Humanspeak: The science of connecting your Business Strategy to your Brand Story.

Humanspeak: The science of connecting your Business Strategy to your Brand Story.

I’ve been executing marketing strategies and campaigns for almost 40 years now and it has never ceased to amaze me how even within a crowded commodity market every single brand or business still has a unique and distinct story to tell.

And while research exists to prove this fact to be true, too often business owners miss this point when taking their brand to market. Often businesses don’t follow one of the simplest rules entrepreneurs live by—begin with the end in mind—which as it relates to your marketing would be to distinguish yourself as an industry of one. Even if your company is in a crowded and competitive marketplace you still have something unique and compelling to offer your audience that can help you stand out. The ultimate goal should be to position yourself as though you have no competition.


To help position your organization to stand out in your industry is to identify your unique selling proposition. Your USP is identified during a brand strategy exercise that looks at your equities, vision, competition and most importantly, your audience’s needs. A solid brand strategy will empower your brand to connect with your audiences in the most meaningful, sustainable and profitable manner possible. When you don’t have a proper vision or single digestible message for your company, your sales efforts will be inefficient and you’ll only confuse your audience. In fact, ineffective marketing, inconsistent messaging and ill-informed decisions are some of the most common reasons why businesses either struggle or fail today.

So, telling stories, YOUR story, is a modern day business necessity and will help both capture and maintain your audience’s attention. Almost a century’s worth of compelling brands have proven that a clear and irresistible brand story matters to both your audience and your business. Brands such as Nike, Target, Harley Davidson, Apple, Amazon and more have illustrated that having a message that aligns your business strategy with your story, and finally with your audience’s needs leads to business success and a powerful and sustainable brand.


The global athletic footwear market is expected to reach $94.14 billion by 2025, according to a report by Grand View Research Inc.. Much of these sales will be driven by the younger demographic, who are motivated by a sneaker’s brand and “cool factor.” But even though they opened their doors almost 50 years ago and could rely on being a legacy brand, Nike remains the largest, hippest shoe company in the world. They’ve always been on the leading edge of innovation, technology, development and fashion trends, and their branding reflects just that.

This business strategy has allowed Nike to maintain its popularity and sales dominance throughout the decades. But their message has been anchored by a singular powerful message that has resonated with consumers since the day it was launched. “Just do it.” speaks to every athletic shoe consumer from pro-athletes to weekend warriors, which goes beyond just speaking to pushing the boundaries of physical activity. Nike has made this a message work for social impact as well. This company understands who their consumer is, and that they are looking for their brands to take a stand. Their now-famous Colin Kaepernick campaign is an illustration of how Nike pushes the boundaries by getting involved in political arenas, but because they stayed true to their brand message this campaign proved to be beneficial for the company as it helped grow their online sales of footwear across the globe.

By now you might be asking yourself how these brands found their “story” and how have they been able to be consistent, yet timeless in their messaging. Well, the answer is simple: they followed a regimented process that analyzed their business strategy and offering, aligned it against the marketplace needs and found an intersection that spoke to consumer needs in a way that clearly illustrated the business’ intrinsic value and their “why” or purpose. This exercise should provide your clients and customers insight into the reasons they want to hire you or purchase your product, but now you need to find your hook. That one thing in a presentation or conversation that stops your audience in their tracks and produces a “wow.”


What we’re going to examine now is the science behind mastering the art of identifying and crafting your story. (fig 1)

Just like a science project you need to first establish a process that allows you analyze your data. At Highwater we call this process HumanSpeak. This is a series of tools and exercises that forces a company to put down on paper a streamlined version of their current business strategy and equities to see how they align with their vision. Too often businesses and institutions start with scattered messages about who they are and it adds to confusion for the consumer. This process is built to constrain the business strategy and equites down into a few simple sentences or bullet points. Having clear and concise insights is the most critical step in this entire process. So, now the company’s strategy and equity information will fill in the first bucket of our equation.

Next, a company will need to determine their vision. While their equities are what their customers or clients are familiar with, a company has a strategy and plans for their future that they have to bring their customers along for the ride with. So the next bucket of the equation gets filled with a clear and concise description of the company’s vision.

A company’s equities and vision sit on the horizontal axis of this equation and are the two buckets they are in complete control of.

On the vertical axis of the equation sits two additional buckets that you have no control over, but need to be laser-focused on. One bucket focuses on the competitive set within your marketplace, and the other bucket (and probably most important) focuses on your audience’s needs.


To help inform the bucket for a company’s competitive set, your organization needs to analyze the marketplace, look for commonalities and determine what you are doing that no one else is. This will become part of your distinct and unique offering. For instance, for years Nike has leaned into the technology and innovations that make up their unique brand of athletic footwear that speaks to high-performing athletes with designs that allowed athletes to perform at the highest-level. This constant flow of innovation helped differentiate them from their competitors for years. Now that other brands are stepping up innovation with their products they continue to have to compete with Nike because Nike owns that part of the market.


To be able to fill out your final bucket in the equation you need to collect either first or third party insights into your consumer and what they truly desire from the product or service you offer. This information is critical for your brand to resonate with this customer. Without having these insights you can appear to be tone deaf or out-of-step with your audience’s needs. You need to make sure that there is a true need or desire that you are fulfilling with your offering. To uncover these insights you have to drill down into your consumer’s true needs. Too often brands focus on entry stakes insights and don’t push to uncover a differentiator that is going to move them to take action.


Now that you have all four quadrants of your equation completed you have to discover a place where your insights intersect. It is this intersection that becomes your Unique Selling Proposition. It’s the one message that only your company can claim and will help you on your path to becoming the next Nike, Amazon or Apple. This intersection will also start to inform your Storytelling Pillars and Tone of Voice. And to find a Tone of Voice that will make your customers feel “connected” to you every time they catch sight of your logo, you will need to create a sense of familiarity for your brand.


95% of us make decisions about the brand we purchase subconsciously, not rationally. Essentially, your affinity for a particular brand stems from your perception of the brand. On a much deeper level, this perception hinges on the “archetype’ or personality your brand depicts. A Brand Archetype is crucial to positioning your company and products because it humanizes your brand and allows it to resonate with your target audience by connecting with them emotionally on a fundamentally deeper level.


This powerful combination of your USP, Storytelling Pillars, Tone of Voice and Archetype will become the foundation for all of your messaging, design and marketing tactics moving forward. It also creates consistency around your storytelling, allowing every dollar you spend to bring greater value to your organization and your marketing results.

So, next time you ask yourself why you’re not selling more products, landing contracts, recruiting top talent, attracting patients or students, etc. at the rate you envisioned, also ask yourself: what do your customers, prospects, patients or students know about your brand or organization? Is there a compelling and concise story or message that will connect with them, hook them, draw them in, and make them brand loyalists? If the answer is no, then you need to step back, and “begin with the end in mind.”

by: Tracy Donofry and Andy Styer