This is important: story is the most powerful form of communication - be it business, romantic, political, or otherwise - precisely for its ability to pull abstract ideas out of simple rhetoric and root them in concrete terms. It’s the philosophy of “show, don’t tell”. When applied to business, we call it a “story” when you actively perform your core mission and brand values in a public way, instead of just promising it exists.
What are Story Performances?
Story performances are captivating, sharable, inspiring, and clarifying snapshots of the world your brand lives in. Take, for instance, the world of fashion: most of the designs seen on the catwalk are never meant to see the light of day. What they’re showing you is a thesis on how this designer sees the world, and what their clothing promises to do to capture it. We’re seeing stitching styles, materials, color, cuts, and shapes. Sometimes they send what amounts to a complete walking sculpture down the runway. These are broad strokes to prime the audience for what a release is meant to evoke in people who see the final designs.
The same goes for concept cars. They’re bold, they’re exaggerated, they’re futuristic, and, often, they’re never meant to be sold. Some of the features built in basically guarantee they’ll never be put into production. The Ford Nucleon had a real-deal nuclear reactor. Aston-Martin produced the Lagonda, which sports a futuristic key mechanism that floats on a magnetic bed between the front seats. That’s so impractical to actually mass-produce, they’d need a whole separate facility just for repairing it and replacing lost ones. What they really want you to see is the DNA of their product line in its ultimate, purest, most idealized form.
We can even talk about “place branding”. It comes in the form of outlet styling, downtown revival projects, and of course Disneyland. A curated look and feel can produce an uninhibited feeling of occasion in those who visit, resulting in higher sales and occupation within. People exchange money for the sunglasses, buttons, corndogs, and photo-ops, but those are just ephemera - evidence of an experience. They’re jittery, delirium-soaked tokenizations of what people are really trying to possess.
What is it? Why do these brand performances exist in a dollars-and-sense business world? Well, sorry for the non-surprise, but: they tell a story. That story elicits excitement, wakes passions, and thrills a sleepy inner-child. The result is a changed person, willing to do almost anything to capture that feeling and take it home.
Create lightning for free, then sell them a bottle.
Is Story a Replacement for Brand?
The short answer is: no.
The basic definition of a brand - an idea based in the scalding of cattle with a shaped iron to definitively mark them as your property - is just the labels and logos that accompany your product. People realized in time that the mark itself changes buying behavior. Now, we refer to everything about the “personality” of a business as its “brand.” You absolutely still need that.
What story in business focuses on is the premise behind a brand. Shapes and colors and slogans all suggest something intrinsic to a business’s “personality”, but they aren’t actually that personality itself. A great story, and performances of that story, all put meat on the skeleton of a brand.
On Veblenization and Sprezzatura
This is a lot to try to cram into one little section, but while we keep building on it in other posts, it’s probably a good place to drop a note or two on the idea.
Goods come in 4 known types: Inferior, Normal, VEBLEN, and Giffen. Don’t worry about those other 3, because I’m telling you right now that Veblen is where the fun is. Now, before you run off and Google your heart out, I want to note that your product more than likely isn’t a Veblen good itself. I would argue, though, that most brands can benefit from some veblenization: the creation of a “Veblen BRAND” instead of a Veblen GOOD.
The term is named after Thorstein Veblen, an American economist who detailed “conspicuous consumption” in his book The Theory of the Leisure Class in 1899. He theorized wealthy individuals purchased some luxury goods because of, not in spite of, their high price because they wanted to show off their status and excess. At first glance, you might find the ideas of “conspicuous consumption” and the effect of snobbery on buying behavior grotesque, but this graph might explain why this is a worthwhile journey:
See, as the supply of your product rises, the traditional “law of supply and demand” should dictate that the price will fall. With luxury goods, however, you see the price can (and should) increase, resulting in higher demand. Of course, it’s up to you if you should choose to meet that demand. What if that could coincide with better terms in your negotiations? More free time? Less overhead? These are the precise benefits of veblenizaton. It’s like economic anti-gravity.
Of course the trick is to actually get units out the door and build brand credibility before finding that price max that spikes your demand. A helpful concept here is sprezzatura - the art of not being too fussy about how fussy you’re being. The idea is that you’ll deliver flawlessly, but with a casual, cavalier attitude. You’ll look like you just got out of bed, but you’ll function like you’ve been up since 6. You’ll be magical, it’ll look easy, everyone will say “what a great guy” when you leave. They’ll want to learn your secret and they’ll want to take a little bit of your charm with them. That’s stone cold sprezzatura, baby.
Here’s what I want you to take away from all this: you already have a story to tell. It’s probably smart, relatable, and organic. It probably isn’t as well known as you think it is, and it’s probably atrophied from years of under-utilization. You should probably stop treating your story as a consequence of existing, and start thinking of it as a brand asset. It’s something that can quite measurably impact your bottom line and, ultimately, it might be the truth of your value in the marketplace.
If you’re here, you might be interested in boosting your brand with a little story magic. We can help. Contact us to set up a quick meet-and-greet, no purchase necessary. Let’s get your story out to the world.