Enlisting and equipping your customer advocates

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The lists are all out: 2012’s Most Inspiring Companies (published by Forbes), World’s Most Admired Companies (Fortune), 100 Best Companies to Work For (Fortune) and so on. These lists comprise data — the perceptions of the consuming public — collected by third-party firms.

So, what are the driving attributes that get and keep companies on these types of lists? Innovation, authenticity, credibility, vision and servant leadership — glued together with the carefully crafted “narrative”. This includes ongoing dialogue (content), but more importantly it is the brand’s collective behaviors and actions that make stakeholders fall in love with and fully resonate with the brand’s positioning.

This technique is called the brand story.

Powerful brand stories are deeply detailed (yet simple), highly visceral, compelling, entertaining and engaging, leaving us wanting more and wanting to engage.

Take, for example, Tom’s Shoes. Their story began when Blake Mycoskie started the company because of a highly impactful experience in Argentina, where he discovered thousands of village children who had never put on a shoe in their lives. This clothing void left children unprotected against cuts and soil-borne disease, and unable to attend school, where shoes are required, causing unnecessary pain and stagnation in the evolution of the people. So, compelled by this devastating scenario, Blake set his mind on building a company and very simple product to be a means to an end — making and selling shoes for the purpose of protecting these village children. A clearly articulated position, mission and philosophy. What Tom’s Shoes does really well is not only tell the story (in detail), but action it by enlisting and equipping their loyal stakeholders to be fully engaged in and a part of the solution!

Finding the “glue” that helps your customers connect the dots, get equipped with information and empowered to become a part of your brand’s movement is the secret to creating passionate customer advocates. They are choosing to become a part of something bigger than themselves and the product itself.

Your brand story begins deep inside at its core DNA. Defining your unique DNA will uncover many facets of your story quickly, and clearly. Your brand story becomes a detailed composition that includes a compelling narrative of how your business and its products, services and philosophy came to fruition and lives to achieve its vision.

The brand story describes:

Who you (the brand) are from the inside out — your core values and brand style. This includes your visual presence in every facet of the business, your voice or tone, and use of multisensory components to create and leverage a unique experience.

The uniqueness/details around the mastery of making the product/service.

The passion, the artistry, the effect on the environment.

The brand promise and dedication to the overall mission and vision, your “Why.”

How you connect to the community and world to make it a better place.

More often than not there are incredible “behind the scenes” details in your brand story that haven’t surfaced yet, but which can distinctively express the emotional tone of the brand as well as the characteristics that create your unique competitive advantage.

When your customers begin to understand your brand’s story (not just the sales pitch), they are touched at a visceral level and begin to attach relevancy from their position to yours, building greater meaning and depth of understanding. The brand must fully understand its own story before the customer can embrace and commit to it long-term. This is not just an exercise in composition, but rather a way to build a framework to express the brand’s unique “stake in the ground,” design actions and behaviors that live it, and find new ways to capture the hearts of like-minded advocates who in turn become your no-cost, authentic sales force.

So, what’s in your brand story? We invite you to start composing your compelling story and increase customer advocacy through deeper meaning and relationships. Engage your employee teams; you’ll be surprised at what flushes out.

Suzanne Tulien is principal and founder of Brand Ascension Group LLC, Colorado Springs. She is co-pioneer of the Brand DNA methodology and author of The 6 Myths of Small Business Branding. She regularly writes articles on internal brand definition and has been published on BrandChannel.com, eHotelier.com and BrandAscension.com.