Why Your Brand Story Matters for Product Development
“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”
— Simon Sinek
Today, more than ever, consumers expect a personal connection to your product and/or service. Forging those deeper ties with your customers, through solutions that improve their lives, is easier when you know them better and keep them top of mind.
Creating solutions that meet (and exceed) the expectations of today’s users is impossible with a siloed, disconnected approach to product development and product marketing. Your team has to see the big picture, all the ways your product will impact the user. And your customers have to identify with your brand and see you as more than a profit center.
A more unified approach, one where a consumer-focused brand narrative helps inform your product development, is the more likely path to success in the contemporary marketplace.
Great brand storytelling is how you reach today’s consumers most effectively. Your product story has to be about your customers, not your product. As such, the focus of your efforts needs to be on the human element of what your product enables. The connections you build with your target audience has to be rooted in an empathetic understanding of their problem. This way, your brand will be seen as providing needed and wanted solutions, rather than simply selling products.
Before you can create that story, you need to understand what problem you are solving and why your solution and/or product is unique. That understanding doesn’t just impact the marketing of your solution, it should also guide your approach to designing and building your product from the start. Which means, your brand narrative exploration should be undertaken before embarking on your product development process.
Define the “Why”
Most businesses have a crystal clear understanding of what they make and how they make it. You don’t stay in business long without a product people want and efficient methods to build and deliver that solution. However, organizations that consistently excel at elevating their products to the top of the marketplace ask an additional query: why?
Many of today’s biggest, most innovative brands believe in the importance of identifying their reason for being. They make a concerted effort to define their “why.” These companies craft compelling narratives to describe a vision of a better future they are working to achieve. Their answers aren’t product-related, they’re about values.
Nike, for example, says its mission is to: “Bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world. *If you have a body, you are an athlete.” Notice that this statement doesn’t mention shoes, socks, shorts or any other type of athletic wear. Nike’s reason for being is value-based; it’s focused on inspiration and innovation. (Nike also does a great job of extending their customer base to everyone, noting: “*If you have a body, you are an athlete.”)
Similarly, if we look back to the mission statement Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak wrote when they founded Apple in 1977: “Apple is dedicated to the empowerment of man — to making personal computing accessible to each and every individual so as to help change the way we think, work, learn, and communicate.” The company’s current mission statement reveals even greater aspirations: “making the best products on earth” and “leaving the world better than we found it.”
Notice Apple doesn’t say “we make really good computers.” They don’t have to, because they already sold us on their why, their reason for being, and it is something that we as consumers can relate to and identify with.
Company values don’t necessarily tell consumers much about the actual products you will make and sell. They do, however, help to provide the larger vision for your business, outlining the macro impact you hope to make on the marketplace.
Why the “Why” Is So Important for Product Development
Many product development efforts focus on building the product before outlining the bigger picture. It is important to ask yourself as a founder or a product lead, “What is the aim or the goal? What am I and my team working towards? Does the product or features currently in development support our company goals?” As every successful product lead knows, you might have a novel approach to solving a particular problem, but if you don’t have a clear understanding of the customer’s pain point and have thought through the different ways your solution will impact your customer, then you could be missing the mark entirely.
This is why it’s important to outline the big picture your brand values) and build your brand narrative before you start developing your product solution. This helps you communicate with your prospective customers down the road. It also helps your development team gain the proper context for their work.
You don’t want to design and develop your products in a vacuum. You have to provide your development team with the guidance they need to achieve their goals efficiently and effectively. This is especially important at the early stages of the product build when your resources may be limited.
Understanding the key brand narratives, the value proposition your product offers and your brand’s overall reason for being helps your team set goals, brainstorm and ideate the necessary features and prioritize their development work. Defining that big picture ensures that your team is on the same page and working on aligned goals—for the company and for your customer.
Creating Your Brand Narrative
Approaching product development with your big picture in mind and your “why” defined helps to create consistency. it also translates to a brand narrative that feels more authentic, organic, and real to your customers. Instead of “selling” consumers on your product, you’re truly connecting people who want to hear from you with a solution that will improve their everyday experience.
So how do you create that compelling narrative? To get to those lofty ideals, you start small — by examining the fundamental problem your product will solve.
1. What Is the Underlying Problem?
To get to the big “why,” you need to ask a series of smaller “why” questions. It is critical to begin product development with an accurate and detailed understanding of the problem you’re attempting to solve. Start with a general description and drill down to explore the underlying issues and their implications. Exploring the root cause helps to identify whom the problem affects most, the pain points it creates and what motivates your potential customers to take action/seek a solution.
2. Whose Problem Is It?
With the problem established and the root cause defined, the next priority is to identify everyone who is affected by the issue. Who are the obvious beneficiaries of your solution? And are there other groups you haven’t previously considered?
3. What Do Your Ideal Customers Have in Common?
You need to consider not just the problem but the implications of the problem to your prospective customers. What are the associated feelings? What are the related frustrations? Is the problem related to greater concerns? Pay attention to common themes that emerge from conversations with your prospective customers. Those are the issues most likely to resonate with your larger audience.
4. What Makes Your Company Uniquely Qualified to Solve This Problem?
With the problem and audience defined, it’s time to take a look at what your company and/or product team can uniquely provide to create a needed solution. Identify how you’ll be able to differentiate yourself from your competitors. This discussion should encompass the unique qualities your team and product solution possess. In many cases, this leads naturally into a conversation about values.
Know Your Story Before Building Your Product
Your company’s reason for being is how your customers will identify with your brand, or not. Quality messaging and narrative is a smart place to begin. A solid brand will ensure that your company values and the product that you are developing are in alignment because this is what creates brand consistency and translates to an authenticity that your desired customers will respond to and connect with.
Brand positioning and consistency matter at all phases of the product life cycle. We always ask the question, “why?” before kicking off product development. In this way we are able to create solutions that are aligned with end users’ needs.