Successfully Turning Your Meaning, Purpose, and Product into Your Brand Story

More of a reader? Here’s what is covered in the video, but transcribed into text.

What is a brand story? This question I get asked quite often, both online and in person. I wanted to start out by defining Brand Story and why it should matter to every business.

Your brand story is much more than a narrative. It goes beyond the copy on your website or the content in your investor pitches. Brand Story extends past collateral and is way more than any verbiage you write in customer-focused email.

Your story is what the world believes about you based on the signals you send through all of your brand assets.

In other words, it’s the complete picture made up of the things that are true about you and your business in the hearts and minds of your customers.

Every story has (at least) two sides and the truth, as they say, lies somewhere in the middle. By “the truth” we mean facts, but also feelings and interpretations. Meaning that your Story isn’t articulated by words and expression that come from you, but rather how you are perceived in the marketplace. This includes the look and feel of your website, brand identity, packaging, the people you hire, and the values that they stand for, and more. Every element of it needs to authentically reflect who you are & who your brand is back to your audience.

If you want to build a big, successful, sustainable business that will garner wild fans and crazy loyalty you need to start with your brand story.

Recently, I’ve realized that I need to wear eyeglasses (please spare the aging jokes). The only problem is I despise shopping for eyeglasses. I’ll tell you why: I only have a couple of choices when it comes to shopping. For example, I can go to Costco – a huge warehouse that makes me feel like I’m part of the masses and I’m getting cookie-cutter eyeglasses. Even if the label on the eyeglasses is actually a brand name, the environment in Costco makes it feel cheap and boring to me. Heck, I don’t even like to purchase my socks at Costco, much less something as conspicuous as a pair of eyeglasses. Another option I have is to go to a fancy optometrist and look at the designer frames, which to me feels really intimidating. Not only is there a limited selection, I tend to feel that I’m getting ripped off from a price perspective. These two options I want to avoid for as long as I possibly can.

As part of my process for determining how I am going to make this purchase, I hear about this company called Warby Parker. I learn that you can select eyeglasses from their website (up to five frames) that they will send directly to you to try on, or you can also visit a retail location if there is one nearby. Fortunately, we have one here in Boulder so I go check it out and I must say, I was blown away by what I experienced at Warby Parker.

The first thing I notice is that the people greeting me weren’t opticians – they were really friendly folks and they even gave me a quick orientation. The store employees help make the process really easy and accessible for anyone and after the orientation, I knew exactly where to go to start looking at and trying on the frames. I also notice that almost a third of the shelf space is dedicated to something I love – books! If you have checked out my website or online presence at all you know I am all about Story. The fact that classic literature makes up part of the design and ambiance of the store made me feel connected to the brand and the employees. I find out the reason for the books after I research the brand, which I share with you down the page.

As I am trying on frames, I am realizing that Warby Parker is starting to fulfill one of the primary WILDSTORY principals:

By telling me who they are, they were telling me who I am.

Warby Parker has this vision of who they want me to become – smart, stylish, maybe savvy, and that was manifesting itself through my retail experience. I was already identifying myself as part of their tribe even though I was only in there for roughly 30 minutes. I’ll even venture to say I even felt a little smarter because of this exchange – finding stylish glasses for a great price. I’m a big believer that the underlying foundation – things that we don’t even see – are significant influencers in drawing us to embrace and become fans of specific brands.

After my experience and prior to receiving the spectacles in the mail, I wanted to learn more about the backstory of the brand. So, of course, I navigate to their website and here’s where it got really interesting. It turns out that Warby Parker has a great origin story and I will share some of what I learned with you here.

As college friends they started the company when one of them lost their glasses and was frustrated by how expensive glasses were. As I dug a little deeper, it turns out that when the four founders started Warby Parker, they had two main and specific goals: one was to offer alternatives to the overpriced and underwhelming eyewear that was available to them and the second was to build a business that could solve problems instead of creating them.

Many are trying to buy what I call “Social Karma” with customers these days ever since Toms did the “buy one, give one” campaign. Sometimes this feels contrived as if they have created a giving campaign to enhance their public image, but there is no heart rationale behind their efforts. Warby Parker has a give-back element to their brand, but it doesn’t feel contrived the way many charitable efforts do. I find out why as I continue to explore.

One of the founders, Neil Blumenthal, was already working for the non-profit Vision Spring before Warby Parker was even a thought in his mind. Based on his insider knowledge, he brought to light that the eyewear industry at the time was dominated by one manufacturing company – regardless of the brand – and they were able to keep prices artificially high. Neil had this ‘behind the kimono” information and wanted to make sure that if he came to work for Warby Parker, giving back would be part of the ethos of the brand. Knowing this part of the origin story, it makes total sense why the giving back attribute of the brand feels very natural and not like it was invented by the marketing department.

The hallmark of a good brand story is your meaning or purpose + your product = your story.

The name Warby Parker, where does it come from? It was inspired by some of Jack Kerouac’s literary manuscripts. One of the founders, Dave, noticed two characters with interesting names, Warby Pepper and Zagg Parker. They combined the two and came up with Warby Parker. They wanted a cool name that communicated who they were and who they thought they were. This love of literature and books and the origin of the name also explains all the books in the store. As I did more research I found that on the first day of employment with Warby Parker, every employee is given a copy of Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac. It’s these little cues and signals starting on day one with their employees, letting them know what they value and what the employee should value in who they are. This is all super important to setting up what they do and why they do it as a core foundation of their brand story.

But what about the glasses? A week later they arrived at my house, and via email and the entire time they’re communicating to me and building anticipation about when the glasses were produced, when they’re shipped, and when they’re expected to arrive. They were building this excitement that I was really pumped for.

When the box arrived, it was in a colorful package covered with artists paintings, a little different than any other glasses I bought, which were always a utilitarian product packaging experience. If the brand packaging was the icing on the cake, this next part was the cherry on top – when I opened up the glasses case, inside was a cleaning cloth that almost made me cry – from a microfiber cleaning cloth no less – because on this cloth was Warby Parker’s story in 100 words.

An artifact tied back to the brand and their story is simply brilliant because, especially in this case, it is a continual reminder of who Warby Parker is, what their mission is, and that is really special and quite clever in execution.

Every Brand Story needs to live up to its stated promise. At Warby Parker it was stylish glasses for a great price and an easy buying process – done. A+ for Warby Parker because they lived up to this promise. They’ve built one raving fan in me and I am confident they’re doing it with most of their customers as well.

If you like these videos, let me know. I’d love for you to comment below. If you have any ideas for future brands to review go ahead and email me at marc@wildstory.com

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About Marc Gutman

I'm Marc Gutman the founder and do-whatever-needs-to-be-done guy at WILDSTORY. I'm a storyteller, entrepreneur, husband, father, adventure seeker, coffee lover, notebook snob, and closet sketchnoter. I believe that telling your story is the ultimate competitive advantage in business -- probably the only one left these days. As a result I am obsessive about branding, story structure, design and tend to appreciate anyone who is too. I love living in the great state of Colorado and try to play outdoors as much as possible. When I'm not in the office you can usually find me doing one of the following: snowboarding, hiking, mountain biking, camping, cycling, kiteboarding, or fishing with a cold craft beer in hand.

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