Whether you know it or not, you have a brand.
Every interaction you’ve had with your customers, every pitch you’ve given to a VC and every one of the 140 characters you’ve sent out on Twitter have worked to develop your brand.
These interactions, although seemingly small and unrelated, collectively form the basis of your relationship with your audience; and all relationships are facilitated, maintained and articulated by—none other than—your brand.
Meaning, your brand is already alive. And if you aren’t being intentional about it, it can quickly grow to be a disorderly, uncontrollable and wild force happening in the marketplace. That’s what can make branding such a hard tool to understand and why most entrepreneurs think of it as a dirty, vulgar and god-awful word.
Branding is indeed an intricate and involved idea, but as an entrepreneur, there is nothing more integral to the success of your startup than your brand. The first step is to understand why brand matters. We’ll dive into the why by exploring three simple things:
- What is branding? A working definition of brand.
- Why Branding ≠ Bullshit.
- Why branding matters.
What Is Branding? A Working Definition of Brand.
The best place to start is to understand what a brand isn’t.
Your brand isn’t your logo. Your brand isn’t your visual identity system or your retina-ready website. It isn’t your color scheme or even your wonderful product. And most importantly, your brand isn’t what you say it is.
Your brand is what they say it is. They meaning people, people meaning humans and humans meaning the intuitive, flawed and emotive beings we all are.
In other words, your brand is a gut feeling that’s rooted deep within people.
It’s a feeling because people are emotional, instinctive beings. It’s a personal feeling because brands are defined by individuals, one by one, human by human. And when enough individuals arrive at the same gut feeling, we have a brand.
Branding ≠ Bullshit
Many entrepreneurs equate branding to excess, prodigality and even bullshit. It’s the notion that branding is just the stupefying marketing noise (sizzle) that sells the real thing (the steak). This notion is fueled by the belief that features, benefits and the ‘x factor’ of a new product alone create value and, therefore, there is no need to spend already scarce time working on brand development instead of product development.
After all, bringing a new product or service to market isn’t easy. There are design and production problems to solve, distribution and endorsement deals to ink, capital to raise and contracts to win. These hurdles are real, quantifiable, well-defined and well-written about.
Yet the single most challenging hurdle facing an entrepreneur is just as real as the others. It is also the least well-defined, least quantifiable, least written about and, probably, the simplest to understand:
People have too many choices and too little time.
A byproduct of our over-messaged and hyper-connected culture is the proliferation of choice. Consider the toothpaste aisle alone. There are over 400 different types and brands of toothpaste to choose from. Some whiten, some are meant for sensitive teeth, some are dentist-approved and some are even gluten free and organic.
Add in the thousands of choices for what type of toothbrush you’re going to use to apply your toothpaste and the simple act of brushing your teeth can become an overwhelming myriad of choice. If just brushing your teeth presents a person with an immense amount of choice, what about the rest of the marketplace?
I know what you’re thinking, “That might be true, but our product is so unique, so different, we’ll be the only one out there.”
I hate to say it, but that’s probably not reality. If you are one of the very, very few entrepreneurs who have come up with something so unique and different that there is literally no basis for comparison, kudos to you. For the rest of us, we will face the challenge of over-saturated choice sooner rather than later.
That’s where the brand proves itself as the opposite of excess, prodigality and bullshit. Why? Because the brand simplifies choice.
People, as emotional, intuitive beings, base their buying decisions on trust. Trust is gained from the relationships developed between people and organizations, and that relationship is facilitated by your brand.
Very simply: Brand ≠ Bullshit; Brand = Relationship.
To take it a step further: Brand = Relationship = Value.
Why Branding Matters
Relationships are the most beneficial advantage an entrepreneur can own and branding is the conduit to building those relationships. Establishing authentic relationships with your audience matters because void of relationship, you merely have a neat gizmo, idea or gadget…not a business.
Your brand facilitates your relationships which, in turn, facilitate your business. Brand = Relationship (Trust) = Value. Brand matters, it’s as simple as that.
Branding helps people understand what you’re doing and why they should care. It helps people understand who you are and why you matter. Without branding, you’re building and iterating without factoring in how people will experience and understand you in the real world.
Branding is highly complex, intensely layered, wall-to-wall hard work, and your brand is the single most valuable asset you can cultivate in your business.
Does branding matter to you? How are you cultivating your brand? What can you do today to become more intentional about your brand in a new way?
Dive in and dive deep. Explore. Understand why branding matters to you and your entrepreneurial adventure. Ask questions and begin to see your brand with new eyes.