How The Wizard of Oz speaks to business branding

The Wizard of Oz

We all know The Wizard of Oz movie, even if we’ve not actually watched it, it holds such a huge place in our collective cultural history, that we all feel like we have.

But what has The Wizard of Oz got to do with business branding? Bear with me and I hope it all becomes clear.

The movie starts with a tornado ripping through the world Dorothy knows. I don’t think it’s hard for anyone in business to draw a parallel with the last few years of Covid, Brexit and the ‘Truss/Kwarteng min-budget’ as the perfect storm … a tornado, destroying much of what we knew of the business and economic landscape.

After the tornado, Dorothy found herself in a strange world where being true to herself and consistently forging towards her end goal are ultimately the route to her salvation.

Like Dorothy, following her path (her yellow brick road) businesses need to be consistent in the pursuit of their goal and in their direction of travel. For each of us, that means being true to our brand and staying firmly to the path set by those brand values.

A good brand strategy defines that direction of travel, uncovers your values and illuminates your ultimate goals. It’s the mapped-out plan from where you are to where you want to be. Your yellow brick road.

Being true to your brand values and guiding principles when the going gets difficult can feel like we are battling Wicked Witches and strange flying monkeys hell-bent on diverting us from our true path. But if we can stay on the path – and stay true to ourselves, then we attract the right travelling companions along the way.

And like Dorothy’s companions on the road to Oz – a company’s brand journey needs a considerable amount of courage, a great deal of heart and a substantial amount of brain power to make it all work.

How we behave in business matters.

How we treat and engage with the people we encounter (be they suppliers, collaborators or clients) all speaks to who we are – our core brand!

How we act, how we engage, how we do things, how we look, what we say – these are the messages we send out into the world that reflect who we are. They define your brand.

What signals are you sending out in how you portray your business and how you actually do business?

Every time you post to your socials? How you choose to dress? The way you treat your waiter at a business linch? Everything we do or say, every action we take (or choose not to take) reveals something about us, the things that matter to us, and the values we hold.

Collectively these signals tell people around us who we really are and give them an insight into what they can expect of us.

Your logo, your website, the language you use, how swiftly (or not) you respond to emails and even how your receptionist answers the phone are all signposts your business puts out into the world – all combine to create a ‘perception’ in people’s minds.

The same thread of brand expression should run through every interaction people have with your company. Like the words in a stick of Brighton Rock – wherever you bite into the rock you get the same experience. Brighton Rock is consistent, each mouthful delivers the same… It always says Brighton and every bite delivers a week’s worth of sugar whilst nearly breaking your teeth!

People like to know what they are going to get. People like consistency. It’s how Coke and McDonald’s have built their huge empires. The world over, if you buy a Coke or a Big Mac you know exactly what you are going to get. That familiarity and consistency is the key. We can rely on it.

Every contact and interaction with your company feeds additional information into the mind of your customers about you and about the product or service you offer. Every interaction feeds another detail to the perception people hold of you and therefore each interaction needs to be both considered and consistent.

If you want to take control of public perceptions and mould how your clients view you, then you need to be actively engaged in brand management. Your brand is the sum total of the various signpost your customers encounter – and what those signpost point towards. It frames what people think about your company and what you do.

This should be a true reflection of who you really are. Otherwise, it is a false sign – like a mask. And once the mask slips, like Dorothy seeing behind the curtain – people swiftly realise that the Wizard of Oz is not so really wizardly after all. And once you lose their trust it’s practically impossible to win back.

We’re all fully aware that the movies are full of illusions. After all, Judy Garland was 16 playing a 12 year old in a land inhabited by munchkins, witches, flying monkeys, living scarecrows, tin-men and talking lions. But effective branding can not be built on illusion or fantasy.

Drop the illusions

Brands need to be real. Your branding activity should aim to build awareness, affinity and belief. Or as it’s more commonly stated in business circles to illicit: know, like and trust.

All brand activity is ultimately aiming to deliver greater trust. Breaking that trust is like throwing cold water on a fire.

And here my Wizard of Oz analogy breaks down a little. Dorothy’s cold water, thrown to extinguish the burning scarecrow (that the Wicked Witch had just set alight) splashes onto the witch and melts her. I’ve no idea why, if water was so fatal to witches, she would allow a bucket of water to be anywhere near her person – but hey, it’s a fantasy land.

Dorothy ultimately triumphs by staying true to who she is. ‘There’s no place like home’ in a business sense is much like Dorothy’s journey. We have to take the journey, we grow in the process but actually, the things that make us who we are – our authentic selves and core values are constant. We usually need others on the journey to help uncover those values and to keep us true to them. Anyone who knows anything about classic storytelling knows that through the ‘hero’s journey’ they will discover their true selves. What makes them who they are will be honed and amplified in the process.

If you don’t have a clear brand strategy. If you are not clear about what you stand for and how you wish to present that to the world, then you are likely sending out mixed messages. and confusing – or even repelling – your target audience.

We need a brain, a heart and courage on the journey. In Oz they symbolise what makes us human – intellect, emotion and action. Spend some time thinking about your end goals. Muster some courage because most of our business journeys will encounter some trials and tribulations along the way. Take heart and allow humanity and empathy to inform your decisions. We are not robots (or tinmen).

Building your brand strategy we help you travel to your destination with integrity and authenticity and you’ll most likely defeat your foes along the way without having to do anything more than a little fire-fighting.

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