Sound Stories #022 – Crossing the Bridge Between Core Values and Authentic Storytelling

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    Are your brand stories aligned with your company’s core? David Brouitt, Creative Director at Ramp Communications Inc. discusses how your brand’s values should shape everything you do. Learn the importance of ensuring your brand is reflected at every touchpoint and how this can guide your day to day operations, inform your marketing and even help you in times of crisis.  

    Ramp Communications Inc.: http://ramped.ca/

    TRANSCRIPTION SOUND STORIES #022

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Hi there. And welcome to another episode of Sound Stories, an inspirational podcast for creative professionals and storytellers who want to improve their lives at home and at work. I’m Stephanie Ciccarelli, your host and co-founder of Voices.com.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    In this episode of Sound Stories, we’re taking on a topic that goes a little deeper. Specifically, we’re going to dig into the core of your brand. What are your values really? And how do they intertwine with your storytelling?

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    After all, understanding who your brand is, and why it behaves the way it does, is essential for authenticity. And as we know, authenticity is key to effective storytelling.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Joining us in this episode to take us on the journey is David Brouitt, Creative Director at Ramped Communications. As a senior level creative professional, he specializes in strategic, results-driven marketing and advertising solutions. He’s also been a contributor of humor essays to the Globe and Mail, and several humor magazines. Welcome David.

    David Brouitt:
    Hey, Stephanie. Good to be with you this morning.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Awesome. Well, I’m really, really pleased that you’re here too.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    When we normally think of core values, as I kind of alluded to earlier in our intro, we might think of boring plaques. I’m sure you’ve seen them. You know, companies have them on their walls, they have generic sayings, like, “Honesty. Integrity. Customer service.”

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Now, David, in your opinion, is this the same thing that we should be looking at when we’re talking about the core values of our own brand?

    David Brouitt:
    That’s a really good place to start. I think there’s a big difference between sort of a mission statement and core values.

    David Brouitt:
    And yeah, for sure a vision or a mission statement, that’s just a plaque on the wall. Sometimes it’s just that. And it’s sometimes formed by a committee in a boardroom somewhere. But there’s nothing authentic in that as well.

    David Brouitt:
    Core values, I think, are something different. In fact, I think core values can inform a vision or a mission, if that’s the route that you want to go. If you want to have a vision statement or a mission statement on your wall, even that needs to be informed by your core values.

    David Brouitt:
    Core values are not a plaque on the wall. They’re actually what you live and breathe every day. It’s difficult work to get to who you really are as an organization, but it’s important because it really does form the story. It informs the narrative of who you are. And it informs all the decisions you make, not just in marketing, but really how you behave day to day.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Yeah. Hearing you say that, that is absolutely refreshing. Because we’ve all seen them, these three words that might represent a company. And whether they live them out or not, we don’t know. But in order for a company to even know if they are, they have to actually know themselves.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    So tell me a bit about your experience looking at your client’s core values, and why is this an important aspect to look at for marketing and advertising?

    David Brouitt:
    Well, I think, the term authentic storytelling, and genuine storytelling, is really, I want to say, in fashion. But it is the trend these days. That sort of came about through social media of course, that’s not any kind of breaking news. There’s conversations happening about products and brands right across the board.

    David Brouitt:
    And so if you’re not in that conversation, they’re having it anyway, so you might as well be part of it. But how do you have that conversation? How do you interact with it? Well, you need to know who you are and what position you’re going to take.

    David Brouitt:
    With our clients, what we often do is sit down right at the outset. This is particularly when you’re doing a branding exercise. If you’re selling a product, it’s a slightly different process.

    David Brouitt:
    I mean, if you’re selling a product and it does what it says it does, then there’s not a real question of core values. You’re just telling the story and giving the attributes kind of a voice. But when you’re talking about a brand, you really have to get down to what the brand stands for.

    David Brouitt:
    So we will often sit with senior level, mid level, really all the stakeholders, as many stakeholders as we can within an organization. And it’s amazing how often you’ll get a different response or even conflicting responses.

    David Brouitt:
    That’s when you know you have some work to do to, to sort of really drill down to what the organization stands for, how it started, and why, and are the people engaged in whatever the core values are of the organization. And it is a lot of work. Because especially when you have various opinions around the table, you need to start to get on some common ground.

    David Brouitt:
    It’s often very eye-opening for clients who think they’re doing one thing, but they’re actually dedicated to another thing. They actually stand for something different. And then of course the challenge is, once you establish that, to make sure that everybody’s engaged and is kind of living those values every day.

    David Brouitt:
    It’s actually quite fundamental to an organization, and I think people tend to pay it lip service. We talked earlier about the vision statement on the wall. I think people do that work, and they think it’s done. But really it’s getting down deeper.

    David Brouitt:
    So it’s asking you some tough questions. “What business are we in? Why do we exist? Where did we come from? Where are we going?” All of those things kind of circle around the idea of core values. And then you can narrow it down to five or six key things that you can live and breathe every day.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    That’s interesting. As I was thinking, just because I’m a founder of a company, and many of the people listening are, what happens in an organization that you might go into where the founders aren’t there anymore? Maybe that vision, or those kinds of core values are the reason for why things are the way they are, why they do what they do.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    But also kind of just having the history of the company in mind, what if that no longer exists in the organization? Or maybe there’s a caretaker of this brand in the story. How do you involve the right people in the room? How do you know who those people are, if you do not have that founding team anymore at the company?

    David Brouitt:
    Yeah, that’s a really interesting question. I think that’s always going to depend on how the transition was, how old the company is, lots of variables there. But if the founders, the people that had the vision for the company, are no longer there, you still need to try and figure out what the roots are of the company and what it is they stand for, why they’re in business.

    David Brouitt:
    I mean, if you take a company like Apple, for example, obviously that’s a company that really had a lot of transition and almost went out of business and then came back. And obviously because of one key visionary, who is no longer with them. So that’s a challenge that they needed to really be able to overcome. And I’m not sure that they necessarily have, but certainly they’re doing fine.

    David Brouitt:
    It’s important that you at least keep your eye on it, and make sure that it’s in the thinking of how you’re going to promote your brand, and how you’re going to live the brand every day. Again, it’s going to vary depending on the organization.

    David Brouitt:
    Perhaps you have a product or a brand that is doing very well, and then there’s this transition in leadership, and suddenly it’s not doing well. One of the reasons might be because you took your eye off the ball, and you’re not doing what you used to do. Or you think you are, but how it’s landing for the customer is different because there’s something different in your persona or the way you’re presenting yourself.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Yeah, absolutely valid reasons. And I know it’s a conversation that I think is interesting for many people.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    But let’s assume that the founders are there now in this situation, and you do have that core group of people who can help you to go through this exercise, you’ve identified them.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    We all know that it is a bit hard, let’s. say, to take an objective, look at our own companies, because we’re so involved in the day to day. But we need to be able to see it from an objective point of view, like an outsider would.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    So, how would you recommend that someone would go about discovering whether or not their core values are actually being lived out in their organization?

    David Brouitt:
    Well, I’ll tell you what we do. As a company, Ramp has seven core values. And part of the exercise is checking in on a regular basis with, sort of taking the temperature of the organization. Now we’re a boutique shop, we’re not a lot of people, but it still would work with a huge large organization.

    David Brouitt:
    We actually have a check-in almost weekly as to how people feel about working there, how we feel we’re dealing with our clients. We also check in with our clients to see how we’re doing.

    David Brouitt:
    I think that’s really part of running a successful business. Any organization, you need to find ways to check in with the people that work for you, your suppliers, and people that you’re serving. You just have to constantly be checking.

    David Brouitt:
    If you do that, you’ll get lots of data that will tell you very quickly if you are on the right track or if you’re straying,

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Right. And there are many different ways to do that. You’ve suggested that you’re touching base with people. I know in our own company, we have a survey that we do annually. There are some other informal ones that we do as well, and just conversations in general.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    But what happens if along the way, we don’t like what we see? And I’m speaking for any company here. You obviously work hard. We all do at creating a culture and knowing who we are and having our values lived out through the organization.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    But if we do find a spot where maybe there has been some erosion, maybe we’ve slid a little bit. Or maybe there’s just like, “Oh no. I thought it was this way, but it really isn’t. And now we’ve got a problem.” What can people do in those instances?

    David Brouitt:
    Yeah, that’s a really good question. I think if your core values are properly formed, and you are actually living them every day, you probably are not going to fall into that trap. Because core values will inform everything.

    David Brouitt:
    Even if, let’s say you have some crisis management that you have to deal with. So you’ve got, let’s say, a product that causes somebody harm for some reason, and it really causes stress to your company, and you need to find a way to get back on track. With core values that are in place, you’ll know how to respond to that in a genuine and authentic way.

    David Brouitt:
    And that’s really what we’re talking about here today, too. It’s storytelling. So if you have a crisis, and you deal with it properly, or at least aligned with who you genuinely are as an organization, you’re going to come out with the best possible result because you have the core values in place.

    David Brouitt:
    That’s another reason why it’s important. It’s not just about marketing. It’s not just about how people interact with your company. It really informs all the day-to-day decisions. And it’ll help you in times of crisis as well.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Well, I’m glad you mentioned crisis communications. We know that you may have a number of core values, and any one of those might be called upon when you’re in the midst of that crisis. So, do we use just one? How many of these values might factor into a response in a crisis?

    David Brouitt:
    Well, that’s interesting because they don’t work in isolation. All your core values should be working together to form what you stand for as an organization.

    David Brouitt:
    Certainly if one of your core values is honesty, you’re going to address the crisis head-on, and you’re going to be just forthright, and, “Look, we made a mistake. Here is what’s happened and here’s our solution to what’s happened and we’re going to move forward.” And you’ll take any questions and you’ll answer them honestly.

    David Brouitt:
    So, I think that’s probably key if… And, again, it’s who you really are, right? If you’ve built these core values authentically, and they really are who you are, it actually helps in a crisis. It helps inform how you’re going to respond.

    David Brouitt:
    One of the largest, this is a long time ago, but one of the largest crisis management issues happened, I think way back in the ’70s, it might be early ’80s, with Tylenol where their products were tampered with in the drug stores. And people actually died because the products were tampered with. So they immediately went into action and they recalled all the products off the shelf immediately.

    David Brouitt:
    But what I thought was interesting was, I’ll never forget their annual report for that year. Whoever the drug company is that makes Tylenol, all they had on the cover of their annual report was a picture of their package, their product with the headline, it said something like, “It’s been quite a year.”

    David Brouitt:
    So even in their annual report, they said, “Look, this is what we faced and we’re dealing with it.” And that product survived. It’s still on the shelf today.

    David Brouitt:
    So I think it’s a great example of being honest. And they must have had something in place to really help them make that decision, and make it quick.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Absolutely. So I imagine that the bigger the company, is it harder to make sure that those values are lived out consistently?

    David Brouitt:
    I don’t think so. I think you just have to do the work. We can name all kinds of companies that we see from the outside doing a great job. You can think of the great brands, international brands, that do a really good job of customer service. They’re totally reliable. They handle crisis perfectly well.

    David Brouitt:
    And that comes from leadership, but it also comes from really knowing who you are. And that always comes again back to the core values. I’m not sure that it’s even harder to do with a larger organization, because it’s really part of the culture that is developed. The core values inform the culture in general.

    David Brouitt:
    You’re going to attract the kind of people that you want working for you, if you have all this stuff in place. And that really helps no matter how large the organization is.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    No, of course. I hear you. So, just thinking now, are there any instances where it’s okay to embrace a negative attribute of our brand?

    David Brouitt:
    Yeah. I mean, it’s not all about happy faces and “We’re philanthropic.” Maybe the reason you’re in business is to make money at all costs. And if that’s your core value, that’s the kind of business that you’re going to run. You’re going to attract people who are just in it for a financial reward. And as long as everybody knows that’s what the game is, then that’s where it is.

    David Brouitt:
    But I think for the most part, companies are, at least originally, formed by entrepreneurs who have a vision to somehow change the world in some way. Maybe they have a new product they’ve invented or a new service or a cause that they stand behind.

    David Brouitt:
    So at the essence of most businesses, I think, there is sort of a truth there that is beyond, let’s say, just financial gain as the reward. But you can have what we might call negative core values, and as long as you live to those, you’re going to be consistent with your story.

    David Brouitt:
    We’ve all seen those fast food joints where their whole idea is, this is the worst kind of food you can have. Like the sort of heart attack burger, that kind of thing.

    David Brouitt:
    And that’s kind of a negative approach, but they’re consistent with it, right? So that’s not just like, “Oh, you’re going to be healthy if you eat here.” It’s in fact the opposite of that. But that’s okay if that’s what their point of view is.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Right. And you can offer all the salads you want, but that burger, the high cholesterol count burger, is still going to be on the menu. And obviously a restaurant that would serve a burger like that would, would want to sell it. Companies may play up certain elements of their brand, even if they aren’t exactly a positive.

    David Brouitt:
    Sure. And I think you’ve touched on something interesting there, because as soon as they introduce the salad, they’re off brand and they’re not being true to who they are. So that would be an example of storytelling that suddenly doesn’t ring true. And it actually affects the rest of their overall brand.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    All right. So once we have a handle on who our brand is, and I’m hoping that everyone listening here has at least some kind of an idea, because we’re all storytellers all involved in some way in the telling of our brand story. Now, at its core, how can we ensure that the rest of the world has a chance to see us as we would like to be seen?

    David Brouitt:
    I think by being consistent. Knowing who you are and then telling your story in a way that’s engaging and is… It can be unexpected. You can surprise people with your story, but it needs to be the narrative needs to be consistent across the board.

    David Brouitt:
    You can think of legacy brands that have been around forever. They evolve, but there’s a core truth to who they are and how they present themselves. I think that’s key, is consistency. Know who you are. Tell your story in a way that’s completely aligned with who you, are and do it at every single touchpoint.

    David Brouitt:
    So that’s how you promote yourself, what your campaigns look like, what your website looks like. Certainly how you behave in social media. How you answer the phone. How you deal with customer complaints. How you treat your employees and suppliers. Every single touchpoint matters. And that’s how you achieve it.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    And that’s your brand voice, right? It’s got to be consistent and also across the board consistent in all the different channels that you’ve mentioned. Can you give us an example of maybe one of your clients who has done this really well?

    David Brouitt:
    Yes. We’ve done some work with ALS Canada, and ALS is a terrible disease that there is no cure for. So, people who have ALS really have a very short time and it’s a very degenerative disease.

    David Brouitt:
    We did some work for them for ALS Awareness month. And the idea behind that was to really kind of face the truth of what ALS is. If you have it, you have two to five years survival, and it’s very serious and dire situation. But ALS as a cause, doesn’t sort of wallow in that. They celebrate the achievements, the life, of people who have the disease.

    David Brouitt:
    In concert with their marketing people, we did for ALS Awareness month, we did Seize the 30 Days. And the idea was, seize the moment that you have. Which is inspirational for, not just the people who have the disease, but also a reminder for people who don’t. To know that this is a disease that is, it’s a terrible thing, and they need help to get donations, to get the research done, to make it a manageable, instead of a terminal disease.

    David Brouitt:
    So they face it head-on. They said, “Look, time is short and you need to enjoy your life and know that there are these inspirational people who are also enjoying the time that they have in the way that they have.” It’s very emotional for the loved ones, and certainly the people that have the disease.

    David Brouitt:
    The campaign was 30 days of inspiring ALS stories. And we had people with ALS and their family and loved ones post videos, one per day for the month of June. And they were archived, so that you could go back and sort of look at the stories and be inspired. We supported that with social media and getting people to go to the site to learn more about ALS and to hear the stories.

    David Brouitt:
    I think they told that story really well. I think the idea of seizing the day and kind of being in the moment, is always an inspirational thought. And it’s something that I think people often miss, they sort of go about their day and they don’t really think about, “Oh, it’s Tuesday,” and suddenly it’s Wednesday and suddenly it’s Friday.

    David Brouitt:
    I think they did a really good job of being authentic and not cowering away from how serious the disease is. So they’ve done a really good job.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    We had someone in our own industry in the last several years actually pass away from this disease and he hadn’t quit, I would say, a public battle with it. They were very open about it. His journey with ALS wasn’t terribly long, as you have mentioned here, but I could see that there’s a lot of fight in it.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Certainly the client that you had just mentioned, your own client there, they’re all part of helping them to tell that story. So thanks for sharing that.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    And kind of on a similar topic, because we’re here, I wanted to highlight the fact that Ramped has a special focus on the not-for-profit sector. So is there anything different that you do for these organizations compared to the for-profit ones?

    David Brouitt:
    Well, interestingly, it’s all about communication when you get right down to it. It’s marketing. It’s not a product necessarily, sometimes it’s fundraising, sometimes it’s for just awareness of a cause.

    David Brouitt:
    But the structure of the campaigns is the same as it would be for like a package goods product. You still start with, “What’s the goal?” And then you build a brief, and then you build a strategy, and then you build creative answers to that strategy. So the process is really the same.

    David Brouitt:
    For me personally, I found it’s very rewarding to work though, in this sector. I worked in the sort of other part of advertising for many years, and it’s very gratifying to be able to make a difference to various causes and that kind of thing. But really the structure of marketing is the same, no matter what your message is. And again, it all boils down to being genuine about what it is you have to say.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    So, David, it seems like you put a lot of heart and soul into your work. And I really appreciate that it’s come through and everything that you’ve said about core values and about the work with ALS.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Just wondering, obviously this comes from somewhere and maybe somebody at some point had given you some advice on how to live out your own values as a professional. Has anyone ever told you something that has helped to shape the way that you approach your work today?

    David Brouitt:
    That is a very good question. It’s a big question. I think what comes to mind is not necessarily a piece of advice, but I think my father was the biggest influence in that way, but he just led by example.

    David Brouitt:
    He was a very creative guy and sort of musical and artistic and great writer and all that kind of thing. So on a very personal level, he’s the person I would point to as really showing how to conduct yourself and how to be creative and how to have your own kind of moral compass as well. Yeah. I would say my dad, I guess.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    I love hearing about dads. That’s great. I know our parents are very much an influence in our lives, and certainly leading by example.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    That’s what we see, anyone who is influential in your life, be it a parent, maybe someone you work with a neighbor, someone else outside of that realm, everyone has the ability to mentor one another. And I think that that’s really important, especially in the creative circles of storytelling. There’s just, it seems like so many more pieces of the puzzle kind of come together in that area.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    So if I could ask you one more thing before we go, what is one thing that a storyteller can do to become better at his or her craft?

    David Brouitt:
    I would say that, keep writing. Writing, this is not a profound thought, but real writing is rewriting. Get your thoughts down, make them as concise and clear as possible, and then edit again.

    David Brouitt:
    You have to keep writing just to keep your hand in, but also when you’re working on final copy and storytelling that is ready to be seen by the world, it needs to be tight. You need to choose the correct word all the time.

    David Brouitt:
    And it’s not a light task. Real writing should be respected. I think there’s a lot of times where it’s just okay. There are creative directors who I know who are brilliant at writing, and you can tell that they’ve spent time working it out and there’s never a missed step.

    David Brouitt:
    So I think that’s key is to write, rewrite, and then edit down. And then if you have time, put it away and come back to it later, because I think you’ll always find that there’s a way to tweak it and make it even better.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    I love what you said. It’s keeping your axe sharp, as I’ve heard a few people tell me. Fabulous.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    So, David, tell us, if we would like to get in touch with you, anyone listening right now has a question to follow up. How can they get a hold of you, and what is your company’s website?

    David Brouitt:
    Sure. Yeah. Our website is ramped.ca. That’s R-A-M-P-E-D.ca. Although the company is called Ramp Communications, but our website is ramped.ca. And you can reach me at David@ramped.ca.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Awesome. Well, thank you so much for being on the show today, David.

    David Brouitt:
    It’s been my pleasure. Really great talking to you.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Thank you for tuning in. And if you haven’t already done so, I’d like to invite you to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, as well as give us a rating. We love hearing from you and gathering your feedback. Once again, I’m your host, Stephanie Ciccarelli, and I hope you can join us for our next Sound Stories podcast.

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    Stephanie Ciccarelli is the Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer of Voices.com. Classically trained in voice, piano, violin and musical theatre, as well as a respected mentor and industry speaker, Stephanie graduated with a Bachelor of Musical Arts from the Don Wright Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario. Possessing a great love for imparting knowledge and empowering others, her podcast Sound Stories serves an audience that wants to achieve excellence in storytelling. Stephanie is found on the PROFIT Magazine W100 list three times (2013, 2015 and 2016), a ranking of Canada's top female entrepreneurs, and is the author of Voice Acting for Dummies®.

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