10 Dec 2020 20:41 IST

Why the story behind the brand matters

The purpose is to make customers think about why a brand exists and what would happen if it never did

When a brand is in crisis, understand that it’s time to reinvigorate the core customer. It is the core customer that will facilitate a profitable turnaround and provide a solid platform for the future.


President and CEO, Harley Davidson




According to recent reports, Harley Davidson (HD) is in need of a resurgence. HD's CEO, Jochen Zeitz is proffering a fundamental shift to put HD back on the road to sustain profitable growth. Zeitz is discarding the plan he inherited to attract new, younger customers with more petite, less-powerful, economical models. The fact of the matter is, it did not work. HD failed to attract new customers by simply turning off its core customer base, further damaging the image of the brand.

Often, marketers are called upon by clients or other stakeholders to solve complex problems or chart out new paths with new products or markets. In such circumstances, there is a general drift to immersing oneself into the assorted details and other variables about the goal, as if the solution is lurking in plain sight on column H, row seven of the spreadsheet in front of you. The analysis when plotting a new strategy is critical, but that’s only a part of the story. They don’t mean anything unless the context of the “big picture” is put in perspective. The data will quantify trends and performance; however, they can never reveal the vision, spirit, and passion of a brand.

Big picture

When we start meeting the needs of the customer, we begin the process of discovery. For many businesses, agencies, and consultants, this involves taking a hard look at historical data, sales figures, competitive assessments, past marketing programmes, current plans, and so on. This is important because a fresh set of eyes from an external perspective can quickly spot where a problem or an opportunity lies. Being unbiased while looking through is key to seeing the unseen.

Brand story

Brands are finding their way by adopting techniques that lead to blockbuster story brands. Rightfully so in an economy that rewards brands that are both purposeful, inspiring, and engaging. Brands are created and owned by human beings. Therefore, without understanding what drove the creation of the brand or the loyalty to it, you cannot perceive, appreciate, and experience the true story behind it. Discovery must examine and stimulate clients for the ‘why’ a brand exists and what, if anything, would happen if it never existed at all. You will never get this from a SWOT analysis. Brands and their perceived value must be put to test to fully understand them. Without that, you can never market them effectively.

Brand stories are built on decisions and by asking the right questions:

  • Why brands are the way they are?
  • Where did the inspiration come from?
  • What was the purpose of why the brand was created in the first place?
  • What problems does the brand intend to solve?
  • What challenges did the brand overcome along the way?
  • Who was instrumental to the brand's creation or innovation?
  • Why did the brand go down that path?

Avoid the trail of fault-finding

Brands find themselves where they are for numerous reasons. And if they’re being challenged, it most often is due to:

  • Inconsistent brand identity
  • Cultural incongruity
  • Neglecting the customer
  • Imprudent extensions
  • Lack of marketing grants
  • Weak innovations
  • Sales vs. Management conflicts
  • Unsustainable growth and competitiveness

Most importantly remember, as a marketer you are being called to defeat these elements of the brand’s story, not worsen it.

Solid foundation

It is extremely important to review the brand story to discover the course of curative action or exploit an opportunity. Therefore, getting down to brass tacks may generate its most valuable asset — the brand story itself. And in building your brand story it’s imperative to keep in mind that character is the most meaningful thing in storytelling. It propels the plot and story, not the other way around. Moreover, the concoction of the big idea and the big picture will change the dynamics of the game.