A few days ago the New York Times ran an article about Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos. The Times describes the company as “the Silicon Valley company that was once the poster brand for biotech breakthroughs,” but now stands accused of “widespread fraud.” The company’s trajectory is described as a “slide into ignominy.”
The Times article focuses on the way Ms. Holmes branded herself by wearing a black turtleneck — the same type of turtleneck apparently favored by Steve Jobs. The article’s author, Vanessa Friedman, points out that Ms. Holmes thoroughly understood the elements of memorable branding: consistency in “creating an instantly identifiable image.”
“But,” Friedman suggests in her article, “such an individual uniform has a risk if you don’t live up to the promise. In the end, it’s the substance behind the style that makes the difference; what you wear becomes its expression.”
Ms. Holmes and her black turtlenecks (and hopefully her association with questionable practices) will seem far removed to most of us.
But the article serves as a reminder that we’re branded by more vivid associations than logos and colors. In particular, we’re branded by our stories — those we tell and those our audience tells about us.
That’s just one reason it’s rarely a good idea to follow the oft-quoted advice to “be vulnerable and tell your whole story.”
Stories stick. That’s why they’re powerful.
One marketer used to tell a story about running away from home to live on the streets. She posted that story on her About Page. When her name came up, you’d sometimes hear, “Oh yes, she’s the one with that terrible childhood.”
Not a bad association, but I suspect that’s not what she hoped would make her memorable. She eventually dropped that story from her website.
By contrast, a money coach used to tell the story of helping a divorced woman with ruined credit and minimal savings. Together they developed a plan and within two years, the woman owned her home and was financially stable. That story also resonated with her audience, who didn’t seem to mind hearing it over and over.
A lot of advice to “brand with story” encourages you to brand with your own story, preferably how you triumphed over obstacles and now live in a mansion, take vacations in your own plane and of course help countless others who want to match your success.
But why not brand with a signature story of how you helped your clients transform their lives … a realistic story that makes listeners think, “I want what they got!”
Anyway, “how I helped them” stories are far more relevant to a thoughtful prospect who wants to work with you.
As usual, in summer I follow WNBA basketball (my favorite teams are Seattle and Phoenix, in case you’re wondering). And I’m constantly reminded that some awesome players, such as Dawn Staley, go on to become awesome coaches. Staley’s South Carolina team won the NCAAW championship last year.
Some players who were not superstars also make great coaches who turn players into superstars (such as Geno Auriemma). And some players (who I won’t name) were Hall of Famers who just couldn’t make it as coaches.
Coaching calls for different skills than being the league MVP. And when I hire a coach or consultant, I want to know how they help their clients … not how they triumphed over adversity to become great players way back when.
Ultimately, when it comes to branding, the “how I helped them” story will triumph over any other kind, every time.
Comments? This topic can be a bit controversial, so I’d love to hear your thoughts. Write some comments below.
Want me to help you polish up your story and maybe your website as well? Let’s start with a Power Hour Consultation.
You can also sign up for my home study course, Brand Your Brand One Story At A Time. You’ll learn about the different types of stories and how they contribute to branding…and more.