The Secret to Branding: Identify Your Unique Selling Points in 5 Steps
Updated: Sep 25
Let’s talk Tim Hortons.
Every time, the first few sips of my Tim Hortons’ Double Double throw me back to an outdoor ice-skating rink in Almaty, Kazakhstan. I am five and wrapped in five layers of clothes, so my limbs hardly move. The frost is biting my nose and cheeks. My grandma brings me here every winter, which is probably in an attempt to make me healthier. For an hour or so, I stiffly skate back and forth with the help of a chair or a passing stranger whose leg I suddenly grab for support (making them fall down).
After being miserable for an hour, I join my grandma for a hot drink from the truck next to the skating rink. And whatever I drink - sugary, warm, anticipated - tastes like the best thing on earth. Today when I drink a Tim Hortons’ Double Double, its sugary, creamy taste brings that memory back.
Many people say that Tim Hortons’ coffee is awful, but Tim Hortons knows it. You don’t buy a $1.45 coffee for the finest brew of premium Arabica. You buy it because you’re used to the taste, and it’s your comfort drink. It's all about nostalgia.
Now, let’s put this on pause.
Why you need branding
If you had asked me 3 years ago what branding means, I’d have said: “Your logo should look good, your voice should be consistent across all platforms, your values shouldn’t change on a whim.”
But branding is your ticket to running better ads and getting more customers.
Imagine Tim Hortons spending thousands of dollars on advertising their sophisticated premium coffee. Even if you always drank their coffee, you’d say: “You’ve gotta be kidding me! Their coffee tastes like crap!”
Imagine Starbucks advertising itself as an affordable family bakery… You’d say: “Since when are $5 scones affordable?!”
Talking about the importance of branding is hard because it seems like you’re stating the obvious. But when it comes to your own business, you often can’t see your message clearly; you see what you want to see.
I have seen people advertise their swimwear as “swimsuits with unique designs” even though there isn’t a single unique element in them. I have seen people advertise their salon as a “hipster hairdressing salon” although the place looks like it was decorated in the 90s (and not the good 90s). Every second small business owner struggles with branding as they try to target their desired audience instead of their real audience.
To have good branding, you must first find your unique selling points.
How to find your unique selling points
Even if you think you already know your selling points, I’d still advise you to do a couple of exercises.
Do branding exercises
There are hundreds of them online: just google “branding exercises.” Here are some fun exercises. Here are some serious exercises. Not all of them are exciting to do, but they are necessary for you to have a better understanding of your brand.
These exercises are made to give you a better understanding of your audience, their pain points and your values.
Generate a list of your selling points
Come up with 10 reasons why you think your product is the best. Then, come up with a list of 10 reasons why you think your product can make people’s lives better.
Next, involve as many friends, family members and acquaintances as you can, and ask them to give you 2-5 reasons why they love your product. Try not to influence their decisions - give them the task and leave them on their own.
Gather all of the results and see which appear the most. Write these down.
Conduct a short survey
Ask people what they like about your product or why they use your services. Use the reasons you gathered during the previous step as multiple choice options, but don’t put answers in your participants’ mouths; give them as many options as possible, even ones you don’t like. Or, ask them to give their own reasons and leave the answer fields blank.
To motivate customers to complete the survey, offer them discounts, or do a giveaway or create special offers for those who participate.
Build a buyer persona
By this point, you probably know what your ideal customer is like. Use this. Do your research, find people like them and talk to them, look them up on social media, see what they’re into. If you know your buyer well, you can see your offer through their eyes.
Keep all you learn in mind
When you write your social media posts, when you run your ads and - most importantly - when you develop new products.
Don’t write content on the amazing quality of not-so-good coffee. Don’t run ads advertising it.
Let’s go back to Tim Hortons - their entire product line is built around good memories of comfort and time spent with family, friends and community.
When you go to a party, you don’t buy 10 Starbucks cookies - you buy a dozen donuts or a box of Timbits from Tim Hortons. They focused on the food you could easily share with others on purpose. You don’t see large groups of elderly regulars sitting at Starbucks every day - but you do see them at Tim Hortons.
Know your selling points/your values and stick to them.