I met Leslie through a post I did on Instagram asking for Guest Bloggers! We exchanged a few emails before she asked if I was open to Skyping to talk more about this collaboration. From the moment I started chatting with her I just was blown away with how talented and open and driven she was! This post brings me SO much joy mostly because I live for fictional characters (in fact, all of my designs from my Etsy shop are named after powerful women on TV!) I hope you enjoy this piece as much as I did!
It's no secret that I love the NBC television show Parks and Recreation, and, most assuredly, its heroine, Leslie Knope. Oh look, here she is now:
I think so highly of her, in fact, that I have an entire blog devoted to her. We share a name, and we share a few very idiosyncratic characteristics...we both love the idea of well-developed and decorated binders, we are professional pesterers, and we both have been told our spirit animal is the Border Collie (embarrassingly, though, I'm not a huge waffles fan...). We all have those television or film characters that we can relate to, and this is a sign of good character development on the part of the writers: people will buy into what they can connect with.
I grew up in theater and still consider this "acting bug" to be a large part of who I am as a branding professional, so imagine my excitement and sheer thrill when I discovered that my marketing and branding business could be enhanced by looking at businesses through the filter of good character development! Mind blown!
Leslie Knope and other favorite characters of mine have influenced the way I look at branding when I'm working with clients. Our favorite television, film, or stage characters give us great cues and examples for building our business brand; by exploring three key elements of character development, we can clue into new ways to develop and/or improve our brand. This could be a book (and maybe one day it will be!), but for this context, I think there are three main "takeaways" to focus on from this concept of brand building through character development: Motivation, Appearance, and Backstory.
Have your coffee and pen handy? Let's dig in!
- Motivation: I've started learning about enneagram personality types (If you're curious: I'm thinking I'm a type 4 with a 3 wing...what's yours?!) and how the three main group types are motivated by either emotion, fear, or anger, and decisions are often made based on those motivations. In the same way, characters make decisions based on past experiences and values, and, following our logic, businesses will be motivated to make decisions in the same way. Obviously, all businesses are motivated to make money, but what else drives your business? Here are some questions to muse on:
◦ What experiences have you had that subconsciously change the way you function in your business?
◦ What are your core values?
◦ What is your mission statement?
◦ What are your goals?
If you haven’t identified these things, consider taking some time to have a mini “retreat” and reflect on and struggle with these questions and literally write down your answers. You may find a clearer picture of what your business motivations are - prepare for an “Aha!” moment!
- Backstory: In the world of acting, knowing a character's backstory is KEY. We love knowing our characters and where they came from because we can them more accurately understand why they respond to others in the way that they do. In the same way, businesses should understand their backstory to have a complete picture of where they are continuing to go. Go back YEARS before the business began. Start with birth, if you need to. Millie Dillmount, the main character from a musical called Thoroughly Modern Millie, asks new people: "You were born and then what happened?" When I bring on new branding clients, I spend very little time researching their socials or website initially, and I schedule a conversation first. It's informal, and it includes questions that are both concrete and abstract. I want to hear about the business owner's life and motivations...I want to hear EVERY LITTLE THING that they relate to their business whether big or small - these are the things that make this business unique - and THAT is what people will relate to! (oo, bold AND italicized? Clearly this is important to me!) This can be a difficult process to walk through in the minutia of running a business, and sometimes these ventures are born out of messy situations. If you're a visual person like me, try using this Brand Story Map - can help as you work through brand story development!
- Appearance: A character's appearance clues us into more about them than we realize. In one film frame, we can tell if they're wealthy or not, outgoing or shy, modern or from the past...and the same is true for our businesses. The statistics on first impressions are almost alarming and will almost make you question your existence. One article reports that trustworthiness can be determined in a TENTH of a second, another study says that visual first impressions can last for up to six months! The research is bountiful and overwhelming, but simply put: the way your business looks MATTERS. Is your logo defined and well-designed? Are your colors surrounding the business representative of your tone? How does your website look, does it provide a good experience for the visitor? Taking a critical look at our business appearance by hiring outside consultants or consistently working to improve are key elements to making that critical first impression with your customer or client.
Looking at a business through the filter of character development is a little "far out" (dude) but if we think about our businesses in this way, it can inform how we build our social and email campaigns, impact how we interact with others, and can even encourage employees to have a greater understanding of the company they work for. Sometimes it's helpful to have someone guide you through a process like this. If you're thinking "golly, this is weird and I don't get it but it sounds pretty intriguing!" Give me a holler. I'd love to talk to you about how to use this for your own business!
Now, refill that coffee, grab a notebook, and jot down elements of YOUR favorite characters. Let me know your findings - can't wait to hear!
FIND MORE FROM LESLIE E. THOMPSON:
- Has lived in Nashville, Tennessee since 2008
- Is a vocalist and performer
- In addition to being a branding and marketing specialist, Leslie is a music copyist
- Obsessed with the Alaskan dog sled race, The Iditarod