3 Ultimate Ingredients to Define Your Brand

(The Perfect Brand Story, Part 1)

Here’s the hard truth: nobody cares about your brand.

On average, people encounter 20,000 brands every day. That’s 20,000 brands beginning with the moment a person turns off the iPhone alarm clock and goes to kitchen to grind Starbucks coffee beans in a Capresso grinder.

These days, asking people to care about your brand is like asking them to identify a single molecule of air as the most important in their day. We’ve reached Peak Brand, and in this era of inundation, a single tweet announcing a new product isn’t enough. You’ve got to stand out. But how?

Standing out among the 20,000 is the most pressing concern facing brands today. How are you going to grab the attention of your audience? What story are you going to tell that encapsulates your brand? What goes into a good brand story?

3 ingredients to a brand

A good place to start crafting a brand story is by defining what your brand is.

A brand might be recognized by a colorful logo or a catchy jingle, but that isn’t actually what defines the brand for customers. What differentiates and defines a brand in the marketplace is a brand’s character. So what constitutes brand character?

The simplest way to think of it is in terms of these three ingredients, which will ultimately guide you to good storytelling.

1. Brand Promise

A brand first and foremost makes a promise. Nike may be memorable because of their iconic swoosh, but their brand promise—“to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world”—is why Nike die-hards love them. Everything Nike does encapsulates that promise, from their inspirational print ads to their clean but edgy website aesthetic to their innovative digital content.

Note that nowhere in the brand promise does Nike mention their products. This can be a powerful move, especially when your brand provides something a lot of other brands also provide. Adidas, Puma, and New Balance also make athletic gear targeted at a similar audience. But with Nike’s brand promise, they’ve positioned themselves as the brand that will bring inspiration and innovation to your workout, leaving the other brands to either best them or scramble towards different promises.

In practice: What kind of interaction is your brand promising to your audience? What feeling do you always want to leave them with? What experience will engagements with your brand always deliver on?
Understand your brand’s implicit purpose, and browse a list of some of the greatest brand promises from the bigwigs.

2. Brand Benefit

Let’s stick with Nike. The literal benefit of buying a Nike product is that a customer now owns a pair of running shoes. But the brand benefit is something beyond owning the product or using the service. When a person owns a Nike product, she is benefitting from brand association. She is now seen as a serious athlete of the world, someone interested in having the very best gear for the very best workout.  

A brand benefit could also be something more tangible. For example, Volvo owners reap the benefits of consistent road safety, as the vehicles are known as one of the safest in the world. Those who listen to music on the subway through Beats by Dre headphones are thought of as connoisseurs of high-quality sound. People who carry around the popular (and expensive) bkr glass water bottles are able to attend to environment and personal health concerns without forgoing luxe. In each of these examples, the brand has made a promise to deliver a kind of experience, and once the consumer has that experience, the benefit is apparent. The benefit is what keeps them coming back.

In practice: What will your audience get from engaging with your brand? And I don’t mean what products or services does she get, but what kind of association does she benefit from, whether it’s a feeling, a reputation, or a more tangible benefit? For example, if she makes a donation to your cause, what is the impact she will make? What is the return on her investment? How do you want her to feel after interacting with your brand?

3. Brand Story

And finally we land at your brand story: that which communicates the promise and benefit in the form of a narrative. While you may not end up communicating your brand story through video (though I recommend you do) it’s helpful to think of it as a trailer. Trailers for films don’t tell you information, such as who the stars are or what the subject is. And learning those facts would be not only boring but unrelated to why you want to go see the film. Instead, a trailer shows you the film in a mini-story version, in order to elicit an emotional experience that stays with you and compels you to see the film when it’s released.

Brand stories work similarly: the story you tell helps your audience identify with your brand. For purpose-driven organizations, your brand story is the most powerful expression of who you are and the impact your have on the world.

Staying with the Nike example, let’s look at what the series of ads for Nike Women they released last year. The ad could have told the audience the information they needed to know by simply displaying their new line of sportswear for women. But instead, the ad tells a story--a unique, relatable story--from the perspective of a consumer who is aspirational. At the beginning of the ad, the women in the story are unsure, doubtful, and cynical. By the end, they are believers, both strong and proud. The ad shows the women benefitting from the brand promise. And that is exactly what the consumer gets from buying a pair of Nike Women leggings: the promise of experiencing athletic inspiration, and the benefit of association with respected peers. 

In practice: Remember to show, don’t tell. Nowhere in that Nike ad is the gear mentioned. When you watch it, you don't feel like someone is trying to sell you something. Good brand stories don’t tell the audience about products or services; they show them in action, in use, from the perspective of the individual, in an emotionally compelling story.

So how do you write your own brand story? We’ll cover that next week in part 2 of this post, with examples of effective brand stories, and what you’ll need to write and distribute your own.