Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.
In 2015, a Harvard Business Review study found that emotional connection is a significant driver of brand loyalty and is one of the best indicators of future customer value. In fact, customers are 71 percent more likely to recommend brands with whom they have an emotional connection. That’s why a plethora of brands have jumped on the self-publishing bandwagon and continue to invest in their storytelling strategy.
Through stories, audiences are able to put themselves in other people’s shoes and imagine how they would have worked through situations without the risk that’s involved in real life. They’re able to identify with someone else’s values and principles. They’re able to decide if they want to align with what a business does and represents.
As a business and social impact journalist and content strategist, I often meet entrepreneurs who know their company and industry inside and out and want to self-publish content, as well as become thought leaders in their sector. The problem is they haven’t prioritized crafting their narrative or determined the best way to connect with their target demographic emotionally.
Here are a few tips on how to do that.
Focus on the Story Behind the Solution
Entrepreneurs launch businesses to solve problems.
So, the rule of thumb for startups is to not be a solution looking for a problem. In other words, know there’s a market for your solution. To capture this knowledge and engage with your audience emotionally, learn their dilemma. Second, define your solution. Third, focus on the story behind your solution. That’s the real story.
Hone Your Tone
Often, when business leaders are ready to focus on their branding, they zero in on their logo and color palette, which are both relevant, but only one piece of the pie. A brand’s tone of voice is what sets it apart from the rest.
Whether your brand’s tone is funny and conversational, sophisticated and authoritative, playful and light, or serious and prestigious, consistency is key.
Nike, an iconic brand admired for its products, innovation and marketing, projects a multifaceted tone that’s motivated, energized and empowered because these are all the things the team behind Nike wants its customers to feel. In all of Nike’s messaging, the brand directly addresses customers with rousing slogans, such as the famous imperative, “Just do it.”
In the immortal words of Nike co-founder, Bill Bowerman: “If you have a body, you’re an athlete.” The aforementioned declaration has been promoted by Nike regularly over the years with good reason. The words and tone are inclusive and aspirational at the same time. Nike isn’t just selling products. It’s selling the motivation to be someone who is victorious in the face of adversity — whether that’s against competition or overcoming self-inflicted obstacles.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Apple in this section. In 1996, Apple premiered its “Think Different” commercial showcasing some of the most celebrated geniuses in history. Narrated by actor Richard Dreyfuss, the ad starts by saluting counterculture ideals. “Here’s to the crazy ones,” Dreyfuss says. “The misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers — the round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently.”
Apple’s tone here is inspiring, hopeful, warm and thought-provoking. Like Nike, Apple isn’t simply selling products in this ad. It’s selling the power of thinking and being different, thus meeting those who fall under that category precisely where they are.
Know What Thought Leadership Is Not
Most of my content strategy clients want to become thought leaders in their sector. Here’s what I share with them before we begin: Thought leadership is not a type or category of content; it’s an approach to creating content.
In the same vein as tone of voice, thought leadership provides a means of meeting your customers — as well as your industry peers — where they are. When businesses infuse thought leadership in their overall content strategy, they’re able to position themselves in such a way that gives them more say in how they’re viewed by their customers, competitors and their industry at large.
So, here are some other things that thought leadership is not:
• Promoting your business nonstop and talking about how great your business is.
• Secretive about what your competitive advantage is.
While thought leadership is not sales-y or self-promotional, I’m a firm believer that in order for you to properly convey your insights and expertise about your industry, you need to shine a light on your actual business, as well. However, I encourage founders to not lead thought leadership articles with messaging about how wonderful their product is.
Define What Leadership Means to You
To dive deeper into thought leadership, it’s important to define what leadership means to you and your team. On a fundamental level, leadership means guiding your team toward a common and well-defined goal. From a writing perspective and from a business standpoint, leadership is inclusive, encouraging, supportive, empathetic, informative and visionary. The No. 1 priority to keep at the forefront of how you approach thought leadership is to focus on topics that align with your business goals, customers’ needs and your vision for your industry.
If you haven’t stepped onto the self-publishing bandwagon, now might be the ideal time. And who knows — while you’re discovering the stories behind your solutions, developing your brand’s tone of voice and defining what leadership means to you and your team, you may stumble on new ideas to expand your business and build your dream company culture.