This is a continuation of a post called “Diluted Meaning” that I wrote back in 2016.
Let’s talk about brand. Sorry, what I meant was, let’s talk about Brand.
You see, there’s a difference between what my friend Q calls “big B, Brand” and brand.
Brand, is what Lindsay Pedersen talks about in her book Forging an Ironclad Brand, it’s what Deb Gabor talks about in Branding is Sex, and it’s what you need to understand if you truly want to be able to roll out the SB7 framework in Building a Storybrand by Donald Miller.
Brand is purpose and a promise followed by the subsequent attempts to realize both.
Your brand, on the other hand, is your logo, fonts and colors. No disrespect to logos, fonts, and colors as I happen to love both my Jeff Gibbard / JGibbard LLC brand and The Superhero Institute (check out the merch store).
But, it is worth pointing out that even your brand, is an outgrowth of your Brand. The logo, fonts, and colors, should mean something..not just look good.
It is difficult in a single blog post to adequately express the myriad functions that Brand is necessary for without attempting to rewrite one of the aforementioned books. But, since that is not the point of this post, I’ll just suggest that you read them.
Here’s what I want to talk about…
When everything else is stripped away, building a Brand starts with words. I guess you could say it starts with ideas, values, beliefs, etc…but since all of those are expressed in words, I’m going to double down here.
The words you choose to express your Brand are important. So important, in fact, that many will spend hours, days, weeks, months, or years obsessing over individual words in a mission statement, brand story, or vision. The result of this exercise, however, is too often: word salad. If you’ve never dined on word salad it goes a little something like this…
To extrapolate the deep intricacies of meaning is akin to the exercises of strength, strenuousness, and vigor that are so often found in the pages and lore of fables of old, or the timeless stories of yesteryear where the mighty are overcome through the will and tenacity of the small. We uphold these same acts of valor and courage in confronting the great mysteries of life and refining our words to be beacons of light amidst the darkness. This is why we sell printer cartridges.Example Word Salad
I can’t tell you the number of brand conversations that end up with me editing something like this. Here’s how we get here…
We know that Brand is important. We know that we need to differentiate ourselves. We want our work to have meaning and purpose.
So, what do we do?
We choose lofty language to boost our importance, we include everything that we do to sound different and comprehensive, and we use SAT words to give the appearance that our work has depth and intelligence. I mean, why else would we use all of those $5 words?
The alternative to this is to use the same rotation of common words that everyone else does: excellence, amazing, outstanding, the best…, industry-leading, etc. These platitudes and hollow superlatives inspire nothing more than a collective yawn or eye roll.
In either of these cases, a Brand will either confuse, repel, or fail to impress.
When you understand what Brand is for, you will choose your words differently. Here is why you shouldn’t use Brand Words/Buzzwords, overstuff your Brand strategy, or fall back on empty words and platitudes.
A Great Brand is a CLEAR Explanation for EVERYTHING
Do you know why, we start with WHY? Because it is the only way that everything else has context and makes sense. You must understand it first and foremost because it influences EVERYTHING.
In Forging An Ironclad Brand, I love the way that Lindsey Pedersen describes Brand as your North Star…that really resonates with me.
Imagine that your Brand really is THE North Star. Using Brand Words, Buzzwords, or Platitudes, is like putting thick clouds in front of your North Star or making it hard to pick the North Star out of the sky at all.
Your Brand is something that should guide your way home. That means it needs to be clear.
- Your Brand will give context about who you hire and why.
- Your Brand will explain why your contracts are written in plain english or legalese.
- Your Brand will dictate whether or not you’ll spend the money on a new phone system.
You Brand must be clear to your team, your customers, your partners and vendors, your competitors…and anyone else.
So, now let’s think again about how we might write some of our Brand strategy.
Writing a Brand Strategy
The Brand Strategy should be easy to follow which is why we want to write it plainly.
- It should answer why your business exists. What change are you out to make in the world?
- It should answer what you value. How will those values show up through your behavior or investments?
- It should answer where your journey began and lead into why you chose to solve the particular problem you did. This gives your Brand context.
- It should focus on people. Not just customers, but should be inclusive of all of the people the Brand touches.
- It should help team members make decisions. When everyone understands what the Brand stands for and what’s most important, they become empowered to make decisions in service of that mission and if you’re in a leadership role, that should excite you.
- It should provide guidance, where ever it’s needed, for every possible scenario from how we answer the phones to what our refund policy is.
The goal of all of these things is not to micro-manage but to create the conditions that align your team around a common set of ideas and values. It also helps your customers quickly understand exactly who you are.
Don’t Bullshit Me
One of the reasons that I got involved in Social Media back in 2008, was that I believed it would amplify what companies already were and have a profound correcting effect.
- If employees talked about their work experiences, companies would correct for it. But most didn’t…they just fired the employee.
- If customers left bad reviews, companies would correct for it. But most didn’t…they just astroturfed positive reviews, engaged marketing firms to run SEO reputation management campaigns, or just ignored it and pumped more money into advertising.
Sure, you can get away with any of that, and a whole lot more. I would offer that is an awful way to run a business and not your best path to long term success. Companies that are clear about who they are and what they represent make it easy for the customer to choose (easier lead generation and shorter sales funnel), easy for job applicants to know what the expect (lower turnover), empower employees to know what to do (brand building customer service), and so much more.
Your Brand should be clear and honest because it is not just a costume that you put on, unless you plan to keep it on. Brand is an exploration of who you already are. This is why we don’t use bullshit language that doesn’t clearly explain what a Brand is about or make statements that we don’t have the integrity to back up.
If you make your Brand something about a belief that everyone should be able to have a great pair of sneakers and then manufacture your products in foreign sweat shops where the salaries workers are being paid don’t afford for the product you make, then your Brand is bullshit. Don’t say everyone if you don’t actually mean EVERYONE.
Every Brand wants to make big, bold, aspirational claims, but if you do that, you have to be willing to do the work to stand by that statement in everything you do…not just what you mean to your customers.
Build a Better Brand
Start by caring deeply about something.
That’s probably what you should build your Brand around. Just make sure that you can explain it simply and make sure you have the integrity to live up to what you say.
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