Think of the strongest brands you know. Were Apple, Southwest and FedEx among them? What the strongest brands have in common—and likely why these three may have come to mind first—is that they deliver well on their value proposition. That is, they do what they say they will, and most likely do it better than others in their industries.
In large part, their perception as strong brands is due to the people behind the successful delivery of those value propositions. These are the creative, smart, and consistently messaged visionaries, leaders and spokespeople who have guided these brands to their positions of strength. It’s everyone from senior leadership to the most junior staff, and even the consumers themselves.
So, how then, do you become a strong brand, too, with a story that others want to tell?
According to Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, you achieve this by leading with “why you do what you do”, vs. “what you do what you do.” At C.Fox, we counsel organizations every day about leading with “the why” to build—and improve—their brand story, using the seven tenants below:
1. Understand What Makes Messages Effective: A message is a succinct set of words and visuals that conveys your values, mission, or point of view in a positive and easily understood manner. Effective messages follow three simple guidelines. They are: easy to understand, memorable and persuasive. Incorporating just one of these elements is often not enough; the most effective messages take into account all three.
2. Understand What Makes Messengers Effective: Good messengers are like leaders. They need followers—or listeners—they can persuade. The purpose of a messenger is to communicate key organizational messages in such a way that listeners will hear them, understand them, and repeat them. To be effective, focus on impactful, resonant, and real messages that drive action.
3. Practice and Repeat: When it comes to delivering effective messages across an organization, few things are more important than practice. Some organizations with whom we work have come to chant their “community statement” every morning, and others reserve a 30-minute block each week to connect in person or online about the impact they’ve had in the previous five days. Keeping your messages fresh and top of mind—and reminding each other why your work is so critical—is a necessary component to ensuring that those messages become used organization-wide and not just by key spokespersons.
4. Focus on Your Benefits, Not Your Feature: What problem do you help to solve? What critical service do you provide? It’s more powerful to lead with your benefits rather than with the features of your organization (such as how many years you have been in existence or how many employees you have). Your features can often be found in general reading of your website, but your benefits—why you matter—are often harder to find.
Getting to the true benefits of your organization can be hard to do, and many organizations falsely assume they are clear to others. To get to the heart of why you do what you do, ask yourself the same question five times: Why do you do what you do? But why? But why? And so on. With each answer you write down, you’ll get closer to the real reason behind your work until you get to the heart of your brand message.
5. Stick to the Foundation You Built: When building a home, it is critical that you lay a strong foundation. Building an effective message framework is no different. Once you’ve established the vital aspects of why you do what you do—and you’ve found a way to deliver them effectively and with resonance—then stick to it.
6. Nail the Takeoff and the Landing: Any pilot will tell you that flying the plane isn’t that difficult—it’s the takeoff and landing that they need to practice. The same goes for communicating your brand message.
Engaging your audience early on—such as with an interesting anecdote or an interactive exercise that reinforces your main point—is critical. That’s the takeoff. The landing is about re-engaging them. You need to be able to recognize when it’s time to wrap things up. Whether you’ve reached the end of your allotted time or the audience’s capacity, close your remarks with a tightly worded, memorable—and practiced—statement.
7. Being On Message Doesn't Mean Being Robotic: Effective communication doesn’t mean you become a robot and repeat the same message over and over. Rather, it means that you use all staff meetings, public appearances, interviews and presentations as opportunities to deliver your messages consistently, knowing that the more you repeat your key messages, the more your audience will remember them.
Carrie Fox is the founder and president of C.Fox Communications, a small communications agency committed to telling the stories of its mission-driven clients in ways that make people stop, listen and care. Carrie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her and the agency at @carriefox and @cfoxcomm, respectively.