Every brand strategist, agency and consultant has a different take on how to best categorise and describe a brand story, brand purpose or brand proposition. In our experience, these terms can be used interchangeably or they can hold very defined meanings in their own right. In our practice, we find the best explanation to be that a ‘brand purpose’ is a short statement that captures a distilled version of a brands reason to exist (beyond making a profit). Successful brand purpose statements use empathy and emotional connections to help interact with and unify internal and external audiences around a single goal. As a rule of thumb, a brand purpose tries to address important questions such as, ‘why do we get out of bed in the morning?’. If a business can succinctly answer this, they are well on their way to uncovering their brand purpose.
The brand story is a fundamental starting point for any brand strategy. It can be used to inspire the proposition and mission, as well as bring those ideas alive in a way that helps employees understand what it means to work for that company or organisation.
A brand proposition is a more functional term that we use to describe the unique traits of a brand. This can also work as a brand purpose, however, we have seen many examples of successful brand propositions that do not extend beyond the internal audience, instead of focusing on the key stakeholders and staff within an organisation. We do not consider a brand proposition to be the same as a brand purpose, but it can be a starting point for developing one.
A brand proposition can be more difficult to communicate externally if it does not take the brand’s ‘true purpose’ into account. By focusing on ‘what we do’ rather than ‘why we do it’, much can be lost in the way of momentum, making the final statement less compelling and harder to buy into.
A brand story is a much more general term used to communicate a brand purpose and occasionally a brand proposition. A strong brand story will be a compelling narrative that tells the brand’s reason for existence, what it is aiming to achieve as well as its backstory and personality.
Brand story vs strap-lines and slogans
When explaining to students the difference between brand development work vs brand advertising, we plot out an axis with brand development on one side and advertising on the other. The two must work hand in hand, however, they serve different purposes.
Brand story, proposition and purpose statements are all effective brand-building tools created to better inform internal and external audiences about that brand. They should not be confused with traditional advertising techniques such as straplines or slogans, as both were primarily created to sell products or drive awareness. This makes brand building much more difficult to quantify, however, several detailed reports over the last decade have conclusively proven that brand development work generates around 50% extra return on investment when measured against traditional advertising. Harvard Business Review produced a ground-breaking report that introduced this topic back in the ’90s, with Forbes and many others following up more recently.
Strap-lines are a traditional advertising technique used to communicate specific brand values and aspirations to generate income. They are often less than a sentence in length, to be memorable to customers and quickly communicate brand messages. Slogans are similar but tend to be a little longer and are often used in brand campaigns. Both strap lines and slogans have a defined shelf-life, usually spanning many years. This contrasts with a brand purpose as they are written as a reflection of a brand and aim to last decades without much need for refinement.
Examples of powerful brand stories
There are many examples of brilliant brand stories that have stood the test of time, directing how brands look, speak and act for multiple decades. Examples such as Nike, Google and Virgin all bring clarity to their operations and brand positioning.
Nike’s brand story: ‘To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world. If you have a body, you are an athlete.’
Virgin’s brand story: ‘Don’t just play the game, change it for good.’
Google’s brand story: ‘To organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.’
The internal benefits of a strong brand story
There are many ‘internal’ benefits experienced when creating and communicating a well-defined brand story. These include greater staff alignment, consistent decision-making, behavioural unity and empathy, efficiency gains and a stronger team spirit. By uniting people under one common purpose, staff and partners can better understand the direction that the brand is pursuing (and why!). This can help to forge stronger relationships and understanding between roles — a common issue in the workplace. A brand story provides a clear framework to work within that will help a team stay on track and deliver against objectives while providing the necessary autonomy to do so in their own way. A strong brand can provide a sense of belonging, which is often lacking in the workplace.
The external benefits of a strong brand story
It is not just staff that benefit from a clear direction of travel, it is also customers, partners, collaborators and other external audiences. Recognition of a brands intention is often a ‘reason to believe’ and can help to create stronger partnerships with suppliers, sponsors or collaborators. By defining a brand story, a brand will carve out a unique niche that can attract customers and generate loyalty among them. Distinctiveness is an important consideration for consumers, with many citing brand purpose as a key reason for brand loyalty.
If your business would benefit from a new approach to strategic development, please get in touch and we will be happy to advise on the best route forward. We recommend that a strategic audit is undertaken before starting new strategic work to ensure it uses a solid evidence base.