Have you ever bustled down a downtown street with all the life and lights and energy of a night on the town, only to hear something that didn’t just catch your attention but damned near pulled you by the ear?

Imagine this: As the sun dips below the horizon, the strings of a solitary guitar resonate through a dimly lit room. The audience sits in hushed awe, their breath hitching at every note that dances through the air. The guitar, a vintage Martin D-28, sings its story to the entranced crowd, encapsulating decades of craftsmanship, passion, and legacy with every passing note.

Every brand carries a unique melody waiting to be brought to life. Just as every chord, strum, and nuance shape the music’s character, so does each element of a brand’s narrative sculpt its perception in the consumer’s mind. This narrative becomes the backbone of the brand’s marketing strategy.

And everybody loves a well-crafted story.

But how do we ensure the narrative we’re crafting is heard and truly resonates with the audience? How can we fine-tune our brand marketing for maximum impact? We could seek guidance from an ancient philosopher: Socrates.

Socrates, the father of Western philosophy, proposed a straightforward method of filtering out noise from a conversation known as the ‘Three Filter Test.’ The test poses three critical questions: is it true, good, and useful? Let’s look at how these can be incorporated into brand marketing.

Is it true?

In the realm of brand marketing, authenticity is vital. It feels too obvious to say as much to my peers, but storytelling isn’t make-believe in our world. Consumers are not interested in buying a product; they are even less interested in being sold. They are investing in the story, the ethos, and the authenticity that a brand represents. 

For instance, Gibson guitars have built their brand upon this bedrock of truth: they build handcrafted instruments that have shaped the sounds of generations. 

Their advertising campaigns focus on the artists that swear by the brand – from various genres and generations. You might see an ad featuring Gene Simmons (of KISS fame) sporting his signature bass, or the newest TikTok sensation, an emerging talent – who happens to be 12. 

One noted Gibson enthusiast was one of the world’s most beloved bluesmen. B.B. King said he tried them all, but “When I found that Gibson with the long neck, that did it. That’s like finding your wife forever.”

These endorsements create a sense of authenticity, demonstrating that the brand’s claims aren’t just marketing fluff but a veritable truth. Their claim to have shaped the sounds of generations is indeed a fact. It rings true. Hence, before broadcasting any brand message, ensure it’s factual, authentic, and reflective of your brand’s core values.

Is it good?

The ‘good’ in Socrates’s second filter implies a positive impact. How is your brand making the world better, and how does it contribute to the well-being of the consumers?

Consider the brand promise of musical instruments giant Yamaha. Yamaha is a global brand renowned for its diverse range of instruments. The company has a rich history of manufacturing quality instruments, promoting music education, and contributing to local communities. Their marketing often highlights these initiatives, showcasing their commitment to improving lives beyond mere profit. Their brand promise: Make Waves.

“The expression Make Waves captures the moment when customers feel enthusiastic excitement. Yamaha wants to be a company that inspires its customers’ passion and helps them make a step forward to express their individuality, emotion, and creativity.” said President and Representative Executive Officer Takuya Nakata. 

As a brand marketer, evaluating your narrative through the ‘good’ filter is always a good idea. Is your brand story inspiring, uplifting, or encouraging positive behavior? Your audience will appreciate your brand’s commitment to social good and respond positively if it is.

Is it useful?

Finally, Socrates asks us to consider the utility of our message. In the context of marketing, this translates to value — does your brand narrative offer value to your consumers?

For instance, let’s look at how high-end guitar manufacturer PRS (Paul Reed Smith) differentiates itself from, say, Gibson. They understand that their target demographic isn’t just looking for some regular old guitar that’s been played out. Their audience is looking for something new, unique, and next-gen quality. They’re looking for an X-factor, and PRS is happy to deliver. 

PRS’s marketing often emphasizes the uniqueness and sonic versatility of its guitars. For example, they work hard to capture the beauty of a quilted maple top guitar. They showcase angles, cuts, and bevels that make their instruments stand out. 

Carlos Santana tells how Paul Reed tracked him down (some might say stalked) to put a PRS in his hands. And when it finally happened, he was so impressed with the quality and sound that he never looked back. (Note: Santana also clarified that he was inspired by Paul Reed Smith’s tenacity and diligence as a stalker, too!). “I chose, at the beginning, Gibsons; and then I went to Paul Reed and I never looked back – because Paul makes his guitars, he can send them across the world, and when they arrive, they always arrive in tune and you can play right out the box.” 

When crafting your brand narrative, it is helpful, of course, to focus on your products or services’ unique value. Highlight how they can solve a problem, fulfill a need, or enhance your consumers’ lives.

Three filter test

The beauty of the Socratic Three Filter Test is that it enforces nuanced simplicity and gives a tidy framework for clarity.

As a master luthier meticulously crafts each instrument to strike the perfect chord, so must we shape our brand narratives. Using Socrates’s three filters – truth, goodness, and utility – we can ensure our brand stories resonate with authenticity, positivity, and value.

And just like that guitar in the dimly lit room, when our brand sings its melody, the audience won’t just listen – they’ll be entranced.

Cover image source: Alessandro