Design

The Designer’s Guide to Building a Brand Story

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Think about a product that you consistently, and quite happily, pay for. What does it allow you to do? Is there anything about this product that makes you think that you will be better at something? Does it feel like a shortcut to something that you aspire to be?

At the heart of every successful user experience lies a value creation story. Customers use our products because they provide an answer to an unrealized aspiration. Just consider the products that you use, and how they satisfy one or more of the following aspirations:

  • Becoming independent and having others perceive you as such
  • Leading a less stressful lifestyle; relaxing
  • Expressing yourself to show how unique you are
  • Enacting a new role or position in life
  • Improving your relationships with others
  • Finding safety and stability
  • Optimizing the way in which you use your time/resources
  • Becoming well-known
  • Genuinely growing as a human being

A strong brand story helps you convey the type of value that you are adding for your customers. In essence, a brand is nothing more than the story that users recall when they think of you. Because this story is made up by every single touchpoint of our user’s experience, it is our job as designers to arrive at a clear picture of how each scene should unfold. However, while I worked with 90+ tech startup teams from every background imaginable, I noticed that storytelling doesn’t come easy for many of us. That’s why I designed a simple tool: the Brand Storyboard.

BrandStoryBoard

By completing each of these scenes, you will be answering some of the key questions behind powerful brand storytelling. Let’s go over some considerations as you fill out the storyboard:

1. Once upon a time...

In this scene, you will describe your user personas. Who is the main character in your brand story? What does he/she look like?

Why it matters:

Knowing your user will result in a more empathetic design solution. It will also help you determine the ideal audience for any communications efforts related to the product’s growth (think advertising, email, or content campaigns).

2. He/she always...

Define some of the main tasks that your user is regularly involved with. What does he/she do every day? What are his/her main responsibilities in life and work, as related to the product or service that you offer?

Why it matters:

Knowing what your user is up to daily shows you where this product fits in his/her lifestyle. Understanding your user’s agenda will also bring clarity as to when and where the need for your product is most active, and how your design must adapt to fit a certain time/space.

3. But always had a problem...

State the main issue that your user faces when trying to complete his/her tasks. What is the unsatisfied need or aspiration in this story?

Why it matters:

Understanding your users’ pain point/s is crucial to your product’s adoption. As this brand’s story unfolds, you want to emphasize this aspiration whenever you communicate with users. In fact, as you explore the user’s central need, you will find that there are other (less pressing) needs associated with it that your product could also solve eventually.

4. He/she tried to solve it...

If the previous problem is real, your user is probably already solving it. What are some alternate solutions to the issue at hand? How is your user managing to partially satisfy this aspiration?

Why it matters:

Diagnosing your competitors’ products will allow you to replicate what is working. After all, whichever features your user is currently enjoying become his/her frame of reference to evaluate your product. Knowing which alternate solutions are competing with your product is key to designing a truly differentiated experience.

BrandStoryBoard

5. But he/she wished that...

Outline the flaws in the solutions that your user is currently buying. Despite purchasing these other products or services, your customer is still unsatisfied. What are existing solutions lacking?

Why it matters:

Your competitors’ flaws are areas of opportunity. You can address these existing user concerns to position your brand as the optimal solution.

6. Until one day...

Describe how your customer will most probably learn about your product. What happened on the day he/she first heard about you?

Why it matters:

Knowing the different scenarios that may lead someone into trying/buying your product for the first time is crucial. What will trigger your user’s first trial? Take the time to find an answer to this question, and make sure that someone from the marketing team is right next to you when you do. If you learn that users find your product through social channels, for instance, you will want to design a robust integration with social APIs.

7. Unlike his/her solution, this...

List some of the aspects related to your product experience that set you apart from competitors. How does your offer differ from your user’s current solution?

Why it matters:

Although your product might differentiate from competitors’ in several dimensions, try to establish a single, clear factor that will sway users to your side. This core brand promise should be the center of your communications strategy and the cornerstone of your product development efforts.

8. His/her wish came true, to...

Clearly define the aspiration that your product fulfills. What is your customer’s “wish come true”?

Why it matters:

Defining what “satisfaction” means for your users will make it easier to provide it for them. Sometimes, even when our product does offer the features that users are looking for, we haven’t clearly articulated how this feature connects with the ultimate aspiration that he/she wants to satisfy. In other words, there’s no success unless you point it out.

An aspiration is nothing more than a pursuit — an urge that influences our daily decisions. Whether that aim is to become a more organized worker, a more inspired creative, or the president of the United States is irrelevant. Strong products provide strong stories that encapsulate the answers that users are looking for. As you continue to design products and services, consider the following idea:

Author

Laura Busche, Guest Author
Laura earned a summa cum laude degree in Business Administration from American University in Washington DC, and a Master of Arts in Design Management from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). She is passionate about consumer research, design thinking, branding, and their exciting crosspoints. She is the author of O'Reilly Media’s Lean Branding book. Laura is a Brand Content Strategist at Creative Market and regularly blogs about branding and business at laurabusche.com/blog.

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