If your business was a person, then branding would be his or her heart. It is the palpable source of life upon which all the other systems depend in order for the whole to flourish and experience a meaningful existence.
Can you have a business without a brand, or without an awareness of what your brand is? Yes, many businesses do, but that’s kind of like having a lame friend who has no real personality or ambition. Or worse, a friend who is always in the midst of an identity crisis and can’t get their stuff together long enough to actually be helpful or positive.
Maybe you’ll hang out with them because you live in the same neighborhood, or because at some point in the past they had something you needed, but you’re never really that excited to see them, and you certainly wouldn’t tell your other friends how awesome that person is. They’re just… there. Whatever.
On the other hand, a person with a beating heart and integrity, someone who’s warm and welcoming, clear-headed and communicative, and is always up to something interesting… Well, that’s a cool friend you definitely want to spend more time with!
It’s really as simple as that.
Branding is basically how you are perceived and experienced by those who interact with you.
Whether it’s you personally, as in the case of a personal brand, or you as an entity or organization.
If you Google the definition of a brand, you’ll get something like this:
A brand is a distinguishing symbol, mark, logo name, word, sentence or a combination of these items that companies use to distinguish their product from others in the market. The legal term for a brand is a trademark.
But while that isn’t inaccurate, it is highly reductive because all of the things described there are the assets of a brand, not the brand itself. It’s like saying your veins are responsible for getting oxygen to your organs. True, but without the heart you’d just have a bunch of clogged-up tubes.
A brand is NOT a logo.
Here are some deeper interpretations of what a brand really is:
A brand is the position you own in the mind of your audience. It’s a promise to the people you serve and how you serve them. –Mitch Anthony, Clarity Strategy Agency
A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. – Seth Godin, bestselling author and marketing expert
A brand is about caring about your business at every level and in every detail, from the big things like mission and vision, to your people, your customers, and every interaction anyone is ever going to have with you, no matter how small. – Dan Pallotta, author, entrepreneur, and activist
Once you have your brand identity figured out, all the assets (like your website, marketing channels, and even the products or services themselves) will fall into place naturally. But without first going deep within and doing the hard work of figuring out your unique essence, you'll just continue to spin your wheels and not see any real results.
In case you were wondering, here's a little history of branding from Wikipedia:
The practice of branding originated during the ancient times when it was used by craftsmen to imprint trademarks on their goods. Branding does not only help identify, but it also ensures the quality of goods and services the buyer and trader will purchase from the manufacturer. In history, cattle and sheep were branded with hot irons to indicate ownership. Humans were also marked to classify their social status. Slaves were marked to indicate ownership and criminals are labelled distinctly to show disgrace. Similarly, victims of the World War II Nazi persecution were branded with numbers as they entered the concentration camps. However, despite the history filled with negative connotation linked with branding, it has been replaced with a positive and more commercialized meaning, which relates to the use of categorizing brand goods and services.
You could say the word branding itself was rebranded!
Furthermore, as hinted above, there are many different kinds of brands. So whether you have a physical product, are an educational organization, a non-profit, or a service-based entrepreneur, if you’re doing something you want others to know about then you have a brand.
It’s up to you whether you take ownership of that brand, or let others define it for you.
To me, what it all comes down to are 3 things:
1. Clarity about who you are and how you're serving the world.
2. Understanding that your customers/clients/students/donors/readers are the ultimate heroes, not you.
3. Expressing this to yourself will pave the way to effective communication with others.
The best way to break that down is NOT for me to dictate any rules or steps. It’s to present you with high-mileage questions and encourage that you set aside some quiet time, open your heart, put your thinking cap on, and really sink your teeth into your unique answers, which will become the raw ingredients of your ultimate brand.
By the way, these are not superficial questions. In case you’re new here you should know that I’m not your average marketing gal who’s focused on endless growth and conversions and profit. What we’re doing here is connecting with the core of why you’re doing this work, and when you can really do that in both a genuine and strategic way, abundance will sprout in more ways than just your bank account. If you're a soulful entrepreneur then I have no doubt you know what I mean.
So here we go, questions to help you connect with the heart of your brand…
What is the mission of your business?
How will this make the world better?
WHY are YOU passionate about the work you do?
What are some words that describe your personality and personal style?
How might others describe your personality? If you're not sure, ask 3 people.
How is your approach to this work different from someone else who has a similar business?
Who do you want to serve?
What does this person really care about or value in life?
What is a challenge they have that you are uniquely qualified to address?
In what ways is your ideal customer an incredible person? How might they not even realize their immense gifts?
If you could boil down the result you’d deliver for them in one word, what would it be?
What are some words to describe your ideal customer's personal style?
What kinds of content do you most enjoy creating and are good at?
Where do your ideal customers get their information most often?
What kinds of communication do they most enjoy? (Visual, written, digital, tactile, detailed, quick? etc.)
How would they like to be spoken with?
How would they like to feel?
What kind of time do they have for interacting with a business like yours?
Ok, so how was that for you? Easy? Challenging? If you didn’t struggle with at least a few of the questions above then you must be a branding wizard with your business all figured out, in which case congratulations! But if you did struggle a bit, it's still a good thing because it means you're working through it and there's room to grow!
Usually these answers don’t come easily, but asking the questions (repeatedly, if need be) plants a seed of awareness from which a brand will ultimately grow with thoughtfulness, care, and patience. It’s truly a process of unfolding from the inside out.
Also, please note that these questions are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to finding brand clarity. I usually go through these and many more when getting oriented with new clients in order to connect the many relevant information elements that need to come together to form a cohesive holistic brand identity. And depending on where you already are in your business, this may require a graceful pivot rather than a ground-up re-launch.
Hopefully this is enough to get you started, or to reconsider your existing brand more thoughtfully.
After you’ve answered, take a nice deep breath, eat some walnuts to feed your brain, make a cup of tea to nourish your soul, and then take a step back to review and brainstorm what your brand is really all about. I’m talking about the BIG PICTURE, not selling more stuff or growing your bank account, but what your individual or organizational contribution is to this big beautiful world in need of progress and healing. How are YOU and your brand elevating human potential, creating more joy or wellness, or leading us all towards higher consciousness or empowerment?
If your brand doesn’t speak to the core of some aspect of universal humanity then it’s not fully cooked yet. That’s ok, just know that, and keep working on it.
Creating a brand isn’t just about sitting in front of your laptop and coming up with a brilliant business strategy. It’s about forging into the brave unknown of your own soul and extracting from that a precious nugget of greatness that will illuminate the collective good.
From there you can craft your mission statements, headlines, logos, web presence, social media strategy, colors and visuals, etc. and you’ll find that these things all fall so much more easily into place than by going the other way around.
So what do you want to have, a business or a brand?
Thoughts? Takeaways? Additional questions I should add above? I welcome your comments :)