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Your Brand Story Needs Clarity (and One More Thing)

Every business wants to be noticed for what it does well. Which means every business needs a superior brand story.

Think about businesses you know and support. Maybe one makes a widget in every conceivable color. Another offers a spectacular in-house experience that rivals the quality of its products. Then, there’s the business that regularly donates a portion of its proceeds to charity.

Most of us can name the businesses we really love. What is it that makes us love them? Chances are that we notice something unique in them that really speaks to us. Because their story validates our own worldview, we’re hooked.

The problem is, a lot of businesses today try so hard to get ahead of competitors that they end up looking just like them. Which means their brand stories are indistinguishable.

jigsaw puzzle pieces, indistinguishable brand stories

In a look-alike world, it’s hard to stand out. That’s why an authentic, unique brand story matters so much.

Brand Story Essentials

So, what’s essential to a good brand story? To answer that, let’s first define our terms.

Essentially, your brand story is your business’s raison d’etre or reason for being. Why does your business exist, and what critical need does it fill? Most importantly, is your brand story obvious to customers?

Why sign, Ken Treloar photo, Banyan blog

If you’re like many small businesses, you’re tempted to slap some general background information on your “about” page and leave it at that. Or, you hire a marketing agency to help craft your mission statement, company values, and web copy, hoping that customers will resonate with your “why.”

While these strategies are helpful, they might not be enough. Building an effective brand story requires going deeper.

A clear brand story

To be effective, a brand story needs to be short, clear, and easy to understand. Think about what sets you apart. Can you communicate it clearly and succinctly?

 “If the brand cannot cleanly and clearly communicate its message and what it stands for in one sentence, or with one glance at a logo, it has failed conclusively.” – Alexandra Sheehan

Before you craft your 30-second ‘elevator pitch,’ let’s look at a couple of examples.

Consider the company purpose of Burt’s Bees, purveyor of all-natural, environmentally friendly products:

Burt's Bees purpose, brand story

The message is short, clear, and relatable; Burt’s Bees hopes its products will contribute globally to the greater good.

This kind of brand messaging doesn’t happen accidentally. It requires thoughtful conversation and an in-depth understanding of one’s audience.

Dana-Farber/Brigham & Women’s Cancer Center demonstrates the same thoughtfulness in its “You Have Us” campaign. The essential message is that a patient may have cancer, but they also have a personal advocate in their corner.

Dana Farber, You Have Us, brand story

Takeaway: You only have seconds to communicate your brand story—so make sure your message is clear.

A memorable brand story

If you want your brand story to resonate with customers, you need to create something they’ll remember. Which means tapping into their emotions.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

As we’ve already shown, effective brand stories are clear. But they also create an emotional connection.

The most successful businesses understand this marketing principle. It’s why Walt Disney World doesn’t sell an experience—they sell a feeling (i.e., “the happiest place on earth”). It’s why Neiman Marcus doesn’t sell high-end products; they sell a feeling of luxury.

As branding expert Wally Olins once said, “Branding is nothing more than creating an emotional attachment between the brand and the person.”

Consider the emotions (stated or implied) in this Benefit Cosmetics statement:

“We wanted to create visual, shareable content that conveyed our brand’s central message: ‘Laughter is the best cosmetic.’ We wanted something as instant as our beauty solutions, as clever as our brand’s personality, and as social as our consumers. Benefit is not about unachievable beauty; our products are your best friend that comes through in a flash to bring out your natural beauty in five minutes. With our #BeautyBoost campaign we wanted to surprise women and delight them with instant affirmations that they are gorgeous just the way they are.” – Claudia Allwood, Benefit Cosmetics

Benefit Cosmetics brand story

Surprise, delight, and empowerment are all in the mix—along with fun and laughter. Benefit brings ‘all the feels’ to its brand story.

Takeaway: If your brand story touches the emotions of your audience, they will remember you.

A human brand story

Just as clarity and emotion are central to a good brand story, so is humanity. Consider the Dana-Farber website example shown earlier. The human element is front and center within the “You have us” tagline.

Unfortunately, many businesses unwittingly remove humanity from their story and focus on only their product features or services. If that’s your business, remember that showing your human side positively impacts your bottom line:

Salesforce infographic, Banyan, brand story

Some brands reference their humanity by showing what goes on behind the scenes. Others make giving back part of their central message. But through it all, smart businesses will show how they make life easier and better for their customers.

NOTE: Revealing your human side is not the same as talking constantly about yourself through words like “we” and “our.” The best brand stories always focus on the customer by using “you” and “your” language.

It would be hard to find a better example than that of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, whose human-focused brand story sits front and center on the St. Jude homepage:

St. Jude brand story

St. Jude homepage

Takeaway: If you want your brand story to stick, craft a central message that focuses more on how your business benefits humanity.

A motivating brand story

While it’s great to have a clear brand story that shows your humanity and appeals to customers’ emotions, you also need a story that motivates customers to act. It could be setting an appointment, visiting you in person, placing an order, or some other action.

However, the most effective brand stories will motivate customers to act even without a written call to action.

Consider Fitbit, whose ‘Find Your Reason‘ webpage tells the stories of real people using the app to change their lives and improve their health.

Fitbit Find Your Reason, real stories

Takeaway: There are no visible call-to-action buttons on this page. Instead, the personal stories of Fitbit customers tacitly motivate the reader to act. May your brand story do likewise.

Now, that you know just how important your brand story is, let’s talk about one other thing: The USP.

Unique Sales Proposition Essentials

Can you name your business’s Unique Sales Proposition (USP)? Also called a value proposition, your USP is the core of what sets your business apart from everyone else. Once you have a killer USP, creating your brand story is a whole lot easier.

Some experts are now defining USP as a “unique story proposition”—which makes total sense, given what we’ve already discussed. After all, your USP is central to your brand story.

On the flip side—if you don’t understand your USP, you’ll never tell the right stories about your business.

A USP that’s … actually unique

Let’s be clear: most businesses have a value proposition that looks suspiciously like every other competitor’s.

Why does this happen? More often than not, it’s because the business hasn’t put enough thought into their USP. Every business has something unique to offer; they just haven’t identified it yet.

Remember that scene in City Slickers (1991 movie starring Billy Crystal and Jack Palance) when Curly asks Mitch “Do you know what the secret of life is?” After holding up one gloved finger, Curly says, “It’s one thing.”

Mitch (Billy Crystal’s character) then asks, “What’s the one thing?” and Curly replies, “That’s what you’ve gotta figure out.”

Just one thing, Curly_City_Slickers

Curly’s advice also applies to your Unique Sales Proposition. After all, if your USP looks like everyone else’s, how can you make your brand story unique? (Hint: you can’t).

To help you identify your USP, our friends at Shopify compiled these questions:

  1. Why does our business exist?
  2. What do we contribute to the world?
  3. What is at the core of our mission?
  4. Why did we actually start this business?
  5. Do we have a purpose beyond our products/services?
  6. What is our true passion?
  7. Do we offer something because no one else was doing it before us?

Jeff Slater at Marketing Sage recommends that you also identify what you stand against. For instance, maybe a competitor does something you never want to do. Put that down on your list.

Next, can you identify your competitors’ USP? Get a clue by the verbiage on their web pages. Are they trying to be all things to all people? Are you?

pink lemon slice among yellow, Rawpixel via Unsplash, Banyan blog

As you thoughtfully consider these elements, don’t forget to ask your team to weigh in. How do they really see your business? What do they think your unique values are?

It’s also surprisingly helpful to answer whimsical questions like “If our business were an animal (or beverage, or color), what would it be?”

Takeaway: Write down your answers. Rule out anything that competitors also do. If you still haven’t found your uniqueness, keep digging.

A problem-solving USP

If you haven’t already asked your customers what makes your business unique, we have this advice: do it. But be prepared; if you ask for honest feedback, you’ll get it.

Think about a problem that might motivate customers to come your way. Do you have a truly unique answer to that problem?

"Focus" tattoo

Maybe your product is less expensive than all your competitors.’ Maybe your service makes customers feel a certain way. Or, maybe you offer something that’s more expensive because of its high quality.

Be willing to ask the tough questions too, such as what might tempt your customers to go elsewhere. Ask them what’s the first thing that comes to mind when they think about you (or your competitor). Listen intently to their responses!

An emotionally appealing USP

As you move closer towards your unique selling point, don’t forget the aspirational side of your business. What intangible feeling do you want your customers to feel in relation to your business?

Take, for instance, Airbnb—an online marketplace that helps real people rent their property to paying guests. Airbnb has competitors, of course. But because Airbnb knows its USP, it can tell the best brand stories anywhere.

Think about it: it’s easy to list, book, and pay online with Airbnb. Arguably, they are best in the biz at this process. But Airbnb also understands the emotional appeal of its “culturally driven brand.”

By considering how it wants consumers to feel, Airbnb now owns an emotionally-appealing USP and central message.

Airbnb value proposition

A USP that’s bold, daring, and relevant

Here’s the thing. Figuring out your USP and brand messaging can be tricky and not a little time-consuming. It’s much easier to think your services are unique when they’re actually not.

For example, hundreds of dental practices claim to be friendly, professional, and state of the art. These are praiseworthy traits. But if every practice claims them, then how will anyone stand out?

Case in point: One of our Banyan team members goes to a dentist she loves—one who exemplifies all the desirable traits listed above. But he and his team also travel to Guatemala every year to give free dental service to the needy. Shouldn’t this generous tradition at least factor into his Unique Selling Proposition?

I am bold, neon sign, USP

When the car rental company Avis recognized that it wasn’t going to catch up to Hertz Rent-a-Car anytime soon, it did something bold and daring: it recognized its own scrappy determination (part of its USP) and created a memorable brand story to match: “We’re Number Two: We Try Harder.”

Takeaway: Don’t give in to the notion that you have to do all the things your competitors do. Instead, stand out by finding those things that no one else does. Be bold and daring!

Then, tell your brand story in a way that only you can.


Need help sharing your brand story? Contact Banyan today for a free demo.


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