What’s your story?

This past week, while on my summer vacation, I had the chance to watch the morning news, and I saw a piece that really excited me.  It was about a small business in Chicago that had managed to create a compelling and differentiated brand for a seemingly undifferentiated product, because it had an interesting story.  The story explained why the business came into being, and how it operationalized its values to differentiate its product.  This was the story of Felony Franks.

Felony Franks is a local hot dog business in Chicago that makes and sells ‘food so good, it’s criminal’ according to its tagline.  Now I don’t know that the hot dogs themselves are all that different from other hot dogs, but they have a different story.  Felony Franks opened to give ex-offenders a chance at their first job as they try to re-assimilate into society after serving time in jail.  Because of its unique hiring practice and its focus on assisting ex-offenders get back on their feet, Felony Franks isn’t just another hot dog vendor.  It has a story, and it is using it to create an interesting and memorable brand to set its hot dogs apart from the rest.

While I do find the mission of Felony Franks to be appealing, there are two reasons why I found this news piece to be exciting:

  1. It highlights a business that understands that a strong brand helps it be more successful.  Felony Franks knows it needs to differentiate itself, and this differentiation is contributing to its success to date. 
  2. It is a great example of how even a small business can establish a strong brand.  The brand is so strong because its values are embedded in the organization.  The business used its inherent story to create the brand.  It didn’t just choose an cute name or unique decor to try to create a brand.  It leveraged the core of its business and its culture to create its brand.

Over the last few years, I have encountered quite a few organizations that do not understand how a brand can really make a difference to their business, and therefore do not choose to invest in it (instead focusing on the product/service features or price).  I have also come across organizations that don’t know where to start if they try to build a brand or believe that a name and a logo is sufficient.  I hope that this example of Felony Franks illuminates some new possibilities.

For those leaders who are wondering if it really is worth investing in a brand for their product or service, I hope that this example persuades you to more seriously consider it.  Product and service differentiators and price advantages often slip away over time, leaving you with an undifferentiated product (like just another hot dog from a local hot dog vendor).  Your brand, if it is a strong one, will ultimately be the defining factor when customers are making their choices.

For those leaders who want to build a brand, but aren’t sure how to begin, I encourage you to think about your story.  Why was your organization established?  How does your organization’s mission live in the organization?  How does this story resonate with your target customer?  What does your organization stand for?  The answers to these questions are part of the building blocks to creating a differentiated, ownable, and integrated brand for your organization.

To sum it up simply, the story of Felony Franks illustrates the point that your organization’s story sets it apart and defines what it stands for.  No other organization has the exact same story.  Using this story to build a strong brand could differentiate and elevate your product or service in the mind of your customer.  This unique position may eventually make all of the difference for your business.

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