How can businesses find stories to tell about their brands? This is a question I frequently encounter during discussions with peers and business partners. Be it small businesses or big companies, brand stories are becoming more important in this crowded marketplace.
Yama is a Japanese restaurant based in Rotterdam. It is owned by chef Hiroaki Yamamoto. To dine in Yama, you have to reserve a table months in advance. Reservations are filled up quickly and it is nearly impossible to get a table just by walking in.
I remembered when Yama first started years ago. They began by selling bento box meals. A few friends had on separate occasions mentioned this novelty to me. The excitement shared by all my friends, each of them emphasising the same story of how the food was prepared by a Japanese chef and how it was delicious and authentically Japanese, convinced me to try out the restaurant when it finally opened. And then I become Yama’s fan.
It is very difficult to find real Japanese food in The Netherlands, even for a big city like Rotterdam. To eat sushi, you would have to go to subpar all-you-can-eat restaurants that serve “sushi” and other Asian food which has nothing to do with Japan. These all-you-can-eat restaurants are almost always decorated with fake cherry blossom or some sort of fake flowers. There is always a toy cat waving its arm, good luck charm perhaps? The kitchen staff and the owners are almost always Chinese people. They have generic names and similar pricing. There is not an iota of authenticity in these restaurants. There is also nothing much differentiating them. If you love Japanese food, this is utterly depressing.
Yama’s arrival shone through like Gandalf’s illuminating staff cutting through the darkness. From the moment you enter the restaurant, you immediately feel transported to Japan. The hospitality from the servers makes you feel welcome and at ease. There is a serene atmosphere in the air. You can tell there is thought behind each dish, you can see the effort put in by the chefs from the fresh ingredients that are used to the meticulousness when it comes to the plating. Being close to the chefs and watching them work provides a context and a point for connection. You can also see that head chef Hiroaki truly cares if his diners are enjoying their meal. Dining at Yama is not just about eating Japanese food. It is an experience that fills your heart with joy.
How different are the two scenarios? Both serve sushi but one tells a cohesive and compelling story, starting from the website to the experience in the restaurant, to the food, to the people working in it. The other is forgettable, generic, easily replaceable and does not come across as they care, nor does it radiate love.
You might think it is easy to “make up” brand stories. But much thought and effort is required to develop your brand strategy before looking at crafting your brand story. Remember, stories should not be fluff, because fluff never lasts. Consumers can see through insincerity. Think about it, how sustainable can you be as a business if you have to constantly pretend to be something you are not?
A brand story is not simply a story or something you write about and share on social media for one day and move on to the next shareable moment. The story-telling for your brand is an on-going process. And each move you make – be it on your blog, via social media, when recording a video, they should all be cohesive with your story strategy.
Before you can start working on your brand story, you need a strategy. And before you can devise a strategy, you should focus on finding out what makes you unique. Your authenticity will set a solid foundation for the development of your brand strategy. You want your prospective customer to think of you first, never your competitors. Being authentic is the best way to resonate with them. Being authentic would also make your job easier, and perhaps even more enjoyable.
You can formulate your brand story strategy by pondering on your passion, and how it motivates you. You can construct your storytelling based on solving a problem. Both of these apply to Yama, I would say. Sometimes a brand story unfolds from a cause. Other times it begins from celebrating the people who inspire your business. Make use of every avenue you have to tell your brand story. Constantly be on the look out. Use your imagination. But bear in mind before you do any of that, to have a sound and sustainable strategy set up to guide you. And almost always, that begins from the heart.