We always went to church on Christmas Day. It was part of the ritual, part of making the day special. We weren't a particularly religious family (even though Mum tried her best to encourage us) but it added a reverence to the day and gave us a deeper perspective. All the excitement and wonder of waking up in the morning to find out whether Santa had been was tempered by a mid-morning visit to Church.
Our Vicar, Reverend Bowen, was a great storyteller. He would always do a special sermon for children on Christmas Day. He would ask all the children to move to the front and he would tell stories that would grab our attention and stop us thinking about the unopened presents waiting for us at home, just for a few minutes.
One sermon, I remember to this day. It was one of those moments that stopped me in my tracks and made me think about things in a different way.
There were a pile of wrapped presents under the tree, next to the altar. And a dustbin. Rev. Bowen started talking about how nice it was to have received so many gifts and how generous everyone had been. He picked up the first present and described the wrapping paper in surprising detail. How beautifully wrapped it was, how nice the bow was, how someone must have taken a lot of care to wrap it. How much the wrapping must have cost.
As children we sat there excited to see what was inside. He kept the suspense going a little longer while he sensitively and diligently unwrapped the gift, taking care not to tear the paper at all. It was clearly very expensive. Once unwrapped he held the paper up and described the pattern. He seemed to really, really like it. He folded the paper neatly and set it to one side. Then he looked at the gift and without a word, threw it into the dustbin.
There were gasps from the congregation. A few awkward coughs. Children looking at each other amazed. The odd chuckle from a knowing parent. A nervous giggle.
He picked up the next present and repeated the process. Again and again, and by the time he had opened all the gifts, all the children felt he had gone ever so slightly mad. We were also slightly distressed that some perfectly good toys had ended up being trashed.
One of the very small children stood and walked to the bin. Rev. Bowen paused for a moment. The child rummaged a bit and went in for a lucky dip. Looked up at the Reverend, thought better of it and sat back down.
Rev. Bowen stood and admired his pile of paper. He said he was thrilled to have received so many lovely examples of wrapping. He would treasure them.
And then it was time for the moral.
He asked us, whether we thought what he had done was strange?
We all said, Yes!
Because that’s not what you do with perfectly good toys!
Because it's rude to throw away something you’ve been given as a gift!
Because it's wasteful!
Because that talking Action Man doll with gripping hands and pull-chord activated voice was THE must have toy this Christmas!
But really because, what's inside is more important than how something looks on the outside.
He asked us to think about the people we loved, the ones we cared about most, our family and friends.
Was it important to us how they looked? Would we stop loving our Mum if she permed her hair? Or Dad if he wore a woolly Christmas jumper with a reindeer on the front? Would we stop seeing our friends if they wore something a bit unusual or unexpected. Did we really change our view of anyone if they wore a different outfit?
We all said, No.
What's inside is more important than what's on the outside.
I think this has shaped my view of people throughout my life. Superficiality never makes a lasting impression. We can all be forgiven for the metaphorical wardrobe malfunction. Or a bad hair day. Strength of character, depth of thought, a cracking sense of humour. Now I'm interested.
Today, when I think about the relationships between brands and customers I think about how important and relevant that message is.
A brand is just like a wrapped Christmas present. What’s actually important is what’s on the inside. Consumers get this. We see past superficiality. Gone are the days when we could be hoodwinked by advertising. We seek relationships built on meaning and substance. We look for a value exchange from the brands we choose. The question is, do brands really understand what their consumers really want?
I think the answer is that some brands are getting there. They have moved beyond the shiny wrapper of advertising and the shallow, meaningless chatter of social media. They are balancing what they spend on the wrapper with the investment they are making on what's inside – the brand experience they create.
They are beginning to understand their purpose and relating it to the lives of their customers. They use their purpose and beliefs to build meaningful dialogues. They are investing more in their employees, enabling them to deliver a stronger experience. They are increasingly full of meaningful content. Ready to build lasting relationships with their consumers by creating an immersive world to dive into.
As consumers, we want to be engaged by brands that give something beyond the product, delivering experiences and content in return for our loyalty. It won't be long before the term 'consumer' will relate to the amount of content being consumed rather than the purchase of product. Enduring brand loyalty comes from giving consumers a reason to engage and come back for more. A clear purpose, great product, stimulating content and a brand experience that engages at every opportunity will go a long way to ensuring a brand is more than just a wrapper.
So make 2016 the year you tear the wrapper off your brand and show that, what’s on the inside is more important than what's on the outside.