Brand Story is your core emotional promise experience coherently at all consumer touchpoints.
Below, I will bust a few common myths that might keep you from growing into the next phase of profitable growth.
1.Storytelling on Social Media
The real magic happens behind the scenes, not on social media. Brand strategy helps you identify where to play, who to target, what problem to solve for them, and the core emotional promise you want to make.
Translating the core emotional promise for every touchpoint with utmost coherence is your brand story, including messaging, visual identity, packaging, business model, consumer service, new product development etc.
The choice of media and the creatives express the story but are not the story itself, and thinking storytelling is the brand story tends to narrow the brand story’s scope.
Dollar Shave Club viral video helped an extraordinarily differentiated brand story. The video creatively expresses the brand’s core promise of save money with dollar a shave and lends personality!
Takeaway: Storytelling comes after you have created a powerful brand story.
Another mistake is jumping to content without precisely defining your brand story. I have seen digital and creative agencies asking clients about their brand voice. The brands offer generic inputs like high-quality products, local, premium, clean, natural, organic, eco-friendly, etc.
The content writers then spin a story around these undifferentiated claims within a matter of hours.
Takeaway: Volume of the content does not mean you have a great brand story.
Sounds paradoxical? The founder’s journey is likely not your brand story, unless, maybe, it’s never been heard before. Even though I have my utmost respect for the fightback, allergies and cancer recovery aren’t enough to cut through the clutter anymore.
Drunk Elephant’s story centers around clean compatibility without suspicious 6 ingredients, solving Tiffany Masterson’s frustration with allergies by eliminating the dubious ingredients.
Takeaway: Founder story could lead to the brand story and could be communicated to elaborate on the journey leading to the core promise.
4.Social and Environmental Cause
There are three types of cause associations for a brand.
First, when the brand purpose=cause, meaning cause is the reason for the brand’s existence.
Second, when the brand is strongly aligned with a cause, contributing to the cause with initiatives and is transparent about contribution and progress.
Third, typical 1% to 2% contributions to cause initiatives without transparency on the difference made or alignment with the brand promise.
Consumers expect and respect that but likely won’t be too impressed.
Barring the first, the other two are most likely not your brand story.
Ten Tree is a perfect example of a brand story built around the core idea, purpose=cause, of supporting the environment.
7 Virtues Beauty is an excellent example of a beauty brand with a cause as its core purpose of “rebuilding war-torn nations”, by buying ingredients for their peace perfumes from afflicted countries and supporting the farmers.
Rare Beauty has its purpose aligned with the cause of mental health, with a $100 million pledged contribution to mental health services over ten years, and transparency on contribution to mental health initiatives.
In my opinion, the brand does need a little bit of work to make the cause of mental health its core purpose.
Takeaway: Be genuine. Don’t try to take advantage of people’s sentiment for cost-effective marketing! Learn from Gillette’s ad debacle.
5.“Free From” Claims
Most of the “free-from” claims are table stakes now! Clean, natural, and organic are not enough to differentiate unless you are the only one in the category.
Takeaway: You need “one” superpower beyond the “free from claims”.
Product quality, both real and perceived, is all the non-price attributes of a product. To quote Professor Ken Wong of Queen’s (Smith) School of Business, “Different consumers define, weigh and rate quality differently”.
Define what you mean by product quality with 3-4 attributes. Then rate your brand on those attributes. Also, get it rated by your target consumers to see if you convey fundamental differences or marketplace antes.
Takeaway: Quality is a “vague” term and means different things to different people.
Most likely, you are not the only local brand. Expand the different attributes/benefits of local and focus on ones that you are unique at or offer a superior benefit vs. others.
For example, a connection to the source by offering transparency, incorporating local vendors as part of your branding, etc., are a couple of ways to distinguish.
Takeaway: You can only be local in one city. What about when you enter new markets? How differentiated are you from other local brands?
8. For Everybody-Fear of Missing Out on a $ Billion Brand
Good for everybody is great for nobody! Your brand story should appeal to a particular audience, and that’s where the power lies. You would not mind selling to almost everyone who pays for the brand but direct your brand story to those who care the most.
There are three exceptions to the above rule:
a. Your brand is a blue ocean, even this is for non-consumers of a category
b. Your brand purpose is equal to a cause.
The target segment will be broader in the above cases, but it might still make sense to target a smaller audience first for higher intimacy.
c. If you can hit a nerve( refer McKinsey Chart above) valued by most and there is no competition. Even in this case, starting with a narrow audience will help you generate product-market fit faster and get more support in the early stage of the brand lifecycle.
e.g. Glossier targeted younger, digital consumers who wanted to have a say in the products made for them.
Takeaway: He tries to please them all, a bitter man he is.
9.We Were the First: Pioneer Blinds
This one is tricky. If you claim to have started much before the competition even existed, there has to be a very strong business, social, visible proof of your Brand Story with your brand journey on the website at least.
Are you a market leader? Does your social media fan base outdo those who came much later? What is the quality of your reviews? Is it a well-known fact amongst the target segment?
e.g., Method Home Products, a green soap company, was founded in 2000, much later than many other green soap companies that are still not 1/100th of its size!
Takeaway: Make sure that the first-mover status is communicated elaborately in your brand story, and measure if it makes a difference.
10.Dominant Design-We did not reach this far by fluke!
A line I hear pretty often. I don’t deny that brands have done something right to have survived and grown to where they are. But I also know that
a. Entropy is an undeniable reality. Unless proactively managed, any brand will go astray.
b. A brand cannot afford to ignore evolving consumer trends, channels, and competitive threats.
c. A brand needs to evolve its marketing strategy as it evolves on its lifecycle curve.
You need not reinvent now and then, but you must evaluate your brand’s relevance, uniqueness, and consistent delivery and evolve accordingly.
From creatively expressing/delivering the story better/in sync with the times, evolving your brand story and strategy, evolving/managing your culture, or questioning the existence and nature of your business are all evolutionary steps.
E.g., With the decline in the appeal of classics such as Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse, Disney reinvented itself to stay ahead of the times.
By producing films reviving all-time classics such as Beauty and the Beast, The Jungle Book, and Aladdin to acquiring Pixar studios and now a super success with Disney+, the brand remains nimble and relevant while respecting its core roots of designing classic and iconic characters.
Takeaway: To look back in the rear-view mirror & justify your current direction is missing the future.
Why is this myth under brand story?
Because ultimately, any back-end work you do is to translate the consumer promise, the brand story, at every touchpoint, in sync with the lifecycle need, trends, and evolving consumer behavior.
11.Consumer Doesn’t Know
“We offer much higher quality products, but still consumers prefer competition because their marketing fools them.”
While I don’t deny that a higher marketing budget can get your competition a higher level of awareness, if they lack a powerful brand story: relevant, unique, and coherent, consumers won’t convert or be loyal.
Consumers might not have asked for a car when there were only horses or a tablet when there were none, but once they experienced these innovations, they supported with all their love.
Don’t worry about consumers being stupid but think about consumer validation. They value coherence, look for meaning, functional and emotional, consciously or subconsciously, beyond marginal functional benefits.
Takeaway: Don’t live in denial.
12.Better at Everything-Really?
Even if you are better at multiple quality attributes, having a laundry list of great at everything won’t cut it with the consumer. And, you would never be able to design a genuine and coherent brand story around all of those benefits.
Focus on your most significant benefit in the consumer’s eyes and which you are uniquely positioned to deliver.
Every Superhero has certain great powers, but not every kind of power! For that, you have different superheroes.
Spiderman has night vision, super adhesive abilities, precognition, healing abilities, whereas Batman has excellent intellect, scientifically advanced gadgets, exceptional mental and physical strength, etc.
Focus on your unique brand superpower: core emotional promise, and align the product benefits.
E.g. La Mer does not claim to be clean but focuses on the science of Miracle Broth™
Takeaway: Consumers have a limited attention span, and you have to make it easier for them to place you in a small and unoccupied space in their minds.
13.Better Avoid Hearing this Legend:)
The real magic happens behind the scenes. Brand Story is the core emotional promise experienced coherently at every touchpoint by the consumer.
The difference between a powerful brand story and the ordinary is the amount of deliberation behind the scenes.
I hope you will be mindful of the above traps that befall beauty founders and marketers.
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ROHIT BANOTA, Founder of StorySaves, has transformed dozens into envied beauty brands for the next phase of sharp and profitable growth, during pre(launch), early stage or even stalled growth stage of business.
He has over 17 years of marketing and business experience growing consumer packaged brands including with startups and MNCs like P&G Beauty and Grooming.