Tapping into your brand’s bigger story

Five years ago this month I left the business I co-founded in 1993 — and started over. Some moments I think it was a reckless decision, leaving behind the security of a prospering business for an uncertain pursuit. Most of the time, it feels like the right decision, heeding a desire to reconnect to purpose and passion in my work.

Source Flickr: By koalazymonkey

This is the backdrop of R.Bruer Company, my bigger story, if you will. Yes, I provide branding, messaging and storytelling for businesses and nonprofits. Those are my services. My bigger story taps into what I believe matters most in our work as individuals and organizations: helping others add meaning to their lives while engaging them in a larger purpose.

Each of our organizations has a smaller story to tell. Unfortunately, it’s often the only one we share. We focus on what our organizations do: develop software, design clothes, grow food, treat illness, remodel homes, educate children and on and on. We carve out ways to differentiate what we do from our competition and explain the difference to our customers. Important stuff, to be sure. Just not the stuff that really floats anyone’s boat.

Beyond your smaller story

There’s a reason your organization may be sticking to its smaller story: You don’t know or have forgotten your larger one. One place you may find it is in what author Rob Walker called the “fundamental tension of modern life” in his terrific book “Buying In: The Secret Dialog Between What We Buy and Who We Are.”

“We all want to feel like individuals. We all want to feel like a part of something bigger than ourselves.”

Is it about us? Is it about more than us? It’s both, and your organization can find its bigger story by being aware that your customers, employees and other stakeholders are looking to fulfill both of these desires, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes separately.

We want to contribute to the common good. And we want to feel uncommon doing it. When your organization recognizes and satisfies these twin needs you have a bigger story to tell. You’re engaging your stakeholders in what matters most to them. And that’s big.

Businesses tend to speak to one end of the fundamental tension: our desire to feel like individuals. Nonprofits usually speak to the other end: our wish to be part of something bigger. Connect your stakeholders to both and suddenly your story takes on dimension like never before.

Think bigger

My business isn’t branding or messaging. It’s helping my clients reconnect with their larger purpose, what makes them competitively unique and how they can be more important to those they rely on for success.

Don’t limit your story to making or selling a better, faster or cheaper product or service. Think bigger. Think of your organization, product or service as what others can use to express or achieve meaning in their lives and make a difference outside themselves.

That’s easier said than done for many of us. Because, frankly, not all of our organizations can honestly tell a bigger story. Our business can’t deliver on the desire for others to feel like one of a kind because we don’t know what makes our business unique. We can’t promise to connect others to something larger than themselves because we don’t stand for something bigger.

It’s not about you

That leaves us with our smaller story. For many, that’s enough. Perhaps you believe the purpose of business is simply to make money. And as long as you’re doing that, you’ll go on building a better mousetrap and leave that purpose and fulfillment stuff to others.

Never mind that your customers don’t see their purpose as helping you make money. They won’t stay connected to your smaller story because it’s about you, not them. Eventually, they turn to the business that’s tapped into its bigger story. Because that’s where they find themselves — and a whole lot more.

August 11th, 2011

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