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Your brand has an inner layer that needs to be found

By the late sixties, Xerox had risen to become a highly successful global brand. Having a Xerox machine in the office had become a necessity. Now, with a well-established name, they decided to cultivate other ambitions. Xerox wanted to get into computer technology and data processing. It spent many years and millions of dollars before it finally threw in the towel.

It should come as no surprise that once a brand is strongly associated with a certain product, it is difficult, if not impossible, to change perceptions. Yet marketing history is rife with examples of companies expecting their well-established brand names to help them introduce new products.

Chiquita had to admit defeat after trying to convince us that Chiquita stood for more than bananas. Country Time Lemonade was forced to stop trying to sell Country Time Apple Cider. Ponds barely got out of the starting gates with Ponds toothpaste before it quit. Thousands of stories like these are out there.

But one could argue that Apple is proving to be the exception, as it has gone from a brand of computers to a brand of phones, iPads, TVs, and who knows what’s next. Nike is yet another exception, as it has grown from making running shoes to becoming a successful seller of athletic equipment and apparel. And Branson keeps adding to the list of products which his brand Virgin is helping make successful. How does this happen?

It happens because Apple has never been just a company selling computers, Nike has never been simply about selling running shoes, and Virgin can sell pretty much anything it wants to. Why? Because these brands have become associated with something more than the products they sell. They have what we refer to as solid“inner layers.” 

Find your brand’s “inner layer.”

All brands have what we refer to as “outer layers.” These consist of the product or service functions associated with the brand. H&R Block does tax returns, Pizza Hut sells pizza, and Xerox sells copy machines. However, for a brand to become a meaningful story, it must also have a well-defined “inner layer.”

A brand’s inner layer is the solid belief system that turns a brand from something that merely has a point of difference to something that also has a point of view. It’s made up of very real values and beliefs that resonate with people who share those values and beliefs. 

When a brand reaches the point where its inner layer is discernable is when a brand becomes something more akin to a meaningful story— a story about some relatable and important ideal that is supported by its audience. 

The good news is that it is never too late to find your brand’s inner layer. That said, some challenges must be met:

The Challenges

First, your inner layer must be authentic. It’s one thing for your brand’s inner layer to be associated with the value of “friendliness.” But that value is quickly devalued when a customer is put on hold for twenty minutes by an uncaring customer service representative. It’s one thing for your brand’s inner layer to be associated with the value of simplicity, yet another when your customer is presented with too many buying restrictions. What you believe and what you do must be inextricably linked. Keep in mind that the truth behind your brand story is found in your outer layer and is constantly being scrutinized via social media, reviews, and other internet sources. That truth must therefore be demonstrated and reinforced through every point of customer contact.

Inconsistency is the bane of authenticity.

Second, audiences don’t care what you think your inner layer is. They care about what theythink it is. Unlike outer layers, inner layers are more a function of what your audience sees for themselves as opposed to what you tell them to see. When we purchase a given brand, in effect we are hiring it. How much credence would you put in a job candidate who proclaims, “I believe in teamwork,” or “I value hard work”? It’s not enough to be told what someone believes. That belief must be demonstrated.

Too often, we see advertising taglines like “Excellence is all around you,” or “Where service matters.” However, the best brands don’t get in their own way with brag and boast statements of self-description. Instead, they communicate their inner layers through mantras like “Think Different” or “Just Do It” or “Never Stop Exploring,” ideals that resonate with existing beliefs that their audiences share. These are more than just taglines. They are true theme lines that speak to the significance of their brands’ inner layers.

Your brand must solve problems and provide opportunities. But if all it stands for is some function, your growth path will become very narrow, or even disappear over time. To add width and breadth to that, your brand must be driven by a well-defined and easily discerned inner layer.

Keep it simple and poignant

Inner layers are often confused with mission statements. Mission statements have more to do with action and less to do with the belief that guides action. Notice I said the belief as opposed to the beliefs. A list of core values is harder to remember and more difficult to demonstrate than one strongly held belief that is the driving force behind everything a company does. Furthermore, your customers aren’t going to remember all your core values any more than they are going to remember a laundry list of features and benefits. 

Understandably, when it comes to defining a brand’s inner layer, it’s hard to be simple, but it’s critically important. A great place to start is by studying story archetypes. It’s difficult to go into the subject of archetypal analysis here but just know that archetypes are like labels given to character types that are often the mainstay of stories. Each is described by the motivational forces that cause the character type to act the way he or she does. You can read more about the application of archetypes in StoryBranding 2.0: Creating Stand-Out Brands Through The Power of Story. Each of the 12 main character archetypes is represented pictorially and discussed in detail. 

Find, don’t create your inner layer

Finally, inner layers are best excavated from what already exists. Like the studious school girl who tries to become more like the “cool-girl in crowd,” trying to be something you’re not is readily detected and can do more harm than good. Often, the only change brands need to make comes from a better understanding of their original purpose and not one that is manufactured for the sake of appeal. Find that inner layer and amplify it. Easier said than done, but unless you want to go down the same road that Xerox went down, it’s a critical task required for growth and longevity. 

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