• Hayley Cherrett

Time to change your story?


In the 70s, Bhutan languished in the shadow, literally, of its Himalayan neighbours. To help raise the country's profile, the young king, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, encouraged his people to discuss the idea of Gross National Happiness.


He argued that Gross Domestic Product was not enough to deliver happiness and well-being to society. He believed that happiness was a better indicator of progressive development for the Bhutanese people.


The nation's people, businesses and brands rallied around this strategy to support Bhutan’s efforts to put the country on the map.


By changing the story, Bhutan was able to highlight its strengths and unify them under a unique idea so that the country is now known as a country of happiness and high-quality tourism.


Is it time to change your story?


Today, businesses find themselves languishing in the shadow of the pandemic. What does their brand or organisation mean to customers in these unprecedented times?


Many of our clients are going through a period of reflection. While they may not quite make the leap of King Jigme, we’ve identified three areas brands can look at to refresh their story:


1. Is the message still relevant?

2. Is the tone still appropriate?

3. Is it time to radically change the story?

1. Adjust the message


For example, we work with an IT platform that offers large businesses considerable savings through a super slick, data driven, cloud-based platform. And by large we’re talking billion-dollar turnover large.


To date, their message has been fairly bullish about savings and efficiencies, all delivered in a no-nonsense tone that fits with their founder’s ethos.


However, in the new normal, this started to look like an insensitive message. Jobs and livelihoods were at stake in the cuts forced on many businesses.


So, the messaging switched to being more about resilience, how the platform would help businesses survive the u-shaped, v-shaped, or some-other-letter-of-the-alphabet-shaped crash.

The brand has always been about being cost-efficient, but now this needed to be nuanced in a way that was about long term business success, rather than ruthless savings.


What to look for in changing the message:


· Does the current copy still address your customers’ issues? If they’ve had to change their behavior, you need to change the copy.

· Does the message have life beyond the pandemic? Easy to have a knee jerk response to Covid, but think beyond the next few months.

· Is the new message something your team can get behind or live up to?


2. Change the tone


For our B2B tech platform the tone became more empathetic. Softened but still very business-like.


Similarly, we work with a large private health provider. During the pandemic, they’ve been working closely with the NHS and providing vital services that take some of the pressure off stretched resources.


Despite being able to provide incredible life-changing surgery in the midst of the crisis, patients are still understandably nervous about coming into hospitals.


A reassuring tone aimed at the patient is key. Previously their style had been more corporate (their main customers) and used what you might call ‘consultant-speak’, the rarefied language of the medical specialist.


They’ve now moved to a style that puts patient concerns at the heart of the messaging. The tone is more empathetic and simpler – without dumbing down their extraordinary achievements.


How can you adapt your tone?


· Look at your tone of voice guidelines. Share the techniques that help writers reflect the changed direction of your brand.

· If you haven’t got tone of voice guidelines, perhaps now is the time. Writing is an inescapable part of business life, and it can really strengthen your brand culture if everyone is on the same page.


3. Make a radical change ?


We’ve always liked O2’s ‘Be more dog’ campaign as an example of a braver refresh of the story. Before more dog, O2 was all soft bubbles and connectivity. Nice, but not very distinctive in a highly competitive field.


‘Be more dog’ shook up the sector and became campaign of the year. And we think there are brands that would benefit from being a bit more dog.


For example, we work with a lot of universities. It’s a very conservative sector in marketing terms. Many don’t want to be thought of as brands at all.


But they are. And this year, more than ever, many are in danger of struggling to fill the order books – especially given the lack of international students.


Traditionally, university marketing is geared around story of change or transformation. It’s hard to find a campaign which doesn’t try to attract students with a line about change, or discovering yourself, or just plain old transformation.


But perhaps now is a time for someone in the sector to zig when the others zag, to be more dog, (insert own marketing rebel strategy here).


We know unis struggle to be seen on social media, that the target audience are resistant to anything the looks like marketing. Endless smiling students on placement blur into a sea of teeth and diversity.


As WonkHE, opinion formers for the sector, report: ‘a university cannot spin its way to survival. But a clear, differentiated brand strategy can set it on its way.’

And that’s pretty much true whichever sector you’re in.

How to make a radical change:

  • Be bold. This is no time for conservative thinking

  • Look outside the sector. What's working for other industries

  • Look inside the sector. Think what makes you different, not the same.

Do that and all will be happiness.

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