Photo by Josh Redd on Unsplash

Don’t just design a product. Build a brand.

 “This thing is most useful. This thing is a Thneed.

A Thneed, a fine something that all people need.

It's a shirt. It's a sock. It's a glove. It's a hat. But it has other uses.

Yes, far beyond that.

You can use it for carpets, for pillows, for sheets or curtains...

or covers for bicycle seats.

Sir, you're crazy. You're crazy with greed.

Why, there's no one on earth who would buy that fool Thneed.


-A quote from The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

You could easily swap out the word “Thneed” for the word “product” in this quote and you’d get a fair description of the role of a product and what it is. Essentially a product fulfills a practical need. Whether it’s a detergent that cleans clothes, a plunger that brews coffee or an office chair that supports your back while you stare at your computer screen, every product has a specific function for a period of time.

A brand, on the other hand, speaks to an emotional need. For example, Kit Kat as a brand speaks to the emotional need of “having a break”, Volvo speaks to the emotional need of keeping your family safe on the roads and Nike tells us that we can “Just do it” (whatever “it” is).

Now we have products that provide functional needs and brands that provide emotional ones. Which do you think is more important when it comes to selling a product? Think about what car, shoes or jeans you’d like to buy next and it will become quite clear that the primary decision maker is mostly an emotional one. You could argue that price plays a bigger role in your purchasing decision. But I would counter with, “How much more would you pay for a car if you knew it guaranteed your family’s safety?”

Without its brand and USP (Unique Selling Point) of “Have a break”, KitKat would just be another one of the hundreds, if not thousands, of wafer-covered chocolate products on the market. What some smart advertising team must have done was realise that KitKat needed to differentiate itself in a saturated market. So they searched for a human truth. “When do people have a chocolate?” or “Is KitKat a dessert?” could have been some early questions they asked before realizing this particular chocolate is more of a school, work in-between break-time type of snack.

Spotting that people usually have a break when they have a chocolate, they positioned the emotional benefit behind the product as “Having a break”. No longer was a KitKat just a chocolate, now it was a “break”, a moment to oneself and an indulgent timeout. So when someone goes for a break and thinks of having a sweet snack, what do you think comes to mind? That’s right, a KitKat.  With a smart USP, the marketing can begin and a brand can be built.

These are just 2 examples of how KitKat have laterally communicated their key differentiation to reiterate the emotional benefit behind their product:

(Image credit: Sam Hennig) Created by Sam Hennig for the One Minute Briefs Twitter account.

The functional benefit (or benefits) of a product provide the proof points or “reason to believe” the emotional benefit of a brand. Without proof, it is a hard for a consumer to believe a brand’s adverts or promises. Without the numerous safety features, airbag inflation rates and crash test dummy tests, Volvo wouldn’t have the proof to say it’s selling “safety” as an emotional benefit.

If you’re building a brand for your product, you can use your products functional benefits as proof points to create the emotional benefit. For example, if you wanted to build a brand around an office chair you’ve designed, you’d list all the functional benefits and see if any, or all of the functions stand out as something that can form part of your USP. The product feature needs to be something unique, something that stands out. It can’t be, “you can sit on it”, or “it has 4 legs”. It needs a point-of-interest that can be turned into an emotional need. For example, the product feature could be the fact that the chair supports your back for hours of sitting. From this unique point of difference we can draw out a brand message from an emotional benefit like, “You can get more work done when your back isn’t in pain.” This can lead to a brand message in the form of a creative payoff line like, “Put the work in. Not your back out.”

There are other important components to building a brand like the logo, look & feel, tone of voice, etc. But these should all be lead by its USP (Unique Selling Point). When everything you say as a brand is focused around the unique emotional benefit of your product/s. People are not only more likely to remember you, but could even start associating you with the feeling or emotion that you are selling. Like a break, or safety, or even being able to “Just do it”.


Author: Recollective Agency