People buy complete brands. They don't buy product, packaging or the brand's story separately. Some brands borrow stories. Some make up stories. Not you. You're going to honor your brand's heritage while living in the present and creating the future.
Courtney and John McKee are doing this particularly well with their Headframe Spirits brands. I caught up with them at a recent HATCH Experience and they took me through their approach.
John explained the intimate ties between Headframe and Butte, Montana. The McKees are mainstays of the Butte community and want to build a business that helps Butte. Butte's story is remarkable. It once had "the richest hill on Earth" filled with copper. Butte was mining town with up to 100,000 residents -- until the copper ran out. Now it's down to 35,000 residents and one very large EPA superfund site
Courtney told me that they were "Putting the history of the community in a bottle to share with the world."
Living the brand story means living it past, present and future.
The brand is rooted in the past. They celebrate Butte's heritage in everything they do. "Headframe" refers to the machinery at the head of the mines that lowered and raised men and materials in and out of the mine. They commissioned a film, Orphan Girl, which captures a proud moment in the history of Butte's mining days.
The business is thriving in the present. The McKees are a great example of doing well and doing good. There's no trade-off here. They won't do things that benefit the brand and hurt the community. They won't do things that help the community, but hurt the brand. Why? Because the brand and community are inseparably linked in their minds.
The McKees are working to create their own futures. They are going to expand Headframe, building the largest distillery west of the Mississippi. Their vision is to build a business strong enough to support a community that grows from 35,000 back to 49,000 and turns its EPA superfund site back into usable, valuable land. (Courtney explained that staying under 50,000 residents was important so as not to attract chains like Applebee's and Target.)
"A win for us is a win for Butte," the McKees are often fond of saying. Tying brand to place is their way to do that.
More and more people are seeking out brands with authentic stories. Brands with authentic stories should live and leverage those stories. Brand without those stories can't make them up. (In the information age truth will out.) Instead, they should build them -- not as marketing gimmicks, but as part of their brand essence and organizational culture.
Which gets us to the three imperatives of authentic branding:
Honor the brand heritage. This is true if you are AT&T and your founder was Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison's GE or if your brand was invented yesterday. Celebrate your true, authentic heritage. It's a critical part of the "why" in your story. As Simon Sinek so eloquently put it. People want to know why you do what you do before they will pay attention to what you do and how you do it.
Live in the present. Don't allow false trade-offs. Jet Blue says it cares about its customers. I was on a Jet Blue that had a refueling delay. The pilot opened the door to let people out, but said that the plane was going to leave in 10 minutes -- without anyone that got off and didn't come back in time. I overheard him tell the stewardess that it was a bluff. He wasn't interested in making things better for customers, just re-starting the time on runway clock to avoid a fine. Wrong trade-off.
Create the future. Everything you do and say and don't do and don't say communicates. Build your business and your brand story at the same time. Make sure everything you do and say reinforces the values you and your customers will hold most dear. You can't make up your past, but you can create your own brand heritage going forward. As they say, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. Second best is today. Applies to brands as well.