Your Story Is a Lens, Not a Window


What story are you telling?

One of marketing’s most important functions is to differentiate our products and services from our competitors’ to make it more attractive to a particular segment of the market. 

Over the past 50 years, the idea of brand differentiation has become an equal (if not greater) priority for marketers. A brand identity is the prime – if not only – source of differentiation in the marketplace in many cases. There are no significant differences among competing brands of facial tissue, air bubble packaging, mobile garbage bins, moving stairways, lip balm, or adhesive bandages, for example. But the product brands of Kleenex, Bubble Wrap, Dumpster, Escalator, ChapStick and Band-Aid have, quite literally, become the default name for these things.  

A brand story provides another path to differentiation – one that’s especially important for challenger businesses looking to unseat bigger brands or overcome perceived or real product differences. 

Simon Sinek’s book Start With Why, explains an idea that’s core to brand story differentiation: “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”

All companies know what they do. Some try to differentiate with how they do it. If you start with the story of “why you do it,” Sinek says, you help people understand the difference between you and others.

So discovering your brand’s why is a key avenue to any brand story. 

But, there’s a challenge. 

When a business looks at its story in isolation or as a window into the heart of its brand identity, a great “why” can get muddled with the same “hows” and “whats” the competitors offer. 

I recently worked with a small management consulting firm. Like many in their space, including renowned firms hundreds of times their size, they help their clients optimize business processes. 

We found a truly differentiating story (their why). Everybody was excited. After a few months, we revisited the marketing content and sales pitches. While everyone started with the awesome story, most still leaned on undifferentiated features and benefits. They would say “We have better research. We’re smarter than the competition. We have more years of experience. Our clients are happier.” 

The amazing story they told at the beginning of their pitch or on their About Us page was a window to a different kind of company. But everything they followed it up with was not.

The job isn’t finished once you relay your why.

Your story isn’t a window into your brand, it’s a lens that colors every feature, benefit, piece of content, and reason to believe.

My client didn’t have better research or smarter people. They had a great story that colored the way they used research and the kinds of people they hired. That’s differentiating.

Remember, the key to being different is to let people see more clearly who you really are.

It’s your story. Tell it well.    

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