“The one who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The one who walks alone is likely to find himself in places no one has ever been before.” Albert Einstein
It’s best when it’s real.
When reorienting a brand and clarifying their core reason for being, companies are too often satisfied with a shallow exploration, settling on empty cliches when they should be seeking the real concept they’re sincere about and deeply committed to.
The Slippery Part of Finding the Untold Story
It’s because it’s so obvious to “everyone.”
But when you dig a bit deeper, you discover the “everyone” is made up of all those inside the company, those who breathe this stuff everyday.
But those outside the company may have never heard your story.
In other words, since it’s SO obvious to you, you no longer notice or talk about some of those subtleties that make you different. You take them for granted. You simply forget how different your company is compared to all the other choices your audience has.
Your proximity and familiarity have become a liability to what’s needed: astute, unbiased observation.
The process of creating a brand (or redefining an existing brand) is transformative. Done well, it transforms perceptions, allegiances, misconceptions and fixed ideas. Beyond that, it also reinvigorates the company culture, reminding one and all why they’re doing what they’re doing.
The end result is something that’s authentic — resonating and truly differentiating. It is arrived at through astutely observing the minute facts, being intensely interested in the possibilities, and exercising ingenuity and human intellect to embrace something bigger.
One of my more recent projects reminded me of these important aspects that humanize a brand, reigniting its relevancy and crystallizing its resonance with its audience.
The 3-step Formula for Uncovering the Human Component
To fully define a company’s untold story and unearth the human component, three primary disciplines were used:
1. Unbiased observation (to clearly understand the forces working against you) to accurately identify what the actual problem is,
2. Open-mindedness to accept conclusions that challenge “safe”, long-accepted and cherished beliefs, and
3. Courage to act upon what you discovered in the process.
This 3-step formula applies equally to the practice of branding a start-up as to re-branding an established business. After all, what is branding or rebranding? It’s the practice of being distinct and relevant, something every business struggles with, whether new or long-established.
But how does one respond to ever-changing trends, preferences and demographic shifts?
Well, it all starts with clear, astute and honest observation the moment you detect a shift in the marketplace. It is recognizing a problem — some deviation from how things could be — before any attempt at solving (or improving) something is undertaken.
Once done, it continues to be an ongoing evolution, day in and day out, to stay ahead.
Richard Branson on Tackling Problems
Paralleling the first step above, Sir Richard Branson recently wrote, “The first steps to solving any problem are recognizing it, addressing it and talking about it. By shutting your eyes and ears and pretending there isn’t a problem, you can make it a whole lot bigger.”
How Do You Share 25 Years of Excellence in 3 Minutes?
Recently, I had the chance to help brand a brilliant Seattle dance school, American Dance Institute, that has been teaching people how to dance for over 25 years. In fact, they’ve helped over 12,000 students during that time.
The problem they faced: new dance studios had opened up around them, slowly siphoning off potential students. The school was losing market share.
Realizing they had to step up their game but not knowing how to proceed confidently, they came to me for help.
Their goal was to define their incredible school in such a way as to differentiate it from the newcomers.
Still Fresh after all these Years
After 25 years, American Dance Institute was ready to start a new era for the legendary dance school. Not in what they did in the school, but in the way they presented their story to the world.
The institution was started 29 years ago by its founder/director, Elizabeth Chayer. Fresh out of college, Elizabeth began teaching dance for Alice Bassler Sullivan at Alaska Dance Theatre in Anchorage. She also opened her own school, American Dance Institute, as an outreach program. Within a few years she expanded to Seattle and opened her studio there as well.
That was 12,700 students ago….
Knowing When to Brand
After speaking with Elizabeth and her husband Steven about the school’s challenges and objectives, I asked what sparked the need to refresh their brand after all this time?
“A number of other dance schools opened around us over the last 7-10 years, slowly eating away at our customer base.
“Also over this time, our focus had expanded from a strong emphasis on ballet to teaching many dance styles including Contemporary, Hip Hop, Break Dance, Tap, Irish and Flamenco, with each style having three or more levels of difficulty.”
The Power of First Impressions
The first area to tackle was the first impression people had of the school.
The existing logo had two dancers in classic ballet poses. But ballet dancers no longer reflected the wide range of dance disciplines taught at the school. It told only part of the story.
So, that became target #1:
Learning What Really Mattered
We then conducted a dialog with current students and parents.
Elizabeth summarized it beautifully, “Parents and students in the focus group validated what had been the unique values on which I ran American Dance Institute (ADI) for 25 years. Hearing them articulate why they appreciated ADI gave me the confidence to promote those values to a wider audience. For the first time in years, I understood what our message of differentiation needed to be. What we learned was that we had always been doing the right things in our school but we’d never properly branded the school around these essential differences.
“They (our target audience) were unaware of ANY differences between dance schools. If there was a dance school closer to them, they had no reason, motivation or awareness to choose our school over a more conveniently located one. Our objective was to give them compelling reasons to drive past the dance school in their neighborhood to attend American Dance Institute. We needed to educate them on the differences between schools so those who appreciated OUR differences drove the extra mile.”
The Power of the Untold Story: Bringing the Brand to Life
Through this discussion, we identified several factors which made ADI preferable over other schools. For example, students appreciated how ADI did not impose restrictive self-serving policies and rules as many other schools do. We also confirmed that other schools tended to create an atmosphere of competition among students, compared to the mutual support found at ADI and that the instruction quality of most of the other schools lacked consistency.
“Our teachers are highly trained ‘in the art of teaching’ and our unique teaching methods allow students to progress further, faster and more safely. We pride ourselves on being non-competitive, and the studio environment is welcoming, relaxed and family-friendly. Our customer service policies are very flexible and accommodating because we understand and appreciate how busy family life is today.
“While ‘obvious’ to us, we learned these were valuable points of difference we needed to tell as our brand story. David taught us about ‘the untold story’ and how the lack of telling it costs so many companies their good image and their sales.”
As a result, we developed the slogan “Movement. On your terms.” to set the stage for the brand story as shown in these external sign mockups:
Being a Force of Nature Nobody Could Ignore
The other facet of the story was how much they built the studio around their students, their needs, their lives, their aspirations.
This fully came to life on a series of T-shirts that reflected the values the studio shared with its students.
The brand story fully came to life with a short video that was written and directed to capture the spirit and culture of the refreshed identity and brand position.
Lastly, we needed to get our newly clarified brand story to the media.
This resulted in a bright idea: Let’s re-purpose an ordinary paint can, make it a can of “High Performance Liberation Concentrate” filled with one of the t-shirts and the newly-defined brand story and image. To cut through the noise, we figured we had to go all out:
A Movement That Can’t be Stopped
Very soon, there will even be ADI coffee and soap to add another dimension to the newly restored vitality. Here’s your sneak preview of what’s on the horizon.
I cannot applaud enough the entrepreneurial spirit both Elizabeth and Steven displayed during this process, willing to attack preconceived notions and throw overboard any “old ways” of telling their brand story to the world.
The world deserves to know of this incredible team and the legacy of this dance institution they’ve created and continue to create.
Theirs is a shining example of how to rejuvenate a brand, solve real problems and stay relevant while telling the world (possibly for the first time) your untold story.
How have other Companies Uncovered their Untold Stories?
- 27 Years at Nike: “What I Learned about Branding”
- Milestone Systems: How an INC 5000 Company Got it Right
- How a New Logo Helped a Co-op Reintroduce Itself to its 66,000 Members
- Accessory Snobs rebrand: How the Wrong Logo Nearly Destroyed my Marriage
- Coco Polo Chocolate: Chocolate Makeover at the Fancy Food Show
- City of Osceola: 12.3 Billion Reasons Tourism Branding Makes Sense (the branding of a city)
- Glob Colors: Oscar Night, Prom Disasters and Rebranding
- The Strangest Branding Mistake to Avoid (When Tackling a $123 Billion Industry)
- and no list would be complete without How to Rebrand: 19 Questions to Ask Before You Start