity to write your story, your way.

Give it a try
If you want to give this technique a try, it’s not hard. Get a team together that knows your organization, your company and your industry. Get someone from your Public Relations staff (or outside PR firm) who writes stories for a living, or has a good journalism background. Tell them to `play reporter’ and take you through a classic news interview.

Ask good, relevant questions
Have your “reporter” facilitate the session (or get someone else to facilitate). The facilitator should use the standard “what, why, where, when and how” approach to journalistic storytelling. For example, one year from today, what does your organization look like? Where did you make changes? How did you achieve your goals? And why did you make the decisions you did?

At the end of the session, be sure and talk about “what’s next” for your organization. For example, what are you investing in, what new alliances are you developing, what new products are on the drawing board – and why are you confident you’ll deliver even more success than you did this year?

Remember, you’re doing this for yourself so don’t get too concerned about “spilling the beans.” When I’ve conducted this exercise with marketing and product development teams in the past they’ve taken it seriously. So seriously in fact, that my participants forgot it was just an exercise, getting nervous about revealing proprietary information.

But remember, it’s for you. It’s not really going in the Journal. Of course, you’ll want to keep the story confidential, as you would any strategy document.

When you’ve completed the interview, have your PR or writer (who’s been taking notes during the session) write it up as a feature story or press release, quotes and all.

What you can expect
The story will deliver compelling sales messages as well as new product ideas, sales plan highlights, territory expansion ideas, more competitive service models, and more. Most of all, you’ll get clarity on the language of your brand.

This technique works especially well for new companies that need a set of initial brand deliverables. It works equally well for existing businesses and products. If you’re new to building brands, don’t get seduced by large agencies that want to charge you a ton of money and take a ton of time to develop something you can do in a couple of days.

For example, the story from this exercise has never failed to give my design teams everything they need to draft visual brand assets, such as logos or logotype. Using this exercise as a kickoff, my teams have delivered complete brand packages and initial brand communications in as little as two months time — something large agencies might spend a year doing.

And your sales force will appreciate having a good set of talking points.

So don’t leave your brand and its story to chance. Tell it your way.

Richard Fouts helps you tell your story. Using his techniques, your entire organization becomes rapidly equipped to engage in conversations about your products and services in more intimate ways. You spend less time developing your communications and more time acquiring and satisfying customers.

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