Creating a clear brand is critical to building a business for a single reason:

You need to be clear on who you are, and how you’re being perceived by your audience.

If you’re not in charge of your narrative, then everyone else is. Or no one is, and that’s usually how businesses go to die.

We’ve grown up in a century of massive companies hiding behind brands to make all kinds of promises. And they got away with some crazy stuff.

So its no surprise that we have little time for brand promises. In fact, we distrust at least half of everything we see out there. But we don’t want to.

Some 42% of Americans find brands and companies less truthful today than 20 years ago, according to a survey presented by McCann at the 4A’s Transformation conference on Monday.

At the same time, 84% of respondents to the survey, conducted by McCann’s Truth Central unit, said they believe brands have the power to make the world better place.

Some 48% said brands need a strong identity and clear role.  -Judann Pollack

The critical point here is that your brand is not an extra layer of marketing that you tack over your product. It’s not series of buzzwords that aligns your team, but doesn’t have anything to do with who you really are.

Your brand is the crystalization of the intentions, definition, and attitude of your project.

TL:DR; skip to the summary.

In essence, a brand is nothing more than the story that users recall when they think of you. -Laura Busche, InVision Blog 

A single company, or a person, can be host to multiple brands. But each brand is a distinct point of contact with with different audience.

Branding is more than your logo. It is more than the Brand Assets guide on the HR shelf. It’s not a vague feeling about how your company is perceived.

Branding is a crystal clear idea of,

  • who you are,
  • how you communicate,
  • what you do,
  • what makes you unique,
  • and how people can expect to relate to you.

Ready for a little theory before we dig into the nuts and bolts in the next articles? I hope you like cooking, superheroes, and after hours bar shots!

By the end, you’ll know why these three examples help make sense of what branding is, and why it matters.

Image Copyright Food Network

Food Network Star: The Secret Sauce to a Solid Brand

In every season of this hit show, twelve chefs compete to become the next “Food Network Star.” Each grilling journey is a gauntlet of tests, and a battery of banter and back stabbing. It’s hilarious and heartwarming, and always centered on two key pillars: great food, and a building a great brand.

To succeed on “Food Network Star,” a chef needs to do more than deliver fantastic food; they need to be amazing television personalities.

And the reason three-quarters of the contestants bomb out is because they can’t get clear about either.

Everything is about bringing their personal brand into focus.

It’s all about finding the particular story that gives a distinct point of view to their cooking style.

At the beginning of the season, the contestants have a vague sense of their identity. They are regularly pressed before cameras and crowds, and compelled to sum up their approach, their why for their food.

Once the finalists have distilled their style into a single thought, then it’s like a lightbulb switches on. All of their efforts power into high gear. The secret comes from knowing what make them different from the other contestants.

For example, Season 10 of “Food Network Star” showcased three fascinatingly distinct finalists: (1) Lenny McNab, a gourmet cowboy, (2) Nicole Gaffney, a coastal cuisine specialist, and (3) Luca Della Casa, a traditional Italian homeboy.

Each of them were experts in different cooking disciplines and cultures, but once they discovered their ‘one-liner’ brand statement, they dropped anything else that didn’t fit with their brand story.

They may be crazy about Korean fusion, but it’s unlikely that it will ever be cooked on their shows. Their brand defined their focus.

And that’s the ticket to success in your brand: finding your distinct story and sticking to it.

Superheros & Brands: Why We Should Look Up and Listen

Brands have a lot to learn from superheroes.

Why? Because at their core, they’re the same concept. Every superhero has,

  • a unique skill set,
  • for solving a particular problem,
  • for a special niche of people (usually),
  • for a distinct purpose or circumstance.

And all it comes together as a clearly defined package, identity, or brand.

Superheroes define their approach to saving the world with a costume, an attitude, and perhaps a way of talking.

Just hearing them, or seeing their silhouette, is enough to recognize them. Even the way that they handle a problem comes from their unique style.

Superheros are the opposite of blah, or generalistic. They’re the perfect examples of dramatic brand positioning. The clearer and more distinct a hero’s abilities are, the more they stand out in readers’ minds.

And standing out is critical for coming back and reading more.

Sometimes heroes are deliberately crafted to excel in one area, but be weak in other areas. Embracing that duality creates the tension that makes for amazing stories, and often opens up the potential for collaboration.

Heroes who can do it all are boring.

Heroes with super-defined skillsets that play well with others are exciting.

A superhero – and a brand – that makes this conscious, is on the fast track towards remarkable.

It’s certainly memorable.

And good branding is all about being remembered.

Self Expression: The Brand Party that Never Stops

We humans have a fascinating ability to express ourselves in different ways.

If you’re chilling out at home, it’s yoga pants, jeans, or comfort tees. If its a board meeting, then it’s a jacket, tie, and slacks. At a wedding, it’s silks and satins and tulle.

You’re still the same underneath it all. But depending on the circumstances, you’re bringing a specific aspect of you into focus.

What we wear define our attitudes toward ourselves, how we want to be perceived, and how we expect to interact with others. It’s like wearing a costume.

And the valuable thing about a costume is that it can help us stay in a role. How we act in the office is usually very different to after hours drinks, and then home with the cat. You’re changing how you act in each situation depending on its needs.

A brand is like an outfit, because it exists in one environment all the time.

  • IBM doesn’t kick back, chill out, and relax from being IBM.
  • Netflix will never button up and feel corporate, like Goldman Sachs.
  • If Apple wants to be seen as an attractive rebel, then it can’t ‘get tired’ and tow the line.

Can yhou imagine any of these situations happening? If any one did, we would lose trust in them.

Our experience of a brand must be consistent – because we only need them when we’re in a particular mindset, or have a need.

  • Go Pro is at a Burning Man event that never stops.
  • Chick Fil-A is always having friendly, family meal time.
  • Etsy doesn’t stop crafting unique, inspirational gifts around the craft table.

A brand needs to respond to that mindset from the first moment. And every moment. We can change our needs every hour. But when we come back to a brand, we expect that it is exactly as we need it. Just like the remote.

While the people who make up the brand can punch out and check in whenever they want, the brand itself exists as an unchanging idea.

It never stops being itself. At all times, a brand exists to communicate what it is, what it loves, and what it stands for.

It’s like Dos Equis, the ‘Most Interesting Man in the World’. He will never stop being ‘the Most Interesting Man in the World’. He will always be (offscreen) pushing boundaries, doing fascinating things, and keeping his bar high. He will never be boring. He will always an invitation to a greater adventure, and to be a more interesting person too.

All of these brands are extremely clear about what they do, why, and how.

And they’re easy to remember.

Seeing the pattern? :)

What happens when your brand isn’t clear?

If you’re not rooted in a core, unchanging idea, then your business will likely flail around.

Stakeholders, fans, and interns will all have different ideas about who you are, what you do.

Nothing loses sales, or influence, or friends so fast as being misunderstood.

Good branding helps you stand out from your competition. It helps you build credibility around a product or idea. It can humanize a project so that people will want to engage with it.

I’ve worked with personal brands, project-based brands, and company brands. And every time something went wrong it was because the team was unclear about the brand direction.

Every time ideas were thrown on the table, or the marketing department got stuck in how to proceed, or what new copy went on a landing page, it was because we had forgotten the reason their company was in business.

You’ll fall into the trap of trying to relate to everyone, or become everything. You’ll do things like redesign your logo and overhaul your visuals every two years. You’ll look blankly when someone asks ‘so, how can we tell what makes us different?

Branding: Let’s Hack our Self Expression

Ever heard the phrase ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’?

It means that if you’re so focused on doing stuff that you never stop to take stock of who you are in the process, who you were, and who you’re becoming, then you’ve missed the point about being alive.

Honesty, humility, and trust can only come from clear self awareness. If you don’t know who you are, then no one else will. Or they will build an impression you won’t like.

So branding is a way to hack that. It’s a way that you can pin down the ideas and impressions that make up who you are. It’s a way to convert what you feel into what you can know and share. And then do it again in a way that builds trust.

No one trusts someone they don’t know.

And if I can’t quickly understand who you are, what you do, and why you do it, then I don’t trust you. And certainly won’t do business with you.

So let’s rephrase. The unexamined brand isn’t worth selling.

TL;DR: Why You Need a Good Brand

According to surveys, almost half of American’s distrust brands. And yet they still believe that brands are a fantastic force for change.

This past century has seen a lot of abuse over the idea of a brand. Today, we’re clarifying how it is the relationship, the bridge between the audience and the product.

And as we all know, true relationships are built on trust. Since you can’t trust someone/something you don’t know, it’s critical to build a brand that is clear, consistent, and memorable.

Branding is more than your logo. It is more than the Brand Assets guide on the HR shelf. It’s not a vague feeling about how your company is perceived.

Branding is a crystal clear idea of,

  • who you are,
  • how you communicate,
  • what you do,
  • what makes you unique,
  • and how people can expect to relate to you.

Here are some examples:

  • Food Network Star: In this reality TV show, contestants battle each other for the right to have their own cooking show. Every episode hammers away at their egos, refines their cooking chops, and brings their personal approach and vision into the limelight. The only ones who succeed are the ones who distill their distinction into single, simple concepts. And then never deviate from them.
  • Superheroes: Every superhero is a classic example of brand distinction. Whether fighting a specific enemy, or saving a specific tribe of people, superheroes are crazy popular because they are extremely distinct. In under 5 seconds, I guarantee that you can describe what makes one superhero different to another, always because of their story, their vision, and their approach to solving problems. That’s good branding.
  • Branding parties: A brand never sleeps. People may clock in and out, but a brand exists as an idea. It never stops being itself. At all times, a brand exists to communicate who it is, what it loves, and what it stands for. Dos Equis will never stop being the Most Interesting Man in the World. The actor might.

Branding is how you get clear on your message, and then embody it into messaging, visuals, and experiences.

So don’t miss out. Take the time to think through who you are in the context of the value you’re bringing your niche.

Decide what you’re not.

Decide what you love.

Decide what you want to be known for.

And then turn it into a formula, a theme you can repeat over and over again so that your tweets, your emails, and your website are consistent.

And like any relationship, consistency is key.

So; what’s the next question on your mind? Let’s chat in the comments. :)

Dominic is Enable’s design and brand specialist. He thoroughly enjoys helping businesses find meaning in their brands and define their distinction. Coffee, cooking and binge-researching are his hobbies. When not building websites, he is delving into projects to find the boundaries of his imagination. He hasn’t found them yet.

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