As companies shift more and more of their activities online, they need to become increasingly skilful storytellers, says multi-award winning businesswoman Kate Hardcastle.
“You need to have a reputation – you need to be proud of that – you need to be able to tell your story, and you need to make sure that the customer or consumer of that product can really understand that,” explains Hardcastle. “Story’s really important. Who are you? What do you stand for? Why is it different? Why am I gonna buy from you?”
Hardcastle, founder of Insight with Passion and Positive Image Month, has won more than 20 awards for business and marketing and owes this in part to taking an “ethical stance” throughout her career. She says that the idea that brands might one day be online and trackable has stuck with her since a university professor first suggested it to her two decades ago – and sensing that her reputation could be affected by a very visible and public track record strengthened her resolve to make sure that she always did things “in a fair way”, even if it inhibited her company’s pace of growth.
Reputation management in the digital age has certainly proved Hardcastle right. When a thoughtless tweet from years ago can be used to destroy a person’s career in the present, it’s more important than ever to make sure that the trail you leave behind is squeaky clean, right from the outset.
Getting this right, says Hardcastle, boils down to “making sure you do your job correctly, making sure you get the results, making sure you’re passionate about that – and most of all, being a nice person.” Establishing your business “story” is an essential part of this, helping you to clarify who you are and what you value, helping you to keep on track while making it easier to engage potential and existing customers.
“Messaging is really important,” says Hardcastle, who encourages businesses to use language that is “outside-in,” meaning that they are constantly reading it back as if they are a customer, rather than just thinking about what it is they want to tell an audience. “The easiest starting point when you’ve got a blank sheet of paper is really to think about: what does our customer want and how can we deliver that in the best and most exciting and engaging way? And be consistent.”
“It’s difficult because after a while you become so intrinsically linked to your business that you don’t see anything else anymore. So you’ve got to get the eyes open, you’ve got to see how you’re presenting yourself,” she explains.
“There might be some really obvious things, there might be some things that take research. Research all the time. Ask all of your customers, past and present, how are we doing? Is the message getting across? What’s working for you? What’s not working for you?”
Ironically in a time when communication is instant, the emphasis on a brand’s historical behaviour means that reputations have to be created slowly and carefully. Ultimately, says Harcastle, successfully building a brand comes down a single factor.
“Hard work! Lots and lots of hard work, and being passionate,” she says. “You’ve got to do it like it’s the first time, every time.
“There are no cheats to it. And there shouldn’t be any cheats to it, because your customer will respect you for it and you’ll respect what you achieve more.”