Here’s our elevator pitch—Star Trek on a pirate ship.
Same cast. Same plotlines… but instead of the outer reaches of Deep Space Nine, everyone’s cruisin’ around the Caribbean.
Or suppose Star Wars took place on an elementary school playground. Or Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice in the middle of a zombie apocalypse?
Apparently, some have tried it. But setting informs a story as much as the characters do, and changing a setting obviously changes the entire story.
The where of a story gives off a certain personality, just as much as the who and the what. The elements of a location, an environment, or a unique time and place shape how characters relate to each other, navigate the world, and compose the stories we watch, read, and listen to.
The same is true of your brand’s story, culture, and overall identity.
Trust us… locations shape a brand’s story in ways you wouldn’t expect. That includes our own story as a Tempe, Arizona-based branding agency—and that’s something you can read more about in our new book ‘You are Remarkable’ authored by our founders.
Back to you and the simple, overarching question: ‘where are you from?’
Not Forgetting Setting
While everyone’s got a distinct nature, nurture (i.e. setting) still makes its mark.
Of course, it helps to know your core purpose, what you value, and your organization’s vision for making a small corner of the world a little better. And while you’re at it, you need to know your character archetype.
But knowing, and owning your setting is non-negotiable. The environment all around you, not to mention the values, history, and customs of the place where you set up shop matters more to your brand’s identity than you might think.
Forget setting, and you ignore a huge chunk of what makes your organization remarkable.
Having Roots in Two Locations
So what’s the setting for your brand’s story?
Is your location local? Regional? Global?
Where, and just as importantly, when does it begin?
One thing you often find out when you’re getting to know someone is where they’re from. Sometimes, it’s straightforward, but other times, not so much. In fact, if you think about it, many people are from at least two places.
First, the place where they grew up—the locale or community where their formative years were spent. The place that, to a large degree, probably influenced what they see as “normal” in the world. Somebody who grew up in the Midwest has a different “normal” than someone who grew up in Los Angeles.
Second, the place where they currently live, which influences and constrains their current choices. Somebody living in rural Kansas has to adapt to a different physical, cultural, and economic environment than somebody living under the clear, hot skies of suburban Phoenix.
The same is true for a brand or an organization.
When your customers are getting to know your brand story, part of learning that story is knowing where you and your brand come from.
Location Influences All the Details
Directly or indirectly, people will get a feel for the values, culture and customs of the place where your business started. They’ll also get a feel for where it is currently located or headquartered.
This may be overt, in the way that Portillo’s Hot Dogs are explicitly from Chicago (even when they’re in Arizona), and Alaska Airlines explicitly serves Alaska (even if their hub is in Seattle). It can also be unconscious or implicit, such as when people get an intuitive feeling that a brand is southern, western, urban, rural, European, or even Canadian.
Speaking with a customer service agent on the phone, it’s not too difficult to detect the politeness of Missouri, the gruffness of Philadelphia, or even the clipped, British pronunciation of someone in Mumbai or Bangalore.
You probably know a ton about where you come from. But if it’s not that clear how setting influences the day-to-day life of your organization, culture, and overall brand story, ask yourself:
How do your employees spend their Saturdays?
That makes a difference in how employees think.
What does your local business culture celebrate?
That makes a difference in how leadership thinks.
What festivals, holidays, or times of the year does your team look forward to?
These aren’t small details; rather, they’re probably clues to help you understand the tastes, habits, and motivations of clients, team members, and all those you interact with on a day-to-day basis.
If you think about it, they’re also the raw ingredients of a brand’s story, culture, and core identity.
Your setting can become a limiting factor if it causes you to conform so closely to those around you that you don’t have your own story.
If they’re not careful, every tech startup from Silicon Valley can start to look and feel like every other tech startup from Silicon Valley, because a sense of that place is so strongly baked into their identity and their staff. It can become a challenge to make sure one’s values are authentic and not merely a reflection of the prevailing ethics in one’s local business culture.
Branding should be intentional, and not merely borrowed unconsciously from the surrounding environment. This can get to the point that you blend in and become easier to dismiss. Your values, culture, and brand story should win out over your setting, or the business norms of those in your immediate proximity.
But while your setting shouldn’t change your character, it’s worth acknowledging that, right beside your brand’s story, setting will impact your customer’s experiences.
Turning Location to Your Advantage
Applying setting to your brand story, brand culture, and brand expression in a winsome way means owning it.
Especially when all those little details give you away anyway.
Setting will show up in behavioral traits you don’t even realize you have. Examples of this might be how polite or direct you are, whether you’re always a little early or a little late, whether you use first names or last names, or whether you think winter or summer is the best time to be outdoors… just to name a few.
Becoming more conscious of your setting doesn’t require making a big deal of it, unless it really is a big deal. We’re not suggesting that every company in Texas should have cowboy boots in its logo.
But it does mean recognizing the way that a setting like Arizona shapes the culture, history, and underlying story of a boutique Phoenix branding agency, such as ours.
Finally, when a company has multiple settings, it can incorporate elements of both its origin or headquarters and also its current location.
For instance, consider the ways that Whole Foods or Bass Pro Shops go through the effort to make their individual stores reflect some of the vibe, local flavor, and personality of the area they’re located. At the same time, the identity and expression of their underlying brands stay consistent—whether you’re in Phoenix, Dallas, or Boston, a Whole Foods looks like a Whole Foods.
So, it’s important to be aware of your setting and let that shape your brand’s culture, story, and remarkable expression.
Your Roots are Remarkable
In our series on brand identity, brand story, and brand expression, setting’s no small piece of the pie.
But keep in mind—and if this part piques your interest, be sure to join us next month as we explore it in more detail—that your ‘setting’ isn’t just a geographical location. Setting also means your place and time in history, characteristics that can be just as important in shaping your brand’s story and identity.
And if you fancy the thought of talking with some thoughtful, curious, B2B experts who know your setting is remarkable… give us a call, or check our play-by-play take on brand building in our new book ‘You Are Remarkable’ out now on Amazon.com.
Wherever you hail from, we’re eager to hear all about it.
And we’re always excited to build setting and place into remarkable brand identities.