Categories
Brand Strategy

The Lifestyle Brand Blueprint For Tomorrow’s Companies

[Photo by Joel Bengs.]

Lifestyle consumers are changing. Your brand should, too.

Lifestyle brands have existed for a very, very long time. From Pears Soap of the early 1800s, to the Marlboro Man of the 1950s and the Glossiers of today, all of these brands are part of the same lifestyle heritage.

The existence of lifestyle branding hasn’t changed. What has changed, however, is the role that lifestyle brands have played in our lives over time.

Early lifestyle brands were gatekeepers that informed us of our stations in life and how to act within them. You used a certain soap in order to be a good member of society. You shaved your legs if you were an upstanding woman.

This reflected a larger truth about the consumer. We looked to institutions for meaning. Government, marriage, education, class, career — all of these goalposts sorted us among our peers.

From left: Pears Soap prescribing identity, Marlboro promising the life not lived, Glossier creating a likeminded tribe.

In the late 20th century through to today, things took a dramatic shift. Our goal posts began to evaporate and those same institutions (known more commonly as the corporate ladder, the American Dream and the nuclear family, among others) no longer served the same purpose.

Meaning had become democratized and created a fantastic vacuum for companies.

New lifestyle brands like Apple and Nike allowed us to self-organize around ideals of our own choosing, regardless of our lot in life. We could find our tribes and rally around the aspirations that stirred us.

Lifestyle went mainstream and was layered over every vertical, from fashion to finance. As a culture, we moved from interacting with brands as vehicles of self-labeling to vehicles of self-expression.

This is where we are today.

We can stop here and build a lifestyle brand based on this insight, and that would be enough to get your company off the ground.

But the consumer is changing again, and I absolutely do not believe that building a successful brand is about the current market.

Successful brands are built in the future market.

In which case, we need to ask ourselves where lifestyle brands are headed next. And of course we’ll start where we always start: with the user.

There’s no denying the fact that users are becoming more and more sophisticated in the brand vernacular, and more demanding of the brand value they pay a premium for.

Without gatekeepers, institutions and traditional life milestones, users have come to create their own centers of meaning around lifestyle brands that help them signal to the world who they are. I may not have an executive title, but I have a WeWork office because I believe I am a disruptor.

But self-expression opens the door to something much more important on the horizon. Today we want to belong, but tomorrow we will want to matter. Accordingly, the lifestyle realm is undergoing a transition from aspiration to something with more substance.

We’re moving from self-expression to self-discovery.

This is not about design aesthetics or leveraging influencers, or even creating buzz as we see with the bulk of lifestyle brands today. It’s not soothing sans-serif fonts and pastels that make us feel tuned into a trend. And it’s certainly not a USP.

This is about a maturing consumer that’s seeking new centers of meaning in their lives, and accordingly will seek out brands that help them discover who they are in the process.

We’ve gone from macro to micro, outer world to inner world. It’s a much more intimate and personal relationship that adds a layer of intrinsic value to the product.

The successful lifestyle brands of tomorrow will need to follow consumers deeper into themselves in order to resonate.

This is where you start building in the future.

This is where tension comes from. If you can create a brand that pushes your audience to get to where they are going (perhaps when they don’t even realize they are going there themselves), then you will create and capture a special kind of value that will serve your brand for years to come.

With this new perspective, let’s look at some of the elements that should go into your brand blueprint.

Start with the conversation, not the lifestyle.

A lot of brands falter from the very beginning because they don’t understand what a lifestyle brand actually is.

A lifestyle brand is a conversation that happens at specific points in a consumer’s life.

Forget the aesthetics or aspirations. Those are mere tactics. If you want to be a lifestyle brand, you need a rock solid understanding of the values that you want to explore with your consumer.

Keep in mind you can’t effectively explore values like “transparency” or “honesty” or “social responsibility”… the common items listed in company’s mission statement. Those are baseline requirements (self-expression at best, features at worst) that you should be delivering to your consumer anyway.

The values worth exploring are the ones that help your user move down the self-discovery path.

Values sound provocative, revealing, and you either really care or you really don’t because as a consumer, you immediately know if that value will get you to someplace deeper within yourself:

  • “The thrill of vulnerability in an unforgiving world.”
  • “The political act of self-love.”
  • “Freedom of the human soul in nature.” (Check out what Yeti is doing here.)

The New York Times has taken an interesting turn toward lifestyle recently. True, the news and media company advertises no-nonsense slogans like ‘You’ve read the news, now read the facts’, but take a closer look at their content investments and you’ll see that they’re actually exploring the value of “being human without judgement.”

It’s a compelling concept.

Part of how they underscore this is in two excellent content series: Modern Love and Conception.

 

Modern Love isn’t about the news. It’s about the non-newsworthy events that define our love lives.

Conception doesn’t include doctors or experts. Just the private voices of parents.

 

You’ll notice in both of these series, there is no news.

Modern Love is about the non-newsworthy events that define our love lives.

Conception doesn’t include doctors or experts. Just the private voices of parents.

These are avenues toward “being human without judgement”, and for many viewers, a straight path to self-discovery.

You can’t explore that value just anywhere. The New York Times knows explorations like these have to happen at certain points in the user’s life.

You can’t get more human than disappointment in love and heartbreak in parenthood, nor can you find two topics more charged with judgement. The New York Times deliberately chose these moments in our lives because they push the self-discovery conversation forward more quickly and more effectively than any other moments in our day-today.

That demonstrates the simplest definition of what a lifestyle brand truly is: Lifestyle brands insert themselves into the important life moments of their users. Specifically, those life moments that echo the brand’s guiding beliefs and the values they’re working to explore.

The values worth exploring with your users are usually the ones that go unspoken. They’re the paths less traveled our minds, but hard to resist going down once someone shows us the way.

Emulation vs. empowerment.

If we’re moving from self-expression to self-discovery, then we’re also moving from emulation to empowerment.

In other words, purely “aspirational brands” will decline.

Many companies have beautiful and tight visual branding that signals something to aspire to, but not much more than that. We see them everywhere — clothing, food, tech, entertainment — but as consumers, we’re so oversaturated with this kind of two-dimensional branding that it has started to become redundant.

How can many of these brands be deciphered from one another? At what point do I stop caring about the novelty of aspirational brands and start looking for something that will deliver more?

When three major athleisure brands like We Are Handsome, Stellasport and Sweaty Betty become indistinguishable from one another, what is left?

From left: We Are Handsome, Stellasport, Sweaty Betty.

We will eventually reach a point where users won’t care about attaining a prescribed lifestyle nearly as much as they will care about being enabled to create the deeper lifestyle they want.

Aesthetics, while important, are a tactical trap. They are not where lifestyle brands start, but rather where they end.

A simple way to vet your brand is to ask yourself, “Am I encouraging people to emulate this lifestyle, or am I giving them the tools to attain something bigger?”

Notice I said tools, not products. For truly brand-led companies, the product is secondary. You’re not selling your yoga pants in the promise that people will become more athletic — that’s aspirational.

Instead, you’re doing what Outdoor Voices is doing and build a brand around “happiness” while everyone else is building theirs around extreme grit, physical endurance and in the women’s category, sexiness.

The name comes from her childhood, where [Outdoor Voices founder Tyler Haney’s] mom would encourage her to use an indoor voice while the kid in her just wanted to be outside all the time.

 

“I thought, What if I built a brand around something people loved — a recreational Nike that’s all about staying healthy and being happy doing it?

The brand empowers happiness in a multitude of ways, including crowdsourcing many of their designs, deliberately focusing on low-impact daily activities instead of extreme sports, and featuring un-retouched ads of women with real bodies and real cellulite.

 

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These are all ways to empower women in being happy.

“OV is about being human, not superhuman.” Haney knows that for the next generation of brands, aspiration is taking a back seat to something more powerful.

It’s why the company grew 800% in 2016 alone and commands huge lines at their NYC sample sales, rivaling the sample sales of most luxury brands I’ve had the chance to queue up for.

The buck has to stop somewhere.

Lifestyle brands need a founder’s face and voice.

Someone needs to take responsibility for everything that goes right and everything that goes wrong.

People need to know that if they are investing in so much intangible brand value and giving themselves over to such a demanding (but rewarding) self-discovery experience, there is someone on the other side of it all that is just as committed.

Unlike B2B and non-lifestyle B2C brands, lifestyle brands across the board need to showcase a real person that’s driving the vision and innovation in the company.

Your consumers don’t need a relationship with the founder specifically, but they need the comfort of knowing they aren’t being cheated by some flashy marketing gimmicks and a savvy art department.

The best companies are the ones led by CEOs who have their own personal brands. They’re influencers in their own realm who are one or two steps ahead of the company brand that they are building.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s personal brand (as exemplified through her life) is like Goop on steroids, and Elon Musk’s personal brand of being a rebel futurist is arguably leagues ahead of Tesla’s.

Elon Musk covering literally everything in his interview with Joe Rogan.

 

When a founder’s personal brand is further into the future than the company they are building, it demonstrates a real devotion to a larger belief.

It also gives avid users — the ones who spend the most and thirst for deeper engagement — a direction to point their attention in.

You don’t need to be a celebrity CEO, but you do need to be creating spheres of influence through content, social or in your physical network. You need a strong point of view that perhaps would be too heavy handed for your company, but can comfortably be explored by you as an individual.

Take your big idea and use your personal brand to push it further. Don’t be afraid to draw a line in the sand and show which side you fall on.

If you’re the CEO, people need to be able to find you, understand you, and make you part of the story.

 


 

The lifestyle consumer is changing. Your brand should, too.

The next generation fo winners in this space already see that we’re moving from Lifestyle 1.0 of graphics and clever taglines to Lifestyle 2.0 of conversation, empowerment and accountability.

As we move from self-expression to self-discovery, you need to be positioned as a brand that can guide users deeper into themselves.

It’s a riskier strategy that will take more time and money. But it’s the only strategy that will win the long game.

Categories
Marketing

Belief Is The New Benefit: Why you need to find your deeper brand

Photo by Scott Webb.

Time to rethink what you’re selling.

We’re living in a time when every brand is rethinking who they are and what they stand for.

That’s because at some point during the Apple revolution, consumers stopped buying products. They stopped buying specs like more horsepower in their cars or greater color options for their shoes. They stopped buying features like cheaper price for electronics or faster delivery of their food.

And at some point, they even started migrating away from benefits like productivity by way of their note taking apps, or the confidence that comes with a whiter smile, or anything that stopped at being aspirational.

What people started buying instead was beliefs, and nearly every new disruptor out there is banking on that insight.

Belief is the new benefit. Users are buying not the product, but rather the larger belief that makes that product necessary.

And for all of you that think you sell more ‘practical’ products immune to this new branding frontier, like toothpaste or moving services or mortgages, I guarantee there is someone plotting to steal your market with a belief, right now.

Yes, even if you sell toothpaste, a brand like Twice is here to eat your lunch.

Twice website Jan. 16, 2019

The Twice story has philanthropy and social good, safe ingredients and even Lenny Kravitz.

But what Twice is really about is turning toothpaste into something much greater. If grooming is now about self-care and wellness, then Twice is about a mood… or rather, elevating your mood to reach that pinnacle of wellness we strive for in every other part of our lives.

Twice embodies the belief that our most intimate rituals are sacred.

It’s a young, newly launched company that still has room to grow on the branding side, but they’re smart enough to know that they’re not here to sell you a product.

They’re here to sell you a new belief you didn’t know you held before.

After all, why shouldn’t we have different toothpastes for day and night, to serve two very different needs? Why shouldn’t we take care of our smiles and bodies and mental states the way we deserve?

Why shouldn’t brushing our teeth — something that marks both the beginning and end of the day, something that prepares us to both fight and to rest, something that signals self respect just as much as it does societal norms and taboos — be treated like a sacred ritual?

Twice goes deeper, like so many other brands I have written about over the years. When you go deeper, you reveal a much richer way to tell your story and capture your audience.

Going deeper transcends nagging consumer concerns like cost or convenience, and lets you play outside of the confines of product.

Your deeper brand is the one that sells a belief. The product is secondary. It’s the belief that people want to consume.

What is a belief?

Many CEOs and and brand executives mistake beliefs for causes.

Let me be clear that causes are not beliefs. They are also not defensible brand strategies. These kinds of causes can certainly serve you in the short term and help align the brand today, but they will not motivate beyond a core group of users in the long term:

  • Charity
  • Gender equality
  • Product safety, anything “natural” or “free of X”
  • Climate change
  • Fighting against the system/ any system
  • Resources for the underserved
  • Philanthropy

Sustainability, too, is an identity driver that helps us align with a company as a consumer, but it is not a belief that will build a brand.

If you look at a company like Allbirds, it can be tempting to say that their commitment to sustainability, their craftsmanship and promise of ultimate comfort… that all of these things are the immovable pillars of a strong brand.

Allbirds website Jan. 16, 2019

But that’s not what Allbirds is really selling to the Bay Area VCs, New York lawyers, big city executives, west coast entrepreneurs and greater members of the gig economy that love them.

What Allbirds is selling is the belief and romance of Silicon Valley. They are selling all of the grit, determination, exceptionalism, autonomy and glory that the Silicon Valley myth holds within it.

This is a belief about upgrading yourself to a higher professional level, and Allbirds is the gear that will get you there.

You can see signals of this belief in their genesis. Allbirds, much like a tech-driven design experiment, were designed by the founders to be “the simplest sneaker we could imagine.”

After launching on Kickstarter, they were funded by a stable of name brand investors, their flagship NYC store is nestled among other D2C startup darlings like Casper and Everlane, and journalists and writers continue to say things like “Allbirds might be the closest the world of everyday fashion has come to embracing this ideal of optimized efficiency” or Allbirds are like “an algorithm on my feet.”

Take a look at their interviews and the press they have in business outlets like The Wall Street Journal, CNN, BusinessInsider and TIME. These are all signals sending the same message.

This is not a shoe or a comfort statement. It’s equipment for personal optimization.

If you look at the signals surrounding the brand, you come to understand that wearing Allbirds is like placing yourself within that greater Silicon Valley story.

Pay attention to how they don’t hide the fact that Silicon Valley’s elite is where this whole brand started. Notice how these shoes are part of the VC uniform that also includes Patagonia vests, button down shirts and S’Well bottles — an anecdote that is played up in nearly every mention of the brand.

Whether the brand was consciously seeded in the Silicon Valley scene, or was merely co-opted by its inhabitants, is unclear. But that’s not the only place where we can gather the brand belief that has emerged.

Look at the very people that make up their core audience. These are people who may not have careers in tech or have founded a startup, but work in adjacent industries where such a move might be a very alluring dream. Those same lawyers, creatives, executives, entrepreneurs and gig economy members resonate very strongly with the Silicon Valley belief of autonomy and personal success. Merino wool and the “the world’s most comfortable” design are merely the features to back it up.

A belief, unlike a cause, is a guidebook for understanding the world.

When you buy a belief, you are buying the whole universe of values, codes of conduct and rules that go along with it. That’s more than any benefit could ever do.

Beliefs are more powerful than benefits because they lock in a behavior. A brand led by belief informs your user’s mental model, not just their preferences.

Allbirds aren’t just comfortable shoes. They are a belief about who you are becoming, and inform your ideas about personal potential, drive and perhaps even destiny.

That may sound crazy, but it’s there in the brand. There are other options for eco and ethical footwear that also deliver comfort, but none of them deliver the magic that people really want to buy.

Centers of meaning.

Hospitals are becoming supermarkets. Supermarkets are becoming bars and restaurants. Bars and restaurants are becoming workspaces.

Like I said at the top of this discussion, every brand is rethinking who they are and what they stand for. They are rethinking their centers of meaning.

Left to right: Market on the Green, a grocery store run by ProMedica (WSJ), Local beers on tap at “The Parlor” at Whole Foods (Vox), Spacious turns restaurants like the Milling Room into co-working spaces during the day (NYT).

These companies have started to ask themselves who they are in a user’s life, what role they play and what they are actually offering.

When they did that, they realized they were not selling goods and services. They were selling much larger beliefs that touched on peoples’ lives in many more areas than previously thought.

When a healthcare company like ProMedica opens up a grocery store so that their doctors can prescribe both medicine and food to the patient, it’s because they understand their role as a guardian of health, not merely a hospital.

The same mechanics are at play when Whole Foods creates gathering spaces around in-store bars, or Spacious turns restaurants into co-working spaces during off peak hours. They looked at where they created meaning in a user’s life, not what they created as a product, and that is where they built their brands.

But what is most important here is the brave steps they took in having the brand strategy and belief direct the business strategy. They boldly started with the belief and meaning first, and then looked at the business. Most companies do it the other way around.

Yes, when you take an honest look at the centers of meaning that you are creating for your users and the beliefs that surround them, you will find that your business model may change.

You can decide to take the leap or play in your current comfort zone, but be assured that no one is safe from this tectonic shift. Not even major brands like Mastercard.

Apple, Nike, Target — these are all major brands with logos that omit the name. Starbucks dropped the word “coffee” from their logo a long time ago, and now that Mastercard (perhaps a less fervently admired consumer brand) has followed suit, it’s worth understanding why.

For Mastercard, the word “card” referred to a bygone relic of finance that no longer mattered. It tethered them to an archaic past.

The future of money is digital and Mastercard had to not only reassess the role it played in people’s metaphorical wallets, but how they could create meaning around money in general.

That meaning no longer revolved around a piece of plastic.

Dunkin’ has deleted the Donuts from its name because the product is incredibly limiting (especially in foreign markets where they have struggled) and because the product is no longer the brand.

Weight Watchers, which is now simply WW, has realized that they live in the sphere of wellness, not specifically weight management. That has caused them to revamp everything from the sourcing of their ingredients to the packaging of the program itself.

What we’re really left with in all of these cases is logos without names. Core images and icons.

It makes perfect sense: images and icons are the most primal ways to convey a belief.

You can see Jesus written in the sand, but you will feel the image of that cross on a hill. You can read a danger warning on a dumpster, but nothing strikes fear in your heart like a the spiky swirls of a biohazard symbol.

 

Excellent video on how to design fear into a perfect warning symbol.

 

Logos, name changes, new business verticals, subtext… they all point toward the larger movement that’s happening in branding right now. We’re in the next phase of how consumers and companies come to interact with one another.

When you truly hit on a resonant belief for your audience, the product and everything else around it falls away. That’s not to say that the product and every other part of the user experience don’t matter.

It’s to say that they are there to support the belief that holds them.


Understand your place in the user’s life.

This is the time to rethink what you’re actually selling. Your product and its features and benefits may have been the start, but they shouldn’t be the end of your brand journey.

For many founders, the belief is already there. They just have to stretch themselves to unearth it. Chances are you started your business because you had an important belief about the world or the future, but didn’t consciously realize it.

For others, they may have started with a product gap in the marketplace, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a belief to be found. Consumer rush in to fill those gaps when they are given the opportunity because they have tapped into a larger, silent belief that hasn’t been articulated yet. Look at your user to see what it is.

Branding never stops.

Honor your work as a company by giving it the context most likely to matter to the user. Give people the meaning that will make them understand why you exist in the first place.

Categories
Public Relations

Strong Brands Ask. Weak Brands Answer.

Don’t underestimate the power of a question-led narrative. Whether the brand is your company or yourself, it matters which side of the equation you’re on.

If you ever want to know who is controlling the narrative in a space, just look at who is asking the questions.

Pantone is asking the questions in the design industry.

Every Pantone chip, mug, makeup palette and Color Of The Year announcement asks the question, “What can color mean to us?”

Asking questions leads to a path forward.
Answering questions leads to a dead end.

Crayola, perhaps the only other ubiquitous color brand, has chosen to answer instead of ask. Their recent moves, including an iPad app launch and new crayon color announcement, are part of an effort to stay relevant with tech-first kids.

Their answer is, “This is what color should mean to you.”

Just like Pantone they, too, own a finite set of colors upon which all of their products are based. Just like Pantone, they’ve experienced an influx of new competitors, lower barriers to entry and a rapidly changing user.

But unlike Pantone, they’ve moved down a path of narrative dead ends.

A Storyteller’s Advice: Don’t answer when you can ask.

The best apples-to-apples comparison between these two brands is how they approach their biggest color events.

Pantone’s Color Of The Year has been described (and received) very differently than Crayola’s announcement of a new crayon color.

Here’s a telling excerpt from Pantone’s press release for 2018’s Color Of The Year, Ultra Violet:

We are living in a time that requires intensiveness and imagination. It is this kind of creative inspiration that is indigenous to PANTONE 18–3838 Ultra Violet, a blue-based purple that takes our awareness and potential to a higher level. From exploring new technologies and the greater galaxy, to artistic expression and spiritual reflection, intuitive Ultra Violet lights the way to what is yet to come.

Here’s an excerpt from Crayola’s press release announcing the new Bluetiful crayon to replace Dandelion Yellow:

“Four months ago, we invited North America to be a part of Crayola history and help us name our new blue crayon color, and today, that became a reality,” said Melanie Boulden, Senior Vice President of U.S. and Global Marketing at Crayola. “Thanks to our fans’ passion and creativity, our new blue has an awesome new name. The name Bluetiful exudes creativity and originality. We couldn’t be more excited to welcome new Bluetiful to the Crayola color family.”

Crayola’s new crayon fails to mean anything because it there is no larger question behind it.

Pantone’s Color of The Year means something to us because the question behind it helps us discover something about ourselves. That’s what questions do.

Questions offer the promise of new knowledge.
Answers make knowledge finite.

We won’t wait for the next Crayola crayon, but we will definitely wait for the Pantone color of 2019.

More specifically, we will wait for the color of 2019 to reveal something — and questions tend to reveal a lot more than answers.

These two brands have very different audiences, but you can still reveal something about children (or the child in every adult) to themselves. Lego and Disney have demonstrated this masterfully.

Questions are important because they not only give you movement, but latitude as well.

Pantone has successfully leapt product categories, consumer groups and cultural boundaries in ways that Crayola hasn’t been able to because they were following a question as their North Star. When we experience the Pantone brand, we encounter that question, and discover a bit more about what color can mean to us.

It’s easy to trap yourself with an answer. Answers deliver value… but questions deliver meaning.

I tell stories for our brands in the same way — by inspiring curiosity, and then chasing that curiosity into powerful brand identity, positioning, defensible market moves, communication strategies, product launches and organizational focus.

When you find the right question, trust that it will take you where you need to go.

A Publicist’s Advice: Never let someone ask you the wrong question.

Before my company Concept Bureau was a brand strategy agency, we were a PR agency called J.B. Communications.

While we still do PR strategy for our clients, I’m not on the ground managing media anymore. But back when I was, there was one red flag that I trained all clients to watch out for.

Never let someone ask you the wrong question.

If you ever get that terrible feeling that you’re in a position of weakness when someone asks you something, or if you know there is no good way to answer a question without the other person gaining an upper hand, it’s likely because you’re being asked the wrong question to begin with.

That’s happened to me twice recently.

The first time, I was able to successfully reverse the situation. The second time, I slipped and lost control of the narrative, but I know exactly what I should have done differently.

A service provider I had a verbal work-trade agreement with recently sold her practice and left me with a high balance of hours I had no way of recouping… something I only learned of when I inquired about it a few weeks later.

Her response was that although she could no longer provide the original service hours she owed me, she would be glad to work out whatever agreement I thought was fair.

Sounds reasonable.

But think about that for a moment… that’s not an answer. That’s a question asking me what do you want to do about it?

That question put me in a position of weakness because it required me to find the solution to a problem that 1) I hadn’t created, and 2) would never have all of the information for.

How could I know what a good agreement would look like when she’s the only one who knows what she can truly offer me?

She was trying to ask me the wrong question.

The correct conversation for this situation was not about how I could find a solution. It was about how she could find it… and so my response to her was, “What options do we have?”

Even if her response was to lowball me, I would be able to negotiate something from a position of power.

The person, brand or entity asking the questions is the one in charge because they dictate the possible range of answers.

You don’t shape a conversation by providing the words. You shape it by creating the context.

Sometimes people want to have the same conversation as you, but they’re just starting in the wrong place.

Other times, however, they want to pin you down in an unfavorable situation.

When my husband told me we could go on a free helicopter ride this past weekend, I was excited. But there was one catch — it was part of a sales ploy and we’d have to sit through a 90-minute timeshare presentation by Hyatt Residences first.

We were on vacation for his birthday, so after resisting for a good bit (and considering my husband’s argument that as bad as a timeshare sales presentation may be, it‘s’ one of those wonderfully terrible cultural experiences everyone should live through at least once), I agreed.

At the very end of our conversation with the timeshare sales agent, after nearly and hour and a half of dodgy explanations and complicated point systems, the discussion came to an interesting point.

As she ‘calculated’ our ROI, she asked us how long we expect to travel.

Me: “Let’s do it over an 8 year horizon and see what that looks like.”

Agent (tone suddenly condescending): “8 years? So you’re just gonna burn all of your luggage after that and stay at home forever?

Me: “No… I mean we’ll still travel… I just kinda wanna know what it might look like after 8 years. It would be good to know if we do this for 8 years, what kind of situation we’d be in. Of course we’d still keep traveling, though…”

No. Wrong response.

What I should have done was refuse to let her ask me the wrong question.

A strong response from me would have been the counter question, “Will I need to wait more than 8 years before this is even worth my money?”

When I answered her question the way I originally did, I let her make the conversation about whether I was qualified for a timeshare, instead of changing the context altogether to ask if her timeshare product was worth my time.

If you’re explaining, you’re losing. Let other people sell to you. Don’t let them make you sell.

It’s ok, though. We finally got the free helicopter ride.

 

 

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Finding ways to ask at the right time is crucial.

Just as important, however, is asking the right questions to begin with.

A Strategist’s Advice: Make the conversation bigger.

As a brand strategist, I’m always looking for the conversation that can’t be leapfrogged. Great brands have that one huge question that can’t go unanswered.

Strategic storytelling takes that question and pushes it forward.

Branding, accordingly, happens between the lines. Brands effectively ask questions through their actions, their decisions and their perspectives.

When you or your brand are faced with a narrative that serves someone other than yourself, take that narrative and make it bigger.

Upstart food, beauty, health and consumer brands that lived in ecosystems run by the P&Gs and Unilevers of the world did exactly that by starting the ‘X-free’ conversation: gluten-free, dairy-free, sulfate-free, chemical-free, cruelty-free, conflict-free.

They asked, “What are we putting in our bodies? What are we doing to the world?” and forced major brands to answer for the first time ever.

Those are questions much bigger than “How established is your brand?”

Questions, unlike answers, are less threatening and prescriptive. It’s akin to the difference between Do it this way or instead Wouldn’t it be nice to do it this way?

When we ask, we untether the conversation from ourselves and make it instead about the larger progression of an idea.

LPT: An argument is when you are trying to determine WHO is right, a conversation is when you are trying to determine WHAT is right.

u/Edenspawn

Answering, of course, does have its place. But there are really only two people you need to ever answer to: the consumer and yourself.

Amazon, Facebook and Google know that. They don’t even answer to the government.

They get away with it because they’ve successfully asked the big questions for so long, that at some point we began to trust them more than our own institutions. Public backlashes may come and go, but every day that we log into our Amazon, Facebook and Google accounts, we are voting for the askers.

Google I/O, iPhone launches and Facebook developer events are annual pilgrimages to hear the big questions being asked.

CES is where everyone else tries to answer them.

Watch me break down this concept and dig into these examples in the video below:

 

 


Making the equation work for you.

Ask yourself if you’re on the right side of the conversational equation:

  • Are you asking the big questions in your industry, or are you answering your competitor’s questions?
  • Do your tactical and marketing strategies explore a bigger idea?
  • Is your product strategy dictated by your brand strategy, or the other way around?
  • Does your brand’s narrative also reveal a clear market path?
  • Can you move into new categories and new consumer psychographics without compromising the integrity of your brand?

Asking can be very powerful and illuminating.

Those that are brave enough to follow that path are also the ones that commit to constant exploration. There is more value in moving the conversation forward than in merely satisfying it today.

Consumers know that, too, and that is why they reward those brands that continuously inquire.

You can always flip the script for your brand.

It all starts with a question.