Defining your brand is essentially the same as figuring out who you are. If you don’t know who you are, you’ll likely make a lot of wrong moves.
Let’s be serious about what you’re selling. It’s a shirt for heaven’s sake. It’s a cell phone. It’s a hamburger.
What you are a selling is a thing and, today, most things have been commoditized. In many cases, one is as good as another. So why would any one choose your stuff? What is your brand when a brand is really identity and your “stuff” is just … stuff? What kind of identity is that?
The problem you have is you’re focused on your stuff and not on who buys it and who sells it and who makes it. Who are you? Who are your people? Who are your customers? Answer those questions and you’re a long way toward figuring out what your brand is.
Take note: you may not like the answers but, believe it or not, that is a good thing. It’s good because now you know something has to change. You have to rethink, re-jig and redo your business.
As anyone who has been young knows, figuring out who you are isn’t an easy thing to do. It often begins by figuring out who you are not. This is followed by trying on a few identities to see if any of them is a good fit. It’s a bit like going to the mall and trying on clothes at different stores.
Even when you do find an identity that fits, it always requires tweaking because you are unique. There is only one you and no one, anywhere, is quite like you. So you need to figure out what those tweaks are – they’re very important because they are really where your identity lies. Looking for our identities, we gravitate toward types. It is how our personality distinguishes itself within the type that makes our identity. That’s the essence of your brand.
This is why I bristle a bit when I hear the term “personal brand” and say, “Don’t be a brand; be a people.” I believe when we think in terms of personal brand, rather than personal identity, we give ourselves permission to pretend we’re something we’re not because we think our make-believe self is what the world wants to see. We become two dimensional rather than three.
For your company, the one that is selling shirts or cell phones or hamburgers or whatever it is you are selling, the brand lies in you, your employees and your customers. Other than your product, what do you have in common? It may be completely unrelated to your product.
What do you care about? Where is your passion?
I have a friend who always wanted to open a restaurant. What could be more common and commoditized than that? Why pick one over another?
She wanted to open a particular kind of restaurant. She wanted it done in a specific way. She opened it finally and, without really thinking in branding terms, it took on a brand identity quickly. Why?
It was partly because of her passion for a particular kind of restaurant. It was also her passion for doing it in a particular way. (The what and the how were equally important.)
Her other passions inevitably went into it too because her personality went into it – her identity. One of these was her passion for food – how it’s prepared, what goes into it and how it is presented. Another was her passion for community, a focus on local, local, local – a passion for people. In many ways, these were not incorporated consciously. They were simply who she is and has always been.
It all came together in a restaurant with a specific identity, a specific brand, because others shared those passions – employees and customers. It’s the unique combination of the food, the décor and the people that make the restaurant. In a world of countless restaurants, hers stands out. Anyone could open a restaurant but only she could have opened this restaurant.
Customers and employees — know your people. Know yourself.
Then you’ll know your brand.
What do you think? Do you agree or am I full of hooey?
(Note: This post was prompted after reading Finding your brand essence on Seth Godin’s blog. He has a great line in it: “… if you have to search for a brand essence, you’re unlikely to find one.”)