Brands with conviction know the beliefs and values that drive their actions. They know their purpose in the marketplace. They provide value to their customers. They fulfill their promises. They’re more concerned with building long-term trust than landing a one-time sale. Brands with conviction stand for something. And when you stand for something, you stand out.
“The Stack” is how we refer to our process for building brands. Sometimes we only do a part of the stack for a client; sometimes we work our way through the whole thing. Regardless, we always start with belief.
Brands are built on differentiation, and an organization’s most powerful differentiation is the beliefs and values that drive their organization.
Those beliefs create internal unity and inspire their vision. They’re the heart and soul of a brand. Even if they’re subconscious, they’re manifesting as action. Knowing your beliefs allows you to explain who you are, what you do, and why people should care; to have clarity in your communication in a way that differentiates you from your competition; to have consistency in what you say and your promise to customers.
Traditional marketing starts with strategy. But without belief to anchor it, strategy can easily devolve into manipulation: What do I have to say to people to get them to buy what I’m selling? Strategy is at its most powerful—its most authentic—when there’s something that comes first; something that differentiates you from your competition. Once you know what it is, strategy becomes simple: How do I communicate this to the right people, in the right place, at the right time?
Venture capitalist Ben Horowitz got it right when he said, “Your story is your strategy.” When you build your strategy on the foundation of your story—your beliefs and values—it’s that much better, because it’s true. And whatever is true about your organization is good enough to market.
Content—from Instagram posts and Pinterest pins to blog posts and white papers—is meant to solve problems. (If the problem is sales, make content explaining the product. If the problem is internal alignment, make content that establishes the organization’s mission.)
Content is the closest thing a brand has to a voice. It’s the primary way to communicate with the audience and provide them with value throughout the customer journey, so that trust is established and the customer is more inclined when the business asks for a sale. Content acts as a break between the promotional messages brands typically send out to people. Think of it as being the 10 casual coffee dates you have with a friend in between asking them for a ride to the airport.
It’s one thing to create great content, but what if no one sees it? Once the content exists, you have to get it in front of the right people, in the right place, at the right time. Distribution is a megaphone, amplifying what you have to say to your audience. And the more you know about your audience, the better prepared you are to serve them with content that provides value and invites them to take action.
Distribution is the art of aligning worldviews; to be hyper-focused on finding the appropriate audience and providing value for them. It’s difficult to sell someone something when they don’t value the same things you do. On the other hand, it’s easier to create a happy customer when you’re aligned in your beliefs and values, because people who are aligned with you will naturally be much more receptive to your message.
Data is critical—it shows us what’s working and what’s not. Data allows us to adjust the time of an email campaign to optimize open rates or replace an ad with a colored background that’s being outperformed by one with a photo background. It’s valuable in helping us sharpen the message. But it should never dictate the message.
Data is at its best when it helps us get closer to our audience so we can provide a better service for them. It’s at its worst when it’s being used to manipulate people into taking action that’s not in their best interest. Because what happens when what we’re saying isn’t true—and the customer finds out?
Great marketing—great communication with the people who interact with your brand—never ends; it’s a continual journey that evolves. Once you know what distribution methods offer the best ROI, you can leverage those learnings to sharpen your distribution and sharpen the content you’re creating with the goal of providing more and more value to customers. Distribute, analyze, repeat. (And repeat again.)
That, in turn, builds more trust. The result of which is a brand with conviction, made to withstand the test of time.
Sell me a story
When you understand the power of story, you have an obligation: to tell true stories. We tell true stories with conviction—structured, well-crafted narratives that inspire audiences and drive people to action.
Once you know your belief, purpose, and values and you’ve established a strategy for communicating them, it’s time to make content. The way you bring that content to life is through story, because stories are the only way to inspire people to action.
Stories aren’t complicated, but there are some tried-and-true principles that, when employed, lead to more engaging, emotional, resonating stories. We call those principles story structure.
You’ve heard the term everywhere. You think you know storytelling—but can you define what a story is?
“A story is entertainment.” “A story is … a story.” “A story is a list of things that happened.”
Close. A story is the telling or retelling of a series of events, leading to a conclusion. (And by that, we mean it doesn’t just end—it culminates in a lesson to be learned.) Stories aren’t frivolous, or primitive, or inferior to drama and literature. Every story exists for a reason: to prove a point.
To put it in the words we use: We tell stories to communicate “survival information.” To put it simply: We tell stories to teach each other lessons.
The simple act of sharing a story holds great power—to create empathy and transformation; to implant in someone’s head another person’s life experience; to move people. In marketing, the power of story inspires people to action.
In order to understand why belief is important, you have to understand armature.
You’re probably familiar with the idea of a “theme” in storytelling (the central subject behind a work). Armature (named after the frame around which a sculpture is built—the skeleton that helps the sculpture retain its shape) goes a step further in describing the core messaging of a story. The armature is your point, the argument you’re trying to make. The armature is the one thing you want your audience to walk away knowing—if they forget everything else but remember this, it will be a success.
Knowing your belief helps you get to your armature as quickly as