This site is in beta. Tell us what you think.
Chapter 7 | Narrative Guidebook

Brand Roles

What’s your role relationship with customers beyond seller and buyer?

Your Narrative needs to explain why someone should have a relationship with you beyond the benefits of buying your product.

You need a Brand Role that is something other than being a seller.

Roles determine relationships

Brand Roles explain why customers would want to have a relationship with you beyond the benefits of buying your product.

Have you ever seen an improv comedy show?  If so, you know that every sketch starts with two things: a setting and roles. If you don’t know the roles, you can’t do the sketch.

You might know the setting is a restaurant, but the roles might be chef and sous-chef, waiter and or couple on a date. But even if you know it’s a couple on a date, is it a blind date, or a breakup, or a couple celebrating their 50th anniversary?

Most companies operate inside only a few role relationships. The most common are Seller : Buyer, Employer : Employee, and Distributor : Reseller.

These all have one thing in common:  they are all commercial relationships based on a transaction.

Your Narrative needs to explain why someone should have a relationship with you beyond the benefits of buying your product.

You need to define a Brand Role that is something other than being a seller.

Example

Nike

Coach : Athlete
Outfitter : Athlete

The default role for Nike would be Manufacturer : Customer. Nike makes shoes, apparel and equipment for their customers to buy, wear and use.

But Nike’s strongest relationship with their customers is not Shoemaker : Shoe Buyer.

Nike’s DNA includes the influence of Bill Bowerman, the former coach of the Oregon track team and the inventor of the original waffle sole. Bill was one part coach and one part inventor, always tinkering with the best gear to help his athletes go faster.

These Brand Roles continue to this day. As Coach and Outfitter, Nike is always looking to inspire better performance and to provide the equipment to make that possible.

Example

Sephora

Teacher : Student
Artist : Artist

Sephora’s approach to customer service and segmentation can be seen through the lens of Brand Roles.

The Shared Purpose for Sephora is reflected in its current tagline: “Be Fearless.”

Sephora’s salespeople are known as advisors. So you might think the role relationship is Advisor / Customer. But that would still be a commercial relationship.

Instead, Sephora has found that two different role relationships that play out with customers. One is Teacher : Student, where the customer is looking to the advisor for expertise and instruction.  

In the other role relationship, the customer sees themself as having some degree of expertise already. They want to collaborate and share ideas with the advisor as a peer. The relationship is therefore more symmetrical, like Artist : Artist.

Interestingly and importantly, Sephora advisors are trained to look for signals that determine which role to use in the relationship or interaction with a customer.

Do they want to be a student and learn from the advisor’s expertise? Or do they want to be appreciated and related to as a peer?

Example

SAP Analytics

Q : James Bond

SAP Analytics identified their Shared Purpose as “better business decisions.” The Path to Purpose was “turning data into insight.”

The Brand Role emerged from a brainstorming session after SAP identified itself as fundamentally a toolmaker, and in particular a maker of tools for mission-critical assignments.

One of the team members said, “Like Q for James Bond.” In the movies, Q is the spymaster who outfits James Bond with the futuristic gadgets he needs to complete his mission.

Now when someone from SAP walks into a meeting, the person on the other side of the desk isn’t just a customer, but an agent in need of innovative tools to help them complete a mission-critical assignment.

Exercise

Brand Roles

Think about your Shared Purpose, DNA and especially your Contribution to the Potluck for Purpose. What kinds of roles go with this contribution?

If you bring expertise, are you a Scientist, Engineer or Teacher? If you are someone that connects people together, are you a Broker, Matchmaker or Party Host? Don't be afraid to be metaphorical rather than literal.

As you identify these roles, be sure to think about the roles of the customer or other stakeholders that go along with it. You are looking to create reciprocal roles. So if you are a Teacher, that means the other role might be a Student. Coach naturally goes with Athlete. Conductor goes with Musician.  

Use the worksheet to capture ideas for your Brand Roles.

Recap

What’s your role relationship with customers beyond seller and buyer?

  • Brand Roles explain why customers would want to have a relationship with you beyond the benefits of buying your product.