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What makes your brand story special? (It’s probably not what you think.)

Try this exercise. Answer the question, “What makes your brand story special?”

Are you thinking about what makes you different? Are you listing the unique things you offer or do? Maybe some stats come to mind like how many people you serve or the number of awards you’ve won.

Impressive. Except, none of this stuff is what makes you special to all those you’re trying to engage. No, really. They don’t care. They have desires and aspirations. They’d rather think about those things.

Take a moment and really let that sink in. They’d rather think about their aspirations.

For all of us, thinking about our aspirations is irresistible. What we will do. What we will become. That’s why daydreaming is so inescapable.

Imagine aligning what you offer with something this irresistible. Imagine a person seeing you as someone who can help them work toward their aspirations. Imagine how desired and valuable you would become. Imagine how special your brand would become.

Are you ready for that? Okay, then we need to quit telling people how special we are and start telling them how special we can help them become.

In order to serve our prospects’ aspirations, there are a few things we need to determine.

  1. Who are you serving?
    It’s ridiculously easy to skip this step. You tell yourself that you know who your prospects are. But I guarantee you that you will uncover some valuable piece of insight if you write down your segments. For example, your offering may be appealing to a young mother as well as a couple with teenage kids. Writing this down helps you recognize the differences in the way these two segments think. Identify the major segments that you serve and write a short summary of who they are, how they think, what they feel, what they do, and what they say. Then let’s move to the second question.
  2. What is his or her aspiration?
    Go beyond what you think they need or want (this is where most marketers stop). Get a bead on what they want to become. What are their dreams? What idealized state do they envision for themselves? Maybe your prospect pictures her idealized state as that mom that has it all together (so she can be the best mom she can be). All people picture things being a little bit better (maybe even a lot better). And then they construct a better version of themselves in that scenario. Serving this aspiration makes you more valuable to your prospects than just showing them how what you offer fulfills some lower level want or need they have. Now, let’s move on to question three.
  3. How does what you do serve that aspiration?
    You need to go beyond listing features and benefits. You need to understand how what you do helps your prospects work towards their aspirations. Then, you need to help them see the connection. Think of this as an if/then statement. “If you take advantage of (insert product feature), then you will be able to (insert benefit that aligns with their aspiration).” Here is an example. Say you’re a bank. And you have this guy who is a prospect. And you identify that this guy’s aspiration is to become more in control and at ease when it comes to money. He pictures himself being unflappably confident as he makes decisions on all aspects of life where his money comes into play. To connect to his aspirations, you might say something like, “You get the tools and knowledge you need so you can feel like that guy you want to be. Confident. At ease. And ready for whatever.” That’s way more powerful than simply telling him you have online bill pay, ATMs, and 23 convenient locations. Okay, on to the last question.
  4. How do you share this?
    Now that you understand their aspirations and how you can help them work toward those aspirations, you need to reframe your story. That means changing the way you engage whether it’s in a sales meeting, on your website, in social media, PR, advertising and more. You need to avoid the temptation to lead with everything that you do. You have to stop talking about yourself and start talking about them. That means adopting a new narrative form where they are the hero of the story. And accepting that your role is to serve their aspirations.

If we want our brand story to be recognized for being special, then it must serve the aspirations of those we hope to engage. Most brands miss this as they continue to tout the superiority of their offering. The funny thing is that telling us how special you are just erodes how special we think you are. Being special is not defined by what you do. It is defined by what you do for those you hope to serve. Embrace that and you will transform your brand story.

Dan is an expert brand strategist and author of the book Big Audacious Meaning — Unleashing Your Purpose-Driven Story. He is a founder at Will & Grail — a brand innovation company, helping organizations find their unique, undeniable and unshakable sense of purpose and create innovative experiences that bring it to life.

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Dan is an expert brand strategist and author of the book Big Audacious Meaning — Unleashing Your Purpose-Driven Story. He is a founder at Will & Grail.

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