10 classic mistakes to avoid when creating your brand story

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February 12, 2018

Have you managed to avoid these classic brand story slip ups?

Think your brand story is in pretty good shape? That’s terrific! But maybe you should just check to make sure you haven’t made any of these elementary errors.

Have you given your brand story and messaging the attention they deserve?

There are so many exciting new ways to reach people, and new tools to play around with, that there’s a tendency to overlook the importance of the words. It’s easily done – you get so wrapped up with twitter, or facebook, or shooting video with your phone, or analysing responses, or automating your retargeting efforts, or exploring the opportunities around proximity marketing….that what you are saying becomes almost an afterthought. The message has become relegated to the status of mere “content”. The fact so many people use this dismissive term reveals their attitude towards the words – they regard them as mere “filler”.

This attitude is pernicious and self-fulfilling. If you treat the words that you use to describe your business, your products and your service with such disdain then it’s inevitable you’ll end up with a brand story that can’t punch its way out of a wet paper bag.

In today’s hyper-competitive marketplace, with consumers who are spoilt for choice, suffering from information overload and unwilling to give you more than a nanosecond of their attention, the words, the story and the message matter more than ever before. They’re not an afterthought, a nice-to-have or a distraction – they’re the number one priority!

Have you managed to get over yourself and put the focus on the prospect?

“It’s my website, my ad, my eshot, my brochure…and I want to get my name across, sell my products, promote my service, big up my offering…so I’m going to talk about me, me, me!”

We’ve all met someone like that, who talks about nothing but themselves – and we know how it makes us feel. It’s the quickest and surest way to turn people off. And yet most business owners and marketers fall into this trap every time. Every sentence begins with “we” or “our”.

It’s a basic schoolboy error – because humans are hard wired to be self-interested. If you want to get attention and create engagement, do not do the thing that comes most naturally to you – do not talk about yourself. Do I need to repeat that? I don’t think so. The most important thing to remember, always, for ever, is that the best way to attract people to you is to talk about their favourite subject – themselves!

Have you sold the benefits?

This is an extension of the previous point. “Features and benefits” is a phrase you’ve probably heard before.  The idea is that a feature is a fact about your product or service, while the benefit is the corresponding pay-off for the buyer. So, taking a cordless drill as an example, “comes with two rechargeable battery packs” is a feature and “so you’ll never run out of juice and can keep working without interruption” is the benefit.

Because people are self-interested they want to know what’s in it for them. If you just give them the feature their reaction tends to be “so what?” But give them the benefit and they go “ah ha, now you’re talking, I like the sound of that!”

All too often a business owner or marketer is so wrapped up in what they do that they forget to spell out the benefits to the consumer. Or they just bury them in the text. You need the benefits up big, front and centre.

Have you identified which benefits will prove most persuasive?

Benefits are more motivating than features. But what benefits will be most motivating? That depends on the target audience – you cannot answer this question until you have a good sense of who it is you are trying to influence.

What are their hopes and fears, likes and dislikes, needs and wants? Is there a particular problem that you can help them solve? What do they most want to hear when looking for the kind of product or service you are offering? How important is price to them, or quality, or choice, or personal service, or a money-back guarantee? Do they have any particular attitudes that influence their decision making?

Only when you truly understand what makes your prospects tick can you be sure which benefits will prove most appealing. If you don’t make sufficient efforts to do this your brand story and messaging are unlikely to strike a chord with them.

Have you successfully differentiated yourself from competitors?

Have you thoroughly researched your competitors to see how your offering compares to theirs? Have you successfully identified a meaningful point of difference that sets you apart from them – something you provide that others don’t and which the prospects actually care about? And does your brand story and message clearly communicate this point of difference?

If not, you will be lost in the crowd – another boring business whose products and services are just “me-too”, utterly unremarkable and immediately forgettable.

Have you created a powerful promise?

Your prospects are suffering from information overload, are spoilt for choice and totally focused on their own particular problems and concerns. If you are going to penetrate their mental firewall, and prick the little bubble they’ve constructed around themselves, you need to come up with a single-minded promise that’s really sharp.

Single-minded? Yes, because the target audience will only give you a millisecond of their attention. Present them with a muddled promise, or several promises all at once, and their response will be “too much information!”

It also has to be a promise that makes you stand out from the crowd of competitors (see above). And it has to get people excited (see above again). If you want to maximise the effectiveness of your brand story and message you must distil all the information you have gathered to find the single most differentiating and motivating thing you can say.

Have you made a convincing case to support your promise?

Let’s assume you’ve ticked all the boxes so far and have successfully come up with the kind of powerful promise described in the previous section. And let’s also assume it’s very good at grabbing attention. What the prospect wants to know next is “can I trust these people to live up to their promise?”

Human beings are innately suspicious, especially when they are being asked to part with money. The phrase “caveat emptor” (buyer beware) dates from Roman times and the small print is still referred to as “the caveats”. Today, levels of distrust have never been higher. The church, the police, big business, our MPs, the media…they’ve all let us down in one way or another. We now live in an era of “fake news” that’s “post truth” and where scams are rife and consumers are more sceptical than ever before.

So, having made your promise, your brand story and messaging must convince people it’s not an empty one. Have you given them sufficient information, and argued your case well enough, to create belief, trust and peace of mind?

Have you added sufficient emotional weight to your brand story?

Making a strong logical case for buying your product, and trusting your business, is essential. But it’s not enough. Because you’ll have competitors who will be doing an equally good job of this – you are running neck and neck with them.

If you want to get your nose out in front, and gain competitive advantage, your brand story and messaging needs an added ingredient – emotional weight.

Smart marketers understand that consumers are not as logical as they like to think they are. There’s ample evidence to suggest people actually make their decisions based on their emotional feelings, then use logic to justify those decisions. Just look at the sheer number of big successful brands, from supermarkets to car manufacturers and banks to IT companies, who unashamedly tug on the heart strings, flatter the ego and play on our fears.

People don’t buy your product or service for what it is or does – they buy how it makes them feel. If your brand story and messaging fail to move people emotionally then they are missing a big trick.

Have you used creativity to maximise impact and engagement?

Given the fact that the audience is so hard to engage, and that the competition if so tough, you cannot afford to just do a workmanlike job of telling your story. You’ve got to use creativity to make it even more remarkable, exciting, surprising and memorable. In other words you have big it up, give it a twist, and use some showmanship. Nobody buys boring!

How do you do this? It’s too big a question to answer adequately here. But there are various techniques, approaches, strategies and tricks you can employ. These are covered at some length in my book “The Authority Guide to Creating Brand Stories That Sell” – sorry, shameless plug, but there is not room in this post to go into detail.

The thing you need to ask yourself is this – is my brand story genuinely surprising, remarkable, inspiring and exciting? Even better, ask some other people the same question. Just impress on them that you want them to be brutally honest – you don’t need flattery!

Are you kidding yourself that you don’t need professional help?

Nobody knows your business, products and services better than you. You may be quite good at writing. And you obviously want to keep cost down. So maybe you can create your brand story all on your own?

Big mistake. You are probably too close to the business and its offering to see matters clearly, too wrapped up in everything to step back and take a truly objective view with regard to all the different points raised above.

What’s more, even if you are good at writing, there’s more to creating a great brand story and effective messaging than merely stringing a few words together. It requires a wide range of skills to research, analyse, organise, express, edit, design and polish the material. On top of this the best brands are created by people with a talent for creativity, a fertile and imaginative mind, a good ear for tone, a great eye for detail, a terrific sense of style and downright salesmanship….to say nothing of hard-won brand storytelling experience.

Great brands seem to achieve all this effortlessly – they make it look easy! But don’t be fooled – it takes a fair amount of work, by professional experts, to pull off this trick. Even if you are a total genius, and possess all these qualities, the result will be considerably better if you pull together a team of experienced practitioners to help you. In the wise words of advertising guru Bill Bernbach “Never do anything yourself that you can hire someone else to do, especially if they can do it better”.

The business with the best brand story wins

Success. It’s not how good your business, products and services are – it’s how good people think they are. Once you realise this it’s obvious that investing the time, effort and money into creating a great brand story will pay huge dividends.

If you found this article useful…

All of these points are covered in more detail in “The Authority Guide to Creating Brand Stories That Sell”. It’s a pocket-sized how-to guide that’s packed with invaluable information – easy to read and digest it’s one book you won’t struggle to finish! Many readers have commented that they now carry it with them and constantly dip into for a quick hit of inspiration, guidance and reassurance.

I read this Authority Guide by Jim O’Connor last week on a train and thoroughly recommend it, not least for being a riveting read (there was an unfolding incident involving police boarding the train going on around me and I read on, oblivious). For marketing people, it brings home the significance of that often forgotten “m” – the message – you’re trying to convey. For clients, it’ll make you a ‘top’ client (able to whip up a perfect brief) and for business owners looking to DIY, this takes you, step by step, through creating your most powerful brand story. Not forgetting of course, fellow copywriters – Jim shares our pain and you’ll definitely feel less alone!   Eva Seymour.

Picture credit https://www.flickr.com/photos/jontintinjordan/

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