Last week, we facilitated a Collaboration Challenge Workshop at the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) LEAD FWD Summit. Leaders within organizations, like community bankers, are in a unique position to develop and deliver on brand promise, and the potential behind any brand starts with a compelling story. Brand storytelling is a vehicle to capture beliefs, words and actions that represent the power and possibility within brand identity. To get to the heart of a meaningful story, we begin by identifying our brand opportunities.
In our recent feature in the Journal of Brand Strategy, we discussed how using the Blue Ocean strategy fused with our Brand Food Chain methodology helps brands distill the attributes of an organization into a singular, unique and ownable idea that is matchless in your market. In a Red Ocean, brands battle for the same market space where there is little opportunity, competing for customers with features and services that may be similar to other brands. In a Blue Ocean, brands can say something different and create new prospects for brand meaning by focusing on a bigger idea that people can experience.
When addressing how customers interact with companies, brands often focus primarily on user experience (UX), which is a person using a product or service. Broadening that concept, some brands focus on customer experience (CX), which is how consumers interact with your company across all brand touchpoints. The brand experience (BX) level is where all of the elements of brand really come together. In BX, brands are evaluated based on everything they do – deliver on user experience, focus on enhanced customer experience in multiple channels, and deliver a larger story and meaning for the brand.
This is where our activities with the LEAD FWD workshop really took flight. With community banks, there is often a great chance to share their story with a potential customer, but that story must be distinct from others within the same market or community. Through our work with community banks, we know that finding just the right ingredients to tell a bank’s story can lead to phenomenal success. These stories must be simultaneously compelling, emotional and efficient; they must resonate with current and potential customers, alike, and be inextricably linked to how a brand does business with its customers. In short, the stories must be authentic to who the brand is at its core.
There are many rules and regulations in banking, so many banks are offering similar products and services, competing in a red ocean for customers. In this environment, banks can’t often innovate in ways that other brands do by offering the latest in technology or new and enhanced products and services. Because of regulation, many banks struggle to differentiate themselves and find their blue ocean opportunity. That’s why the brand food chain exercise is so powerful, because it allows banks to focus on what the brand means within its community and capitalize on what it does really well and differently in comparison to their competitors.
What Is Your Blue Ocean?
For our exercise, we asked community bank leaders to identify attributes that are unique to their specific organization and work in teams to tier these attributes plotted on the brand food chain. We asked participants to think about whether the attributes they were identifying could also be said of their competitors, and if so, then those attributes would be ranked towards the bottom of the list in the red ocean. If what they develop is a concept that’s more unique, then it would rank towards the top in the blue ocean.
In completing the exercise, we noticed that it’s especially hard for some participants to think in broader categories. Since most of these bank leaders aren’t in marketing, finding ways to encapsulate attributes and tease out broader themes wasn’t second nature to them, but the team dynamic allowed for the best ideas to bubble to the top. We also pushed teams to take more generic ideas and refine them into more aspirational themes. For example, the frequently-mentioned attribute of “great service” isn’t particularly distinguishing, but “happiness in helping,” “customer champions” or “relentless excellence” are unique or ownable. Ideas that are precisely crafted result in a distinctive, tailored brand platform.
The History of the Future
After the first exercise, we went into how to communicate the blue ocean opportunity. The History of the Future exercise is based on research from Weick (1979) that “suggests people develop more vivid, interwoven stories when asked to think about a situation in the past tense than when asked to develop similar stories in the future tense.” Research shows that people often think more holistically, weaving together the planned and coincidental, as well as linking political and technical events, together into a narrative structure.
Instead of having participants plan out the future, we said, “It’s 2021, and Bloomberg Business has just awarded your bank Community Bank of the Year. Working backwards from 2021, tell the story of how their bank became bank of the year and use the blue ocean idea as the theme.” Three-to-five minute segments were then recorded as an interview between bank representatives and faux Bloomberg reporters. The purpose of the recorded exercise is to have teams focus on communicating their vision through creative storytelling and newsworthiness – how you got here and why it matters.
The winning team’s video is here. Tell us what you think about this exercise. How do the best brands untap their #blueocean opportunities today?