The Red Sea

Seventy employees and stakeholders – 1000WATT clients – huddled together in the far corner of their amazing office. All faced the screen as I prepared to present their new brand story and identity.

The anticipation could hardly be contained.

This client had come to us with a common industry ailment: a scant distance between their brand and their competitors’. A similar product. Undifferentiated value.

On the surface, our client looked and sounded like everyone else bobbing in the Red Sea of brand sameness.


Rebranding a company is a journey back to its origin.

We begin by humanizing the brand, assigning traits and characteristics that extend beyond shallow constructs of “authenticity” and “transparency” – buzzwords with no meaning. We do this to help us compose, design and create a pattern of consistency the brand will use to communicate to its audience.

In this case, we discovered a wildly creative, enthusiastic, fun and loving entity. The problem was it was hidden behind a corporate veil.

Time to take a bite from the forbidden fruit.


Every person has two individuals inside: who they are and who they desire to be. The goal is to tap into both of them.

Marketers tend to cling to facts – the lists of features and benefits that fill websites, sales materials and ads. But this isn’t very effective because it requires constantly pounding these facts into people’s heads to get them to notice and take action.

There’s only one way out of this bondage: the art of storytelling.

Stories provide sense and meaning. Stories are how people communicate. We’ve been doing this since the dawn of humanity.

Great stories spread. They are contagious. People pass them down to others.

Facts – the features and benefits – exist within these stories. They lend nuance and detail. But on their own – without story – they don’t say much.

To illustrate a point, I asked who in the room was an avid Apple user. All 70 raised their hands. I then asked who would switch brands if I presented indisputable proof that competitors across every product category were selling superior technology, user experience and service.

Not a single hand went up.

I wasn’t shocked. From its inception, Apple has been telling a story about personal rebellion and liberation and it’s struck a chord. The more the brand has told that story, the more others have joined in telling it for them. Customers haven’t just bought computers and other devices – they’ve become characters inside the Apple story.

Brand loyalty is not always rational, logical or smart. But it is highly emotional. Deep. Subconscious. This is how humans work. Selling “bigger”, “better”, or “cheaper” has merit in the customer’s mind, but often what matters more is how much the customer believes in the story being told around these attributes.


My 15-year-old was present at this client presentation. Afterwards, he challenged me by suggesting that there must be times when features are critical.

I agreed. Facts absolutely matter. What matters more is how they are framed.

I pointed to his $220 Air Jordans. I asked him to tell me why he spent his hard earned money to get those shoes. In typical sneakerhead fashion, he recited each of the very specific events in Michael Jordan’s career that inspired every part of the shoe – the technology, the materials, the colorway, the brand markers, everything.

When he was done, he realized what had happened.

Every Jordan shoe has a story. It’s the story each customer tells themselves every morning when they step into them. It’s a story they relate to. In every way, it defines them, who they are – and who they want to be.

This is what I explained to the people in front of me as I began to share their story – the campaign that will distance them from competitors and position them as one of the most valuable technology brands in real estate.


To brokers, vendors, teams, franchisors, mortgage lenders, insurance providers, title companies:

Each of you believes your customers buy your product or service based on functionality and utility. But those things depreciate soon after you recite them. Your prospects leave your counter having already forgotten half of what you said. Your customers typically only use only a small portion of what you offer. In time, you’re left stunned when those customers are wooed by a competitor who provides the very same thing you do.

You can prevent that by moving beyond marketing as you know it and exploring the art of storytelling.

In the coming year, go forth. Be fruitful. Multiply.

Unleash your hidden Moses. Draft your parable. Tell compelling tales about your brand – stories that will draw people in and make them believers. Diehards.

Happy holidays. May only good things define your coming year.