Brand Messaging in the New Normal

By | Small Business

“They would kill us if this were the Developing World.”

He was an Uber driver in NYC. I had just asked him what it was like to compete with traditional taxis.

By us, I’m sure he meant “me and the other Uber drivers.”

Hate is a strong word (as is kill). But no doubt there is a strong dislike among drivers of traditional taxis for their Uber counterparts. I’ve noticed that Uber cars/SUVs don’t display as much signage, if any, as they did when the service first began.

Uber and other newly emerging data-first companies often struggle to tell their brand story amid the disruption they create. The cacophony over the tech company’s approach to using independent contractors who have no benefits is so loud that the overall message gets muted. An analysis of Uber drivers found that in New York City, they can make up to $30 an hour, but critics say that the costs of maintaining their own vehicles drop Uber drivers’ hourly rate substantially. My last three Uber drivers were two 55-year-old white males who had lost their corporate jobs and a college student in his early twenties juggling work and school.

Uber’s perception troubles illustrate the importance of creating a brand narrative or brand messaging that includes a thread about “the larger good,” about the brand’s role in improving society. No matter how small, a company’s story must take into account more than the consumer’s emotion when he or she experiences the service or product itself. In this way, brand messaging can take a page from non-profits, whose messaging orbits around a larger cause.

Brands with a Mission

Today, a brand story needs a missional or causal thread. It must be about something bigger, more altruistic. Brand messaging in the new normal must convey more than simply what the brand does for an individual consumer; it must also say what the brand does for society or for the larger good.

Years ago, we worked with a software startup in the optometry space. The firm was the first cloud based EHR (electronic health records) in the industry. Because of the fiery passion of the CEO (an optometrist), we developed brand narrative that explicitly trumpeted that the software was all about helping optometrists focus on patients. The software gave optometrists the “freedom to focus” on what was most important. The larger good was patient care.

As I write this, the company’s brand story seems overly simplistic, but it captured the imagination of thousands of optometrists, so much so that in 2012, the company was listed as one of the fastest growing companies in America by Inc. magazine. My point isn’t our branding genius. My 6-year-old could have whipped up the messaging for that firm. It wasn’t about words or images; the firm actually had a mission. They believed that the design of the software should free up doctors and their teams for more important things. From the CEO on down to the person handling a petty customer service request, the brand story was lived out. The passion was palpable.

Brand Messaging Stories Must Be True

If you visit Uber and scroll down, you’ll see Uber’s new messaging: “Her Turn to Earn.” Uber promises 1,000,000 jobs for women by 2020. Time will tell whether Uber will “walk the talk.” And whether its story of 1,000,000 part-time jobs really matters. Does Uber really care about its workers?

Or is its bleeding heart for job creation a mere shtick of its PR firm?

The Shakespearean phrase “truth will out” comes to mind. The truth will come out eventually. Every brand today needs to be about something greater than the product or service itself. And the corollary is also true: for us to believe it, the story must be true.

This article was syndicated from Business 2 Community: Brand Messaging in the New Normal

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