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The Seven Deadly Sins of Beauty Brand Storytelling

By: Alisa Marie Beyer
Posted: February 21, 2014, from the March 2014 issue of GCI Magazine.

I have been telling stories since I was old enough to talk. Ask anyone who knows me, and they will likely say I was born to be a storyteller. And after nine years working in the beauty business, there is one fact I know to be absolute: like me, every beauty brand has a story. Simple or detailed, short or long, old or new—all brands have something to say and a compelling and emotional story to share.

However, that doesn’t mean all stories are created equal. Although they remain one of the most strategically important branding elements and are required, brand stories often aren’t executed with the excitement and creativity needed to make the right impact on the two groups who matter most: consumers and retailers. To me, a successful brand is a story well told, period.

After writing and rewriting hundreds of brand stories throughout the years, I have identified the seven deadly sins of story writing I see most often. So put on your editor glasses and get out your red pens. It’s time to start writing a better brand story.

Sin #1: Your Story Is, Well, Boring

Today, there are more beauty brands than ever vying for your consumer’s attention, which means quickly grabbing her interest and keeping it is important and hard. Your brand’s story has to sing from the first hello.

But before you pick up your pen or sit down in front of your computer screen to start writing, take a moment to ask yourself, “What is special about my brand?” And not special in terms of the typical “special” things all brands claim (“Our moisturizer hydrates the skin like nothing else!”) but interesting from that unique, ownable place only your brand can occupy. Is it your origins or your founder? Your name? An interesting quirk about one of your ingredients, or how the product is delivered to the skin?

Once you have that answer, write about it. And write about it in a way that is fun, engaging and compelling, but not too jargon-y. Relying on overused industry jargon may seem like the way to go to be competitive, but the truth is, consumers don’t want to read the same old thing again and again. Instead, you want some fun nugget or point of difference that makes consumers stop, pay attention and, ultimately, purchase. Every winning brand I’ve ever encountered has this edge, so take some time to discover it before you begin writing.

Sin #2: Your Story Is Too Complicated

Having just told you to dig deep and find those fun brand elements that are unique to you, I’m now also going to tell you to be judicious in how you implement them. If you have a scientifically validated research technique for extracting your 14 key ingredients that is patented four times in three countries after five decades of research, that’s wonderful—but you need to figure out early on which of those messages is going to be your lead driver, and then lead with it.

Trying to squeeze every single detail into your story is understandable, but that ultimately runs the risk of creating confusion for your retailers and consumers because everything just seems too complicated. At the end of the day, your consumer does want to know all of the details that make your brand unique, but first and foremost, she just wants to know how does it work and is it for me. Tell her these things clearly and succinctly upfront, and save the rest of the story for your website and collateral marketing.

Sin #3: Your Story Is Too Similar To Someone Else’s

I’ve often thought there’s an interesting reality about beauty brands that is easy to see yet not so easy for any of us admit, and that is, basically, we’re all telling remarkably similar stories. After all, the core message of most skin care is it treats the skin.

For example, take cleanser. Whether your formula cleanses with special micro-bubbles or powers away dirt with a multi-enzyme foam, the basic promise of a cleanser is that it cleanses, and in one way or another, this is what we all write in our stories.

However, there’s a fine line between saying something similar and saying something too similar. Telling your brand’s story too closely to an already-existing brand story is the kiss of death. Not only do you run the risk of infringing on another brand’s intellectual property (and potentially, legal action), but closely hitching your story onto another brand’s story creates affinity in the consumer’s mind for your competition—not you.

Sin #4: Your Story Doesn’t Really Tell A Story

Although it’s hard for me to believe that any beauty entrepreneur or brand could struggle with finding their story, it happens—and it happens often. Usually when it happens, it means one of two things: either the story is muddled with too much confusing information (see upcoming Sin #5) or the story is stripped bare of almost all critical information and basically doesn’t say anything at all.