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3 Signs Your Brand Isn’t Telling a Winning Story (and How to Fix Things)

This column was originally published on Entrepreneur.com on March 19, 2020

In our modern marketing landscape, brands cannot afford to exist as just another faceless entity. They need to have a powerful story that sells who they are and allows them to appeal to their target audience. While most brands understand this basic need to tell a story, many fail to succeed on the execution. Thankfully, brands that are failing at their current storytelling efforts tend to share a few common issues (see below), ones that can be identified and fixed with the right tools and techniques.

1. Your marketing isn’t memorable

Your customers have a desire to engage with quality brand stories, but if the story you’re trying to tell isn’t that memorable, you won’t make a lasting connection. A study in the UK found that while 79 percent of adults “want brands to tell stories as part of their marketing,” 85 percent of those surveyed couldn’t think of a memorable brand story.

As this sorry statistic reveals, most brand-marketing efforts fail to rise above the noise that bombards customers every day, particularly amid the rise of social media. Nielsen estimates that the average adult in the United States spends 11 hours per day interacting with various media, and while all that time certainly presents an opportunity, it also means there are lots of other stories competing for customer attention. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for marketers to create desirable, scroll-stopping content when users are constantly encountering the same messages over and over again. Be it templated digital-response campaigns or generic Instagram captions, this approach simply won’t cut it anymore.

Part of the problem could be that you’re not actually telling stories to begin with. While a case study can certainly be persuasive, if it doesn’t tie into a narrative with an emotional element, it likely won’t have as much of a memorable impact. According to the Stanford School of Business, stories are 22 times easier to remember than facts.

Consider how statistics, customer testimonials and other marketing options can be tied together as part of a cohesive narrative. A story with an emotional core will put those facts in perspective so they have a greater impact for your audience.

2. You haven’t built a “tribe” around your brand

Many of the world’s most successful companies have achieved their status by building a brand tribe — a group of people who believe in the brand and its mission, are intensely loyal to its products and services and will even promote the brand in their daily living.

This is especially prevalent with technology brands like Apple or Tesla, which achieved high rates of loyalty by linking their products with a unique set of values and beliefs shared among their target audience. The brand becomes more than simply a product — it becomes an experience, and even part of a lifestyle.

If your audience doesn’t seem to be very engaged or passionate, chances are high that a lack of cohesive brand storytelling is at least partly to blame. Your messaging needs to create a sense of solidarity and belonging among your target audience. Successful tribal marketing goes beyond basic demographic information and focuses on behaviors that create more meaningful connections.

In addition to fine-tuning your own marketing, leveraging the power of influencers can be a great way to build your brand tribe. A study conducted by Twitter found that 49 percent of its users turned to influencers for product recommendations. This is why influencer testimonials and interviews play such meaningful roles in advertising. They provide social proof, which is of particular importance when it comes to overcoming trust barriers or breaking into a new market.

Influencers have already created a tribe based on their personality, shared interests and engaging style of communication. Partnering with relevant influencers can help contribute to the growth of your own brand tribe. Similarly, basing your storytelling patterns off the techniques used by top influencers in your niche can help you better communicate your story in an appealing manner.

3. You aren’t communicating your impact

These days, it’s not enough to be a “fun” or “exciting” brand. More and more people want to engage with brands that they feel are making some kind of positive impact on society. In fact, the 2019 Porter Novelli/Cone Purpose Biometrics Study found that 72 percent of American consumers felt it was important to buy from companies that reflected their values. And close to 90 percent reported being likely to buy from a “purpose-driven” company.

This reveals two common issues where brand storytelling often falls short: not having a meaningful cause or purpose that you support, and then failing to communicate what you are doing to support your cause. Brands that succeed in the long run try to impact the lives of their customers in a meaningful way. They also strive to make the world a better place.

For any of these efforts to have positive storytelling outcomes, they must stem naturally from your company values and the products and services you offer. Find a relevant cause that you can support, like looking for ways to reduce your environmental impact. Attaching your brand to such initiatives and then integrating them into your storytelling will fuel loyalty and help you build your tribe.

However, do keep in mind that it is important that this element of social good be genuine. Consumers are intelligent, and if your impact doesn’t align with the overall tone of your brand’s message and mission, it won’t be as effective.

With quality storytelling, your brand becomes far more relatable and appealing to your target audience. You can make powerful connections that fuel the lasting loyalty needed to build a successful business. By digging deep into your storytelling genes, you can take your brand to the next level.

Copyright 2020 by Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.

How to Best Take Your Chinese DTC Brand to American Buyers

You might have heard that the San Francisco-Based Rothy’s direct-to-consumer (DTC) shoe company launched sales in Shanghai earlier this year. Rothy’s expansion to China is a brilliant business move, as they’re one US brand that has a huge potential for success with Chinese buyers.

What you might be less familiar with, however, is Chinese brands selling directly to American buyers, which is sometimes called factory to consumer (F2C).

Manufacturing in China and selling directly to American buyers is a great way to run a profitable DTC business. By cutting out the middleman — like Amazon and AliExpress — Chinese brands can experience unprecedented success.

However, when was the last time you heard of an American consumer buying from a D2C Chinese company? It’s rare, but it’s becoming increasingly sought after as Chinese brands wish to elevate their brand value, enter new markets, and become accepted by Western consumers. This article will help describe strategies Chinese D2C companies can explore to enter the US market.

Move From the Middle

Chinese sellers do unbelievably well on Amazon. With competitive prices and lots of exporting experience, it’s no question why 40 percent of merchants on Amazon are based in China and performing very well on the platform.

Amazon has also been working to help merchants based in China sell to American consumers through Amazon. The company has even held several events in industrial areas of China to help show Chinese merchants why they should use the platform.

Companies in China that are innovative are starting to realize that instead of selling through Amazon, they can sell and ship their goods to American customers directly. With direct shipping, Chinese companies hope to keep price margins high and cut out the middleman.

Additionally, successful Chinese brands think DTC selling to American buyers will keep their information about their customers, the market’s potential and more out of the hands of big businesses, such as Amazon.

This makes perfect sense, as Amazon has a history of recognizing and capitalizing on opportunities through expanding into new markets. Of course, there are some learning curves brands have to overcome to make the transition smoothly.

Branding and Marketing Are King

“Made in China” can have a bad reputation with American consumers; this can be especially true when there is no big-name brand serving as an intermediary between the two parties. Companies like Amazon serve as buffers and give American buyers more confidence in what they purchase.

Luckily, since a Chinese brand can make more selling directly to American consumers, there’s more money for reinvestment. Many successful Chinese companies have taken their increased revenue and hired international (and American-specific) branding agencies to help them convince consumers that buying directly from China is a great idea, specifically if the purchase is coming from their company.

Sometimes, rebranding or formulating an American-specific brand for your product is crucial, as American consumers have different tastes and preferences and may respond to different value propositions.

We have taken a few Chinese companies into the American market and have consistently started with brand strategy as the focal point for this entrance. We use A/B testing techniques to determine optimal demographics and high-performing value propositions for Americans.

You can have a great product that has performed well in China, but if you don’t figure out how to communicate and resonate with American consumers, it will underperform or fail — no matter how big your marketing spend is.

Use American Marketing Channels (Properly)

American marketing channels are difficult to use and even harder to master. If you want to succeed, you’ll have to develop an in-depth understanding of social media, especially Facebook (if you’re working with a visual product).

Facebook Ads Manager doesn’t exist in China, but it’s key to bringing many products to market in the United States. I’ve seen countless Chinese brands struggle with setting up proper ad campaigns on Facebook, compromising portions of their ad budget at the onset of entering the US market.

To avoid this problem, you can hire an American marketing firm with expansive knowledge in the space that can quickly help your company gain traction. You can also learn how to use Facebook Ads Manager yourself, but sometimes it’s more cost-effective to hire out for this skill.

Understand American Customer Service

Americans are picky when it comes to customer service.

They expect to easily communicate with companies through email, live chat, by phone and more. Furthermore, many Americans are upset when they call a company’s number and someone in a country far away picks up.

Although a Chinese company outsourcing their customer service isn’t a bad idea, it has to be executed properly to work well. For example, even if the China-based company is outsourcing their call center to another country, American buyers have to feel like they’re talking to a United States-based rep who’s knowledgeable and personable.

Know the Logistics

There are several kinds of English, and if you want to sell in America, you’ll probably want to use American conversational English or at least an international form of English that’s widely understood. That said, making sure your sales materials, product specifications and other company info is written in English Americans can easily read and understand is difficult.

I know this sounds trivial, but I have seen countless Chinese companies that try to enter the US market using either grammatically incorrect English or foreign forms of English on marketing materials and communications — even on their website.

Hyper-aware American customers immediately notice mistakes, which leads to distrust with the brand and ultimately discourages potential customers from converting.

Since your brand is based in China, Americans will meet it with skepticism for many reasons. When Americans buy from a far away place, they want to make sure the company they are buying from is legitimate and trustworthy.

If you have numerous spelling errors or phrases on your site that a native American English speaker wouldn’t say, your credibility will decrease. If you cannot execute well on your ad copy, you are essentially wasting valuable dollars that could have otherwise performed if you understood the psychographics of an American consumer.

Conversely, materials that are properly written will build trust; they will also help you seem as if you have extensive experience catering to the American audience.

Establishing Your Brand

How many Chinese brands can you name off the top of your head? Chances are you can name a few, but not nearly as many as you might think. In reality, only 6 percent of Americans can name a single Chinese brand. Brand recognition for Chinese brands is low, but it can be overcome.

Lenovo, the computer manufacturing company that was originally named Legend, started in Beijing in 1984. Although the brand is proud of its Chinese heritage, they made it clear from early on that they were a global firm.

Lenovo recognized off the bat that Americans question the credibility, ethical production capability, quality and more of Chinese brands and their products. So, the brand established a global identity that could appeal to Western consumers.

For example, Lenovo bought IBM in order to sell Americans technologies through a non-Chinese name. When an American buys an IBM computer, the transaction is really with Beijing-based Lenovo.

Chinese companies that are looking to succeed today can research and evaluate how past brands from China have established themselves in America. Replicating some strategic moves from other brands who successfully sell to Americans might be one of the keys to taking your DTC brand to a new market.

Stay Up to Date On Tariffs

President Trump recently announced that starting September 1, 2019 there will be $300 billion of new tariffs on Chinese goods. American importers of iPhones, household items, televisions and more will soon need to pay higher taxes on the goods they import from China.

Since United States-based companies will be paying more tariffs, it makes more sense than ever before for Chinese brands to sell directly to consumers. As American companies pay more to import from China, they will likely have to increase their prices to compensate.

Sure, larger companies may absorb the costs for a period of time, but at some point they must put a portion or all of the burden on the American consumers. Chinese companies who come in now and start selling to Americans at the ground level will have a competitive advantage in terms of pricing and early-to-market benefits.

Changing Tides

American DTC brands are selling to Chinese consumers, and it’s about time Chinese DTC brands sell to American consumers. The days of China-just-as-a-supplier should be limited; still, capitalizing on the American market is a highly nuanced opportunity and no easy task.

Executing well requires an understanding of the American consumer and marketing channels.

* Article originally posted on Hacker Noon