This is a three part series and a refined excerpt of a presentation I gave last month for fashion entrepreneurs in conjunction with People Wear SF and the San Francisco Fashion Incubator. While it’s a generalized overview of branding basics, there are reminders for brands of all sizes about the art of crafting and telling your story. If you have questions, or want to unearth some deeper ideas together, do something crazy: drop me an old-fashioned note using the helpful form located here. Let’s dig.
The Power of a Brand
Let’s start from the beginning. Even every word has a good origin story, and brand is no exception. The word brand comes from the Old English and is of Germanic origin. The Old Norse word brandr means “to burn”—alluding to the practice of physically burning a mark or a brand onto a product. It turns out creating permanence is painful.
It's often cited that the British brewery, Bass & Co, claims to be the first brand as they registered their iconic red triangle as the very first trademark under the UK's Trade Mark Registration act of 1875. After registration, the Bass red triangle logo went on to score some really prime product placement in things like Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, various Picasso paintings and even James Joyce’s Ulysses.
Today we live in world where there are over 3,000 breweries in the US alone and hundreds of brands for things as necessary as water, soap, and even toothpaste. With markets this saturated, and the continued power and prevalence of technology and social channels, the noise in the consumer space is louder than ever. So, how do you set yourself apart and create a brand that people will tune into?
My suggestion is both simple and inherently challenging: tell a good story. Your brand is nothing more or nothing less than a story that you never stop telling. Understand the story before you begin, know who’s listening and who you wish to listen, and be relentless as you craft your tale. You don’t have to be the only person telling that story—today more than ever it’s hard to be a first mover—but you do have to leverage the authenticity of your story in a way that connects to a particular person, group or place. The process of branding is simply attaching an idea of value to a product or service.
Telling an Authentic Story: Define Your Purpose
Biologists use storytelling as one of the key differentiators that defines humans from other primates. Stories tap into our base human need for mythology—to be heard, to feel understood and to relate to others. At their core, stories help us begin to understand the ineffable nature of life and connect to those around us who are going through similar—and often isolating—experiences. This is why we see a staying power for social media because it fulfills the very basic human need to share stories and check in with your social circle. Even though it’s not palpable, it offers that sense of shared experience that we’re often so hungry for.
No matter where you are with your brand—whether you’re a startup or years into the process—it’s always important to define your core values and continually align those with your overall brand strategy. Do you know what your vision is for the future? If you're a team, do you all use the same words when talking about your mission? If you don’t know what your core values are, or if you've lost sight of them, here are the key tenets of your brand’s identity that you should know with intimate familiarity:
These beliefs and values define your brand’s core purpose. The core purpose is your brand’s center, its narrow lens of focus that helps to align all brand messages and define your:
Simply put: take time to get to know yourself. It's as true for a brand as it is for a human. The confident, cohesive vibe that comes across when someone truly knows who they are is one that people are pulled toward with a gravitational force —it's what I like to call brand swagger. Much like the origin of the word brand itself, if you want to create something permanent and meaningful you have to be willing to dig deep, get to know your core purpose, and then use it to set yourself on fire.
In the second series I'll dive a little deeper into communicating that swagger, creating disciples, and putting together a content marketing plan that catches fire.