When you think of the American National Anthem, what comes to mind? Is it the melody? Or the first lines that many of us sang in grade school, or before a baseball game with thousands of people?
‘Oh say, can you seeee…by the dawn’s early light.’
If you’re more pedantic, you might think of more lyrics and the imagery of the ‘bombs bursting in air.’ Or if you’re into history (like I am), you might think of the context—author Francis Scott Key, who watched the all-night bombardment of Fort McHenry from a British vessel in the Chesapeake Bay, and then scribbling down the words when the Fort’s flag was still flying in the morning.
All those things touch on the anthem in meaningful ways.
But if you think about it, a country’s anthem is really more than the words, the melody, the history, or even our own memories of it. All of those things spring from it, but stripped to its core identity, a country’s anthem is a collective story—a lyrical one to be sure. It’s a story that embodies national history, values and aspirations, but also, and more powerfully, the feelings, ideas, and associations people have, and share about their country. Pride, camaraderie, historical events collectively remembered, honor for those who sacrificed for their country—everything’s wrapped up in that story and what it means to people.
You’ve probably heard another country’s national anthem…but unless you’ve lived or spent some time in that country, hearing it probably didn’t prompt all of the thoughts and feelings that come with hearing your own national anthem.
There’s nothing wrong with that.
The point is that people are wired with deep, personal loyalties, and those loyalties are tied to stories. Just like someone who appreciates a national anthem, a good brand builder does well to understand that.
Brand Anthem Defined
I know what you’re thinking…great topic for the Fourth of July.
But when it comes to thinking about your brand’s story, how you tell it, and how that telling of it makes people think and feel, thinking in terms of a national anthem makes sense.
With that in mind, your brand’s ‘anthem’ is more than good content, great marketing, or obviously, an incredible product or service that keeps people coming back. Rather, it’s your unique, remarkable story, and telling it in a way that unifies all those things with personality, emotion, and authenticity that people relate to.
I’ll talk more about this later, but I will say that one of the best ways to express and share your brand anthem is through video. As far as putting your brand anthem out in the world both visually and audibly, it seems to be a natural way to do that. Obviously, you can do that in other parts of your brand, your website, your collateral, and the way that you talk to clients, but the video side is an optimal way to capture and communicate it.
Of course, there’s a temptation to cram everything—every service or product you offer—into your brand’s communication. But more than likely, that will come across as confusing or overwhelming to your audience. If you find yourself cramming everything in, take a step back, because you shouldn’t be.
A solid brand anthem video dodges that problem while communicating something evocative—starting with your brand’s story.
A Good Anthem Starts with Story
As I’ve said and written about before, your brand story is the foundation, the starting point for everything you’ll communicate through marketing, visuals, and a cohesive brand expression. Along with your brand’s purpose, history, and mission—your brand’s story is no small ingredient in your brand’s anthem.
There’s any number of storytelling formulas. For more digging, I’d recommend reading up on Joseph Campbell’s (no relation to Campbell’s soup) template called the Hero’s Journey. Campbell based his template on what he found after looking through thousands of stories spanning ancient history to the present.
The Hero’s Journey breaks down into twelve steps that many novelists and screenwriters swear by. But for those looking to build a brand anthem, we can translate a few aspects of traditional story to the business environment.
Two characters: the hero and the guide.
The first element in every brand anthem should be two characters—the hero of the story, and that hero’s trusty guide. If we think of the very first Star Wars movie as a classic template, it kicks off the journey with these two characters: Luke Skywalker, the hero, and his guide, Obi-Wan Kenobe.
While Luke eventually meets his second guide in Yoda, we can safely say he wouldn’t have made it off his home planet and successfully rescued Princess Leia without that first guide.
Every hero needs a guide, and that’s where your brand comes in.
You’re the guide to your customer, who is always the hero.
The hero has a problem.
What’s really interesting about heroes in stories is that they have a problem.
When we think of Luke in the first Star Wars movie, one of his main problems is that he has this power called the force. When Obi-Wan introduces him to it, Luke is bewildered. With a little training, he sets off on his journey, but he still hasn’t mastered it… that doesn’t happen until he’s done more training with Yoda, and then tested himself by facing Darth Vader two movies later.
The guide offers a solution
So both Obi-Wan and Yoda play huge roles in shaping Luke, mentoring him, and passing on their knowledge of the force. With their guidance, Luke masters the force, a power he had from the beginning, and even before he was aware of it, but could not have possibly mastered on his own.
Along the way, and with both guides helping him, Luke becomes the Jedi Knight he was meant to be.
However you look at it, it’s an engaging story. And there’s a lot more brands can learn from Star Wars, or a few elements of the Hero’s Journey when they start telling their stories, and then using those stories to craft their brand anthem.
Craft a Compelling Brand Anthem
One last thing about Star Wars and why it resonates—Luke doesn’t just become a master of the force. He becomes the savior of the galaxy. He overcomes Darth Vader, the evil emperor, and leads the rebellion in a war of liberation.
It’s ultimately satisfying because by overcoming his problem, Luke empowers those around him. He makes the galaxy (or at least, his corner of it), a much better place.
So, all the way back to brands. Brands need to tell stories with a hero and a guide. But the big challenge I see is that a lot of organizations confuse who the hero is in their story. They often think, well, the hero is the focus of the story, so, therefore, that should be us. Our brand should be the hero. But remember, the hero is the one with the problem; the hero is stuck in some way, shape, or form, and the guide is the one with the solution.
If your story is about how your organization is stuck and how you can’t overcome the problem that you’re trying to solve… that’s not a compelling story to anyone else. That might be a story that’s important to you, but that’s not your marketing story—and while solving your problems and fulfilling your brand’s purpose might be a great story that’s worth remembering, it’s not the basis of your outward facing brand anthem.
Rather, your brand anthem should be the story of how you, as a guide, help your clients overcome their problems and realize some new state of being. That could be growth in their business, a promotion, a hassle-free cooking experience—whatever they’re defining as success.
It’s hard, but worth it to figure these elements out. Thinking, and building your communication in terms of hero (your client), guide (you), the hero’s problem, and solution means understanding what your audience will see about themselves, their concerns and problems, and how you can help them achieve a new state of being when they encounter your brand story.
What Comes Out of a Brand Anthem?
Having worked through your brand story, and from the point of view of your client or customer as the hero… you’re in much better shape to start telling it to people.
Does the story you’re telling paint the picture of how you help heroes overcome their problem and realize a new state of being, and make their corner of the world a better place? If so, you’re on the right track—and that’s the story you’re going to tell through your brand anthem.
How does telling your brand story play out in terms of content, marketing, and internal communication?
Here’s a few ways:
A specific hero
You can’t be all things to all people. Even if your brand offers multiple services or sells products in different industries, your brand story can’t be about how you grew to offer all those services…remember, you’re the guide, not the hero. Over time, most companies specialize, offering sophisticated products or services to a specific demographic… and even if that’s not where your business is headed at the moment, you can apply that principle to your brand story.
Through customer personas, or your own research and client feedback, narrow that story down.
As the trusted guide, who are you helping, and how, specifically? What’s unique and remarkable about how you help this hero on their journey or mission? What will be better and different about their world as a result?
Take your story and shorten it to an elevator pitch.
What do you offer, what’s unique, or different about it, and most importantly—who is it for? Who do you help and why?
Don’t forget the elements—hero, guide, problem, solution. If you’re a financial lender, maybe those elements go something like, we empower entrepreneurs for long-term success by loaning them the working capital they need to break ground.
If you can get your tagline as short and memorable as Nike’s mantra… ‘Just Do It,’ even better.
For the record, ‘Just Do It’ applies broadly to Nike’s whole team and organization, but it’s foremost an exhortation to every customer. If you can frame your tagline with the point of view of the hero and their journey, that’s even better.
A memorable mission statement
Similar to the tagline, a mission statement is a short, sweet sentence with active (not passive) verbs. A memorable one captures the mission and even touches on how an organization empowers the hero or seeks to usher in a better world… but it’s mostly for the troops.
Crafting a mission statement that tells your story, and one that everyone in your organization can know, relate to, and apply to what they do and how they interact with others, is one way of crafting a cogent, compelling internal-facing brand anthem.
Think of it as one of the most memorable lines of the anthem.
I could spend more time on the do’s and don’ts of company mission statements, but they’re worth mentioning as a way to buttress your brand anthem with a brief, rallying statement that embodies your purpose and story for everyone onboard.
Here’s a few that leave an impression:
Linkedin: ‘To connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.’
Tesla: ‘To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.’
Ever seen a TED talk?
The TED organization has their mission statement down to two words: ‘Spread ideas.’
Marketing content for a website and collateral
A brand anthem that’s narrowed down to the constraints of your business, and built on a truthful brand story should capture everything in a concrete, creative way.
Working from the story in mind, and the elements of hero, guide, problem, and solution, a brand anthem can be built outward into compelling, catching copy for your website, printed marketing materials, and social media accounts.
When it comes to offering more specific expertise, promotion, or products and services on your website, unifying everything under a brand anthem makes your story clear to anyone who sees it. More than that, it reflects collaboration and thoughtfulness while speaking to the client (hero) on their terms, about their journey and the solution they’re looking for.
Content for a great brand anthem video
As I mentioned earlier, a brand anthem takes your purpose, your story, and the flair and associations people will make with your brand, and packs that into a killer visual format that people can share.
Along with short videos or clever commercials, you can elaborate on your brand anthem through a regular podcast, or through multiple episodes that break your brand story down—one about the hero, one about the guide, another about the problem, and so forth.
The Anthem for Your Remarkable Brand
There’s plenty of ones to generate content from a brand anthem, and then drip that content out through videos, articles, podcast episodes, or even a book.
However you do it, remember that your brand anthem will be more compelling if you talk to your audience about them—not just about yourself and what you offer. By considering their problems, their challenges, and what they need to grow, flourish, and become who they want to be, you’re setting up your brand as the trusted guide the hero needs.
One really interesting part of the brand anthem process is that it forces you to figure out who the hero of your story is. It can’t just be the whole world, everyone, or humanity in general.
With any luck, and while you won’t be for everyone, your brand anthem will show people the exact guide you are—and that you’re intrinsically remarkable.
Need a Guide?
Every firm has an intrinsic remarkability to it.
I know I use that word a lot, but it’s the truth. There’s remarkable, and one-of-a-kind traits that come together in every brand or organization, and it might take a lot of digging to discover them.
But once you’ve unlocked the process and found your authentic brand identity, building a brand anthem that condenses these elements in a creative, compelling way is quite the journey.
If that’s a journey you’re on, and if you’d like a guide whose purpose is helping B2B’s unlock their authentic identity, then you’ve come to the right place.
And remember, you are remarkable.