What happens when you can’t deliver on your brand promise?

I once owned a company named Starstruck, and we manufactured and exported a line of women’s clothing to 320 stores in the US and 120 in Canada.

It is quite a story. 

A big part of that story is that not everything went as planned. Well, to be honest everyday something didn’t go as planned. It was the nature of the beast. Sometimes things went better than we ever could have imagined. (It really did help to be an eternal optimist in the world of manufacturing women’s fashion.)

There are so many stories, but I’ll tell you one in particular. I know exactly where I was standing when the call came in from our fabric supplier. It had been a great day, sales were up, our new line had been well received, our local retail store was humming. It was early afternoon on a sunny spring day; the kind of day that convinces you winter will never come back. I clearly remember feeling like we were on top of our game. 

But, back to the call: our container was stuck in the Pacific Ocean just off the coast of Vancouver. There was a labour strike at the docks. Nothing was moving. There was no foreseeable end in sight, and no one could tell us exactly when we would receive our goods. 

We had tight turnarounds – fashion is like that. What retailer wants a shipment of winter coats in April? 

There were substantial financial ramifications. Some of our bigger department store clients had relentless one-sided terms. Of course we had reluctantly agreed to them because of the significant advantages of being carried by the ‘bigs’. They were essential to our growth. But those sales were a double-edged sword and we were about to feel the sharp side. 

Big retail understands the cost of holding inventory that is not on the sales floor, so deliveries were tightly timed. We were given a 10-day delivery window and every day an order was late we would lose 30% of the value of the order. This business was not for the faint of heart. Likely you have guessed that US department stores did not particularly care about the strike “up in Canada”.

Late deliveries were hard on our smaller retailers too. Although the ‘bigs’ were essential to our growth, the smaller and mid-sized retailers kept us in business – they were always our long game. 

Manufacturing is at the best of times a massive amount of moving parts. The domino effect when one of those parts goes astray, well I can feel the headache all over again.

What hurt the most was late deliveries were so off-brand. This is not what our brand promised. We knew how important it was to be true to our word. “Fashionably late” did not cut it.

We were living in the land of Porter’s Five Forces! I don’t always think that “academic” models actually live very well in the real world, but this smacked of  one of the five forces.

The Porter’s Five Forces model examines five key aspects of your company’s competitiveness. One of the five forces is Supplier Power. Wow, did we find out that our supplier had a lot of power!! Of course long before Porter, our mothers had told us “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Always listen to your mother! 

So, I got on the phone to explain that orders would be late.  The true story felt like such a ‘roll your eyes’, dog-ate-my-homework kind of story. I pictured the response, “Seriously this is the line you are going to give us?”  My palms were sweating, I paced as I talked (10,00 steps was not a problem!), my stomach turned. The self-doubt gremlin arrived.  Maybe we weren’t going to make it?

On the other end of the phone the response was not what I expected. 

We had a reputation of living our brand promise. We had made significant deposits. They believed us and more importantly they believed we would do the best we could. It was truly humbling to see the trust they had in us.

They were also truly shocked that we called and owned up. 

What happens when you can’t deliver on your brand promise?

Be transparent. 

Own up. This is not the time for hide-and-seek.

Make it personal.

It’s hard to imagine, but in the toughest of times the strongest relationships are forged. If you can’t deliver on your band promise, it’s a big deal. Recognize that.  Go to the highest rung on the ladder and have whoever that is make the call. It will never be forgotten that you cared that much. 

Take care of your Porter’s Five Forces.

Look at each of the five forces and review the strength of your competitors, supplier power, buyer power, threats of substitution, and threats of new entry. It’s a handy tool to protect your competitiveness. 

As for this ‘drink from the fire hose’ Starstruck tale . . . we made it out alive.  The strength of our brand promise saved us. The strike ended, fabric arrived, we worked like dogs (not like the dog sleeping at my feet right now), to turn raw goods into finished goods, and then into shipped goods.

Then we doubled our number of suppliers.

And went merrily along making more deposits in our brand promise account. (I do love a happy ending)

You Can’t Fake Purpose

What a conundrum: we live is such a transparent world that often seems anything but transparent.

Social media has allowed us to see more than we want to see about people, companies and brands. If you or your company are not walking the talk someone will notice and likely call you out. That can scare brands away from being who they really are.

Fake news, fake Insta, fake FB. We are tired of all of it. A culture of impatience and a hunger to impact the greater good is surging.

And that is where the opportunity lies.

Brands that are purpose driven don’t hide. You can’t fake purpose and why would you? In repeated surveys and on every measure of business success, purpose driven brands outperform brands that either are not purpose driven, or cannot communicate their purpose.

Brave brands stand up for their why and are rewarded for it.

Is purpose driving your business?

Brand Identity Crisis

I have worked with many companies suffering from a brand identity crisis. It usually does not start with a phone call that says “Hey, Janet can you help us out with our brand identity crisis?”

Generally it’s the bottom line that speaks up first and gets everyone’s attention. Underperforming products, missed targets, and poor launches are all warning signs.

Sometimes it’s noticed in HR where a growing discontent leads to turf wars and the start of a toxic culture.

Generally there is just a deep confusion that feels chaotic, and a sense of being rudderless. People become very busy but the results don’t change.

The natural inclination is to fix what is broken. People look at the micro level, fix, and tweak, but when the results don’t change, it’s a long and drawn out death until capital runs out or clients simply run away.

For those not willing to let that happen they usually need to take on the elephant in the room.

It’s usually brand.

We are not talking about poor font choices  (but don’t pick ugly fonts).

Somewhere along the brand chain something is not aligned; and it can send your company quickly in a downward spiral.

Ask the following five questions and see how your brand stacks up:

    1. What are your corporate values? Do you live them everyday with your team, with your clients? Don’t think this is just the light fluffy stuff. This is the core of success. Don’t settle here for words that sound good but don’t mean anything. Your values should light you up, and everyone you work with everyday.
    2. Do your corporate values show up in how you answer your phone, send an email, or do a presentation? Can you see it and hear it? Can you pinpoint and say “Yup, that is us. Nobody does it like us.”
    3. Do your values resonate with your clients? After all, this is all about them. Would your clients recognize your values?
    4. Who is your top customer – today, last year, next year? Can you name them by first name? (You can’t imagine how many companies cannot do this. So if you can’t answer this question you are not alone, but it is not who you want to hang with.)
    5. Are you doing the work, making the products, selling the services that are deeply connected to your corporate values? The struggle is real on this one so don’t just tilt your head and say, “I think so.” Get your sales team together, do the math and see if there is a match with your brand values. You will be glad you did.

There are many aspects about your branding statements that will propel you to success and I will write about more of them. But none of them will be as critical as understanding your core values.

Ignoring branding statements will affect your bottom line.

Embracing branding statements will also affect your bottom line.

Personal Branding is Not Bragging

Once a term like personal branding becomes a “thing” it becomes a misunderstood “thing”.

The question I hear most is, “Isn’t personal branding just another form of bragging?”  And in our insta-happy, Facebook perfect, selfie world that could certainly be true.

But don’t be fooled.

True personal branding could not be further from bragging.

Personal branding is about finding the best way for you to help others. It is about becoming more of you, not a new you, not an improved you, or a thinner you. It is not you in a red power suit and Louboutins.

It’s about the courage to look deep and say, “This is my set of uncompromising values, this is what I do best, this is what I stand for and stand up for. This is how I am different and like no one else. This is how I can best help you.”

That is powerful, transformative stuff.

Ready to create your personal brand? Click here

How Stories Change the Brain: Looking at Paul Zak’s Research

At The Story Co., we fundamentally believe in the power of stories. We know there is power there; that the impact of sharing and hearing stories is inherently valuable. What we didn’t know is that there is scientific research to back up our gut instinct.

Paul Zak wrote a fascinating article about – you guessed it – how stories change the brain. Look at you, reading titles and putting two and two together! I will include a link to the original article at the end so you can check it out and highly recommend reading it. Here are a few things we could not resist highlighting:

Why Stories are Important

Not only are stories are more entertaining, they are also more effective in terms of communication. Zak’s research concludes that personal, emotionally compelling stories are better remembered than a set of facts. They are also a way to connect with strangers. Forming relationships is key as a business. 

On a truly base level, Zak says: 

“My lab pioneered the behavioural study of oxytocin and has proven that when the brain synthesizes oxytocin, people are more trustworthy, generous, charitable, and compassionate. I have dubbed oxytocin the “moral molecule,” and others call it the love hormone.”

Not included in this quote is Zak’s explanation that during a well told story (well told according to brain chemistry rather than just a dynamic speaker – but there’s a lot of overlap!) the brain produces the oxytocin drug. This is a huge benefit of stories – I see no downside to a more moral society; do you?

On a business level, it makes sense that we would want customers to associate our brand with the feeling they get from producing oxytocin.

So, it’s been established that on a scientific level, stories have the edge. Great! But not so fast – not all stories are created equal. So, how do you make sure that your story is having the desired effect?

How to tell a Good Story

Zak’s team found that there are two primary aspects: the ability to hold the viewer’s attention; and “transporting” them into the world of the character.

In today’s fast moving, multitasking world it can be incredibly hard to grab the attention of a consumer. Zak holds that on an evolutionary level we are programed to use our “attention spotlight” sparingly. He says:

In fact, using one’s attentional spotlight is metabolically costly so we use it sparingly. This is why you can drive on the freeway and talk on the phone or listen to music at the same time. Your attentional spotlight is dim so you can absorb multiple informational streams. You can do this until the car in front of you jams on its brakes and your attentional spotlight illuminates fully to help you avoid an accident.

Aside from being an interesting insight into the human desire to multitask – I’m glad to finally have an explanation as to why we turn down the music when we are trying to find a specific street name! That’s a custom that has confused me since the beginning!

Once you have managed to catch the audience’s attention, if it is sustained for long enough, the audience begins to emotionally resonate with the story. This is what Zak refers to as “transportation”, as the audience will feel the character’s emotions and become more invested in the outcome.

Every attention grabbing, “transporting” story can be boiled down to what is referred to by scholars as “the dramatic arc”:

    1. Begin with something new and surprising;
    2. Increased tension with difficulties the characters must overcome – often because of some failure or past crisis;
    3. Climax, where the characters must look inside themselves to find the answer;

The resolution of the story.

Do you recognize these elements in any of your favourite tales? I know I do! Do you recognize them in your favourite brand stories?

Another interesting note for businesses: Zak’s research found that it was easier to sustain people’s attention and to generate “transportation” when the medium was a video rather than written.

This means it’s time to fully embrace the video trend on social media! Not only is there an advantage in terms of the algorithms, but there’s a neurological advantage too!

There’s no denying the power of story. We know that through our own experiences with a strong story, and now we know it through science too! So what are you waiting for? Tell us your story.

The link to the original article, as promised:

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_stories_change_brain#gsc.tab=0

Written by Story Co. collaborator Emily Brenner

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