Does Your Brand Leave People Asking, "So What?"

Photo by John Morgan via Flickr

If you want to know what the #1 mistake people make in communication is, I will tell you right now.

They tell you the WHAT instead of the WHY.

I can pay a writer $50 an hour to write something about what a business does, sells, etc. What its goals and objectives are. Do you know what?

Nobody is going to read it unless they have to.

This is because (and what I am telling you is not original) the human brain works like a picture frame. If you give me a collection of WHAT, I need a frame around it to tell me WHY? Why? In what context are you telling me this? Why should I care?

In short if you want people to pay attention to you, let alone value your vision, you need to provide a vision. You need to answer the question, why? Or put another way,

"So what?"

Without fail, there is always a "so what?" Otherwise the people running the organization would be out doing something else. The employees would not be engaged in it, Blackberrying in on the weekend. And customers may even go elsewhere.

In my view when organizations don't talk about the "so what" it has something to do with differing views of what the "so what" is. For example, to me the Starbucks brand has to do with community. To investors it has to do with making money. The company does things that cover both bases:
  • On the one hand they sell Ethos water; promote fair-trade coffee; $5 bracelets they donate to help put Americans back to work; they offer in-store space to people who aren't really buying anything; they give you a cup of coffee for $1.50, if you want to be very basic. 
  • On the other hand they sell things that don't promote community at all, because you're using them outside the store. There is Starbucks food that you buy at the grocery store (e.g. ice cream); there is VIA, the instant coffee that you make anywhere you want; and yesterday I saw on CNN that they are even going to sell a Starbucks-branded single serve brew machine, presumably to compete with Keurig.
Obviously everybody has to make money in order to perpetuate the organization which hosts the brand. So if Starbucks were smart, they would create a narrative out of this necessity. But unfortunately they do not. Rather we are left to invent the narrative for ourselves. To decide in our own heads what the "so what" is.

Is Howard Schultz for real? Is he really about doing good things in the world, and the money is just a necessity? I saw him on TV, talking about putting Americans back to work - I think so.

But running an organization well means communicating the brand vision overtly. Tell people what the "So what" is. Tell them over and over again. Show them in your actions. Explain the connections between the seemingly discrepant things that you do.

More importantly, when there is discord within the organization about the "So what" - that is something to be discussed openly internally until some kind of agreement can be reached.

From a communication perspective the worst thing of all is to not say anything about what you are doing. The second worst thing is to focus only on operations. Better is to say what your vision is - even if you can't keep to it all the time. Even if it is fractured. Even if people disagree.

In the world of image presentation, what you want is to get people talking. Have them say the same thing about you that you say about yourself. And at all times find your discussion to be credible.

Transparency doesn't always make you look unified, or perfect. But if you do it well, it gets across the "So what?" And "So what?" is what keeps the customer interested - buying - and eager to promote the cause you've begun.

Whether it's Starbucks, or Google, or Facebook, or Coca-Cola, what people want is more than just a product. They want you to give them something to believe in, and something that enables them to give back as well.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

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