How to discover a brand's USP

Whether you're working on a client's branding or trying to carve out space in a crowded market for your own brand, finding the thing that makes a brand special is vital to creating standout branding that will be remembered. 

After all, fancy gimmicks, bright colours or even the best logo ever (opens in new tab) won't be enough to save a brand that has no brand purpose (opens in new tab), or seems to be communicating mixed messages. 

In a workshop at the first edition of Birmingham Design Festival (opens in new tab), Naeem Alvi from Notepad (opens in new tab)explained how brands can discover their brand purpose. Here are his top tips.

01. Find your why

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"People buy why you do, not what you do," said Alvi. "So ask 'why' five times. Write your answer down and see if you're really solving the problem and then write it down, and then write it out again."

Alvi shared the video below by Simon Sinek, which explains the concept of the 'golden circle'. This essentially says that your 'why' is the most important part of your branding, not what you do, or how you do it, which are secondary to the 'why'. 

"It takes time to figure out your 'why'," said Alvi. "So keep working on it until you find something that makes sense."

02. Discover what you're fighting for

 "If you really want to build a brand that everyone loves you've got to love it more than everyone else," said Alvi. "If you really love what you're doing, people can tell."

To make sure you're really clear about your brand – and can therefore truly love it, not just the idea of it – ask yourself what it is that you're fighting for. Most brands are fighting for something, be that better shoes, safer internet browsing or ergonomic office furniture. 

Alvi also pointed out that your vision, or what you're fighting for, needs to be something real and tangible, and which people can easily imagine. "If you're working towards eradicating poverty, it's not easy for people to imagine it," he said. "Try and make your vision something that people can relate to and understand."

03. Write down your founding principles

Once you've figured out your 'why', you need to start communicating it. "A good brand strategy is the combination of strong positioning, strong creative and strong consistency," said Alvi. "Strong design will get you most of the way there, but it won't get you everywhere."

Whatever you've discovered your purpose is, make that the launch campaign. A starting point for this is to write down your founding principles, and share them with your clients. 

04. Use the power of stories

Alvi gave Hiut Denim as an example of a brand with a strong story

Alvi gave Hiut Denim as an example of a brand with a strong story

"People forget facts, but they remember stories," said Alvi, adding that the best brands have a central brand story that they refer to again and again. 

"A lot of businesses fail to bring themselves in," he noted. "They talk in 'we', but don't forget to put yourself at the front of the business." 

In order to make sure you really know your story well, you should practice telling it. Alvi shared the story of David Hieatt (opens in new tab) – of Hiut denim. The way Hieatt got comfortable with his brand's story was that he went down to his shed and recorded himself telling the story. He then shared the video with his daughters, who laughed at him. Through repeating this process, he got really comfortable sharing his story. It took two to three years. 

"Practise your story out loud," said Alvi. "Fight for it, live it." After all, if you're not confident in your brand and its story, how are you ever going to convince anyone else of its value?

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Rosie Hilder is Creative Bloq's Deputy Editor. After beginning her career in journalism in Argentina – where her blogging prowess led her to become Deputy Editor of Time Out Buenos Aires – she moved back to the UK and joined Future Plc in 2016. Since then, she's worked as Operations Editor on art and design magazines, including Computer Arts, 3D World and Paint & Draw, and got the 'Apple bug' when working on US title, Mac|Life. In 2018, she left the world of print behind and moved to Creative Bloq, where she helps take care of the daily management of the site, including growing the site's reach through trying to please the Google Gods, getting involved in events, such as judging the Brand Impact Awards, and helping make sure its content serves its readers as best it can. Her interests lie in branding and illustration, tech and sexism, and plenty more in-between.