Engaging Around Your Story...

Sitting in Chipotle, munching my Burrito, I was reminded how brands can stand out from the crowd, by engaging around their story.

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I've always thought of this as circles of engagement, building from the inside out.

1. At the core, there needs to be a compelling story to tell.

Not a story without substance. The days of creating an external image for a brand, at odds with the company behind it, are long gone. But one that expresses the core purpose and culture of the brand, and turns it into something dynamic, that's worth supporting, or even belonging to.

A useful plot for this purpose is the “quest”, one of the seven basic plots that underpin most stories.

This could be a quest to overturn current conventions. Take Whole Foods for example, who seeks to redefine the role of a supermarket, by bringing natural and organic food to as many people as possible, improving their health, and changing agriculture in the United States and the world.

Or it could simply be to improve society. IBM’s “Let’s build a smarter planet” captures this perfectly. 

2. Flow the story through the fabric of the business.

It needs to touch every aspect of the company's operation, so that the company lives and breathes the brand. (How To Create A Brand Culture...).

Innocent, the much-quoted food and beverage brand from the UK, is a wonderful example of this. Look at their products in-store, with their quirky, conversational style, and there's their culture, staring right back at you, inviting you in. It flows right through all their communication, wherever you touch them, reflecting their core belief in making it easy for people to do themselves good.

Trader Joe’s is a great retail example. The playful branding of their own products, the store design, the hand-drawn signage, the employees in their Hawaiian shirts. They all come together to tell a strong story about their brand culture. And it continues on, through their Fearless Flyer, and their website.

3. Engage customers in conversations around the story.

Social media makes it possible to do this on an unprecedented scale.

This starts with providing content around the story that's useful to customers. Content that they might want to talk about, or share. And then making it available, where customers converse.

Again, Whole Foods do this well. They focus on providing recipes, information and education. It’s useful for their customers in their daily lives, while reinforcing their quest to redefine the role of a supermarket. They have a strong presence on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and were early into Pinterest. And they share their content across them, with their website, blogs and email newsletters at the center.

But a conversation is by definition two-way, so engaging does require taking part. At times, this is just to get the conversation going, much like a host at a party, and then to intercede, when it starts to flag. But it also means responding to questions directly, to keep it authentic.

4. Use "paid" media to kick-start the conversation.

Based on interruption, "paid" media still has more chance of getting that initial introduction through, and kick-starting a conversation.

It needs to express the brand's compelling story, beliefs and culture in a dynamic, yet human way. While still feeling part of the same coherent brand.

Apple's much-loved "Get a Mac" campaign was a good example. The hip, sociable, and smart Mac guy up against the uncool PC guy spoke volumes about Apple's purpose and beliefs. It felt very much part of the Apple brand, while kick-starting a conversation. 

And why did Chipotle remind me?

Well, they're on a quest, to provide "Food with Integrity", which expresses their core belief that business doesn't have to exploit animals, people, or the environment.

That quest touches every aspect of the company's operations, is central to their sourcing policies, and enthused through the fabric of the business. It's featured in their restaurants and packaging (including my burrito), and central to their website.

They're very active on social media, with vibrant Facebook, YouTube and Twitter communities, and use it to engage in conversations around their story.

And they use paid media, including their memorable "Back To The Start" video, to kick-start the "Food with Integrity" conversation.

Because it tells a compelling, human story, they create strong engagement... and stand out from the crowd.