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Brand Strategy
Content Strategy

Don’t Be a Hero: Casting Your Brand in the Right Role

An image of shapes and charts to represent an annual report

Take a quick look at your website or latest fundraising piece. Do most sentences start with “We are…” or “We do…”? Do you talk about yourself at least twice as much as you do about the people you’re speaking to?

If so, you may have inadvertently cast yourself as the hero of the story you and your audience find yourselves in – and it could be a turnoff to the very people you’re trying to reach.

It’s understandable to assume that focusing primarily on who you are, what you stand for, and what makes you special convinces people to choose your organization. Why else would so many brands communicate with their customers this way?

But here’s the problem: Most of us hold no space in our brains for brands – we’re too preoccupied with our own lives. If we think or care about a brand at all, it’s only because we believe that it can do something for us, that it fits into our life story.

So where does your brand fit into your audience’s story?

First, What Even Is a Story?

Given that we’re surrounded by them, it can be surprisingly tricky to actually define what a story is. But Donald Miller, author and creator of the now-famous StoryBrand Framework, does a great job nailing it down in a single simple idea:

“A character … wants something and overcomes conflict to get it.”

Seems obvious, right? Maybe that’s because it touches on a fundamental human truth: Our lives are stories. We each see ourselves as the protagonist – the main character – in our own story, and what matters most to us is getting the thing we want, whatever it is.

If it’s true of all of us, that means it’s true of your audience. That’s critical to keep in mind if you want your brand to connect with them successfully.

What Role Should Your Brand Play?

Let’s recap what we’ve covered so far:

  • Everyone sees themselves as the main character in their own story, including (and especially) your audience.
  • In their communications, many brands accidentally cast themselves as the main character in the audience’s story.

We’ve discovered a conflict! No one is going to give up the leading role in their life story to a brand. (Would you?) If your brand has stumbled into this conflict, you’ll need to overcome it to get what you want from your audience. The good news is there’s a straightforward solution:

Cast your brand as an indispensable supporting character in your audience’s story.

Any film buff will tell you that the characters who support a story’s protagonist come in all shapes, sizes, and skills. Take the “Lord of the Rings” movies as a great example: Frodo doesn’t just turn to Gandalf and his wizardry to help him get to Mount Doom and destroy the ring. He also relies on a whole band of comrades that make their own distinct, invaluable contributions to his mission.

If you truly understand the challenges facing your audience, you can better position your brand to offer them something they need that you’re uniquely qualified to provide – whether it’s your sword, your bow, or your ax.

What does this recasting of your brand look like, practically speaking?

  1. Start with one of the core components of marketing: considering what your audience wants. Don’t be afraid to think big-picture, and don’t shy away from repeating this step with different audience segments and personas – it’s likely that the various audiences you interact with (e.g., donors, program partners, prospective staff) have different wants.
  2. Next, think about the conflict – the obstacles – your audience has to overcome to get what they want. Maybe it’s a lack of knowledge that stands in their way. Perhaps it’s limited resources, like money or time. Ask big questions and expand your view of your audience’s situation.
  3. Now, the fun part: Identify the role your brand can believably play to help the audience overcome their obstacles. In light of what you know about their story, how can you authentically frame your product or service as a support that helps the audience get what they want?

A Case Study in Brand Recasting

We recently put this kind of story thinking into practice with one of our clients, a leading nonprofit driving transformation in the financial services space. The client tapped our team to revamp the email series welcoming new subscribers to its list. The business goal was clear: Encourage deeper engagement among new subscribers, with the ultimate aim of spurring conversion for the brand’s paid services. However, while the organization knew what it wanted to accomplish for its purposes, we believed we could unlock greater success for them by thinking more deeply about the wants of these new subscribers.

We set to work studying the audience for these emails: leaders in financial services companies and HR departments at large employers, tasked with adopting new strategies in their organizations. This target audience certainly had enough interest in the resources our client offers to subscribe and learn more. What the audience didn’t know, however, was how to leverage those resources to benefit their organizations – or how our client was uniquely suited to help them achieve outcomes like increased customer loyalty or higher employee productivity.

Our client had a few advantages working for them: Not only are they the foremost and longest-tenured authority in their space, they also facilitate knowledge-sharing and relationship-building among those they support. Applying the lens of story, we understood the brand in this scenario as the wise, helpful, well-connected expert who could guide the protagonist (i.e., email subscribers) who has been thrust into unfamiliar territory and needs someone to advise and guide them – not just at the outset, but all along the journey as well.

If the audience was Harry Potter in “Sorcerer’s Stone,” our client was Albus Dumbledore.

Our team embraced this thinking during the initial content planning, and it shone through in our execution. In the end, the client’s new onboarding campaign was laser-focused on the problems facing its new customers, established its brand as an indispensable advisor, and made plain how engaging with the brand would move prospective clients closer to their goals.

Help Your Audience Find "Happily Ever After"

If there’s one big takeaway here, it’s that your brand doesn’t have to be the hero in order to make a heroic difference. Let the customer be the protagonist, and instead consider how you might re-cast your brand in the story you occupy with them. Thinking this way, you’ll have a bigger impact than you might expect.

Need help figuring out which role you’re best suited to play in your audience’s story? We can be your sidekick. Book a consultation with us – we’re eager to hear your story and lend a hand.

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