Often when I’m working with a team or especially friends in new businesses, the question always comes up; “what is our story?” Sometimes folks actually say, Brand. But at the end of the day, using real people speak, the question is what is your story? You have to know this before you just starting doing stuff with your business. Otherwise you will be handicapping your efforts to grow effectively and efficiently as well as standing for something in particular vs just being a generic offering.
There are several models to help figure this out. Unilever introduced brand keys two decades ago. Good to Great (a must read) has the lighthouse Identity. And every agency I have worked with had their own model they enjoyed working through. Here is my evolved version to add to your models collection and hopefully to help you clarify your story.
There are four parts to the story that I see as an ongoing conversation between you and your consumer/community that ends in the middle of the perpetual conversation with an Essence – your rally cry for what you stand for. The four parts to the conversation are:
1. Functionality. What does your product or service offer?
2. Personality. How are you going to offer this product or service?
3. Emotional Value. How does your consumer/community ultimately benefit?
4. Discriminator. What is your competitive advantage? Why choose you over someone or something else?
The following four sections give you a few questions and thoughts on how to answer they questions for yourself so you can have your own Brand Identity to focus your efforts when growing your community and your business.
Functionality. Your Brag Board.
What are you actually giving to the consumer when they give you their money? A piece of jewelry? A cup of coffee? Vitamins and minerals that smooth fine lines and rejuvenate skin that is dehydrated. Protection from flea bites. Spend time taking apart your product or service and write down every aspect of what your product or service is doing for your consumer/community. Really blow out even the most minute details. Each ingredient in your product should have a functional benefit even if the consumer doesn’t know or appreciate it, yet.
This is an opportunity to take every single thing you have done to make this product available to the marketplace and brag about it. If you have kids, think about telling all the great things your child just did over the last few weeks. List out everything that is remarkable but folks probably don’t know. By the way, definition of remarkable is actions worth being noticed. I hope everything you have put into your product is worth being noticed. If not, stop doing those things and repurpose that time for things that are remarkable.
Once you have this list, start to highlight the ones that are the MOST remarkable, i.e. the top 3 – 5 reasons you are offering this product. This will be the foundation for why you exist.
Personality. Your wardrobe.
Now that you have a concise list of what you are offering, in what style do you want to offer this? No frills? All the frills? Made in America, red, white and blue forever? For me, this is where visuals tend to do more justice than words in the beginning. In team meetings, we often have magazines from difference places that we rip visuals from. You can also just have a blast on google images and type up words that are entertaining you at that moment. See what comes up and put a visual collage together.
Once your collage is up, bring it back to words. If you were at a cocktail party and overheard someone describing you (your product/service), what descriptive words would you hope they are using about you.
Quirky. Out there, but accessible. Always makes me happy. Classic without being stuffy. Always on trend but inclusive when I’m not on trend. Pushing boundaries. Ruthlessly honest. Have a rich vocabulary here. If this is going to inform you and others (agencies, team mates) that work with you to develop better packaging, communication, etc., you better use interesting words that are not generic. Cool. Honest. Transparent. Not especially helpful. Might as well say you are blue like the sky and stop reading this post.
Emotional Value. What is the consumer receiving?
Now it starts to get a bit harder. If you are trying to do this in one meeting/sitting. Stop and take a break right now. Clear your head and come back to this project.
Here you need to ask what is the higher order reason a consumer is giving you their money in exchange for a product or service. Wrinkle cream isn’t just to reduce wrinkles. It is to give a person confidence. Unfortunately dried apple dolls were never held up as the result of a life perfectly lived and so the more wrinkles the better you clearly have lived. Wrinkles show you are getting old and are getting worn out and maybe even too tired to keep going. So voila! Anti wrinkle cream to the rescue so you can project to the world you are not old and tired yet baby! Still count me in! No matter how old I am, I can walk into this room with confidence I still look young and vibrant.
As you start to articulate the higher order reason consumers/communities want to use you, it might be valuable to go back to your personality and supplement any additional ideas you have there that will reinforce this emotional value.
To help you get from all the functional benefits to the ultimate emotional value, try this ladder of benefits exercise:
A. List all your functional benefits from the first section of your brand story.
antibacterial ingredients and skin nourishing ingredients in a bar of soap.
B. Summarize in a sentence what this does functionally.
offers antibacterial clean without stripping your skin and making it dry.
C. Ladder that to a higher benefit functionally.
a thorough, healthy clean that washes away super germy and grimey dirt without dehydrating your skin.
D. Ladder the emotional value of this ultimate functional benefit.
Gives Moms confidence their kids won’t get sick playing in the dirt because they get a thorough, healthy clean that won’t harm their skin.
E. Ultimate emotional value.
Moms don’t have to worry about their kids getting dirty when they have this awesome healthy clean soap!
Discriminator. What is your competitive advantage?
This has always been the hardest for me and most teams I have worked with. It is so easy to make a grand statement, “We are the ONLY brand to blah, blah, blah.” Are we? Really? Here is where being first isn’t necessarily important. Google wasn’t the first or the best search engine. But it is the only search engine known universally. Has the biggest share of search by FAR and is almost a generic verb for getting answers. “Just google it.”
So, what is so special about you? Why choose you over someone else. Past consumer immersions can often help. Consumer reviews. Social comments. Consumer Care feedback. All incredibly helpful in determining what exactly is so special about choosing you over an alternative option.
Also make sure to really think through what all the alternatives are. Not just your immediate competitive set. Coke vs. Pepsi, or water. But also not drinking at all. This goes back to the emotional reason along with the functional reason consumers are consuming your product or service. What type of confidence or style or belonging are you bringing them that is truly unique to you?
For me, Apple’s discriminator could easily be technology enabled with style and grace. They have given me the use of the latest technology without making me feel stupid, but always inspiring me to be smarter with my tablets, phone and computer.
Now that you have the four steps in your consumer conversation you can have fun summarizing it into an essence. Teams often call this your rally cry! In the past I have had fun with “Freedom to Create”, “World in Living Color”, “Best Parts of Life”. No need for anyone to know which brands these were, because it was for the internal team. We knew what we stood for and why we came into work everyday. Our brand identities are fun and motivating. This is WHY you update them with your cross functional team. Brand stories and identities are for the whole company to align behind the mission and vision of the company. Without them, folks could be rowing in the wrong direction and not even know it. Enjoy updating yours or clarifying it with your entire time (even if this is for the first time). Y’all know the answers to everything above. Just take the time to get it articulated in the open for all to rally behind.
Comments? Questions? Builds? Great. Leave them in the comments below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Love to chat with you about your brands any time!