The Brands We Wear Are Our Identity. Here's Why We Need to Create Brands That Align Our Purpose, Personality and Practice


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Brands today have a Herculean influence on the culture at large. With the steady decline in communities of faith, country clubs and other systems of belonging, people are increasingly turning towards the brands they know and love to find their sense of self-identity. It doesn’t take a researcher to recognize the ever-increasing logo sizes on products we buy and gladly promote while we walk around (see the dinner plate size logos on the latest Mercedes, or torso-covering Ralph Lauren patches on their polo shirts, or nauseating Louis Vuitton patterns on anything and everything).

We’ve subconsciously learned to collect brands to assemble bits of our aspirational identity — as if we had a Girl Scout sash with each little logo showing something about who we are. “My Apple patch shows that I’m creative! My ‘Yoga with Adriene’ patch shows that I love at-home yoga! My Slack patch shows that I work for a cool company!”

Consciously or subconsciously, we all adopt those brand values as part of our own identities. Think of it as the bumper-sticker effect. We’re visually telling others a bit about ourselves simply by broadcasting the brands we buy from. (Most Land Rover owners would never be caught dead driving their shiny Land Rover off-road, but they’d love to be associated with the type of people who might spontaneously go mudding.)

This isn’t a critique. As humans, we’re meaning-making machines, and I suppose we’ve all agreed along the way that we might as well find deeper meaning in the products we buy. In light of this present cultural moment, I present a simple method for embracing this as an entrepreneur.

Related: Why Brands are Becoming the New Badges of Belief and Belonging

Becoming “self-aware”

If we’re all going to find meaning in the brands we belong to, then brands have an opportunity to improve the culture they belong to tangibly. It’s an opportunity for the brands themselves to become self-aware of the role they play in the world. To embrace this moment and rise to the occasion.

An “Awakened Brand” is self-aware of its role in the world — and has aligned purpose, personality and practices.

Some of the most successful brands on earth have welcomed these roles and are thriving. Patagonia is self-aware that it exists to protect the planet. Tesla stands for acceleration, both literally and figuratively. Airbnb is aware that it exists to help people feel at home, even in new places. Nike knows its role in culture is empowerment. These are brands that have awakened to their role in culture and aligned that purpose with their personalities and practices.

Purpose

Your purpose is the fundamental essence of why your business exists. It’s not what you do (e.g., SaaS platform for day traders) or how you do it (e.g., powered by AI with a cross-eyed, foul-mouthed gorilla as our mascot). It’s the why behind all of it. Strip away the accouterments — Why does the world need your brand?

I’m a big fan of Seth Godin’s concept of a “minimum viable audience.” Entrepreneurs are often too starry-eyed (and delusional) to think their product is for anyone and everyone. They cast too broad a net and, as a result, go home empty-handed—all things to all people and nothing to no one. What if instead, you went as small as viably possible?

Smart startups will recognize a very specific problem for a very specific group of people and position themselves as the only rational solution.

An easy way to frame your purpose statement is: “Because _________ deserve _________.”

  • Because good ideas deserve great reputations.
  • Because your pets deserve to eat real food.
  • Because your home deserves to feel like a safe haven.

You can replace “deserve” with “should, could, will, can, etc.”

  • Because you should feel good in your body.
  • Because our generation could reverse climate change.
  • Because awakened brands can change culture for the better.

This is the most important aspect of your brand and shouldn’t be rushed. Riff endlessly on this until you feel it’s as distilled as possible. You’ll know you’re done, not when there’s nothing left to add, but when there’s nothing less to subtract. We’re looking for the essence, not flowery words. When you’re done, it should feel embarrassingly simple. (Our head of strategy often distills a whole brand purpose down to one word.)

Related: How to Use the Power of Purpose to Market Your Franchise

Personality

But that’s when personality comes into play. Personality is a wonderful opportunity for us to add another layer of depth, nuance and vibe. We don’t need our purpose alone to do all of the differentiation. Our unique brand emerges as a unique concoction of purpose, personality and practices.

Think of the most commoditized industry you can think of, such as drinking water. If we toss out all the claims about the quality of water and just assume water is water, how do we differentiate? Personality. VOSS is glassy and ultra-premium—clearly for important people. Poland Springs is pure, utilitarian and no-frills. Death Water is irreverent and absurdist and resonates with an audience that shares that profile. Water is water, but the personality wrapped around it changes everything.

Personality is a playground. Permit yourself to have fun with this. Imagine if a brand consultancy was started when a disenchanted pastor fell out of love with the church. That’s me and my story. And you better believe our company’s personality is quirky and spirited as a result.

  • Maybe you’re a roofing company, but you work wearing medieval garb and call yourselves the Shingle Squires — “Noble roofing solutions for the modern castle!”
  • Maybe you built an app to help mushroom enthusiasts identify strains called Shroom Zoom — “Fast identification of the fungal jungle!”
  • Maybe you’re a travel company that ships people’s favorite pillows to any vacation destination in a vintage chest called Pillow Passage—”Your pillow, in paradise!”

There’s no right or wrong personality to wrap around your purpose, but some ideas are more strategic than others. The best advice is to ensure the personality traits are authentic to you as the founder in some tangible way so that, over the long term, you feel natural stewarding the brand. Ask a trusted friend if you have a hard time with self-reflection and seeing your strengths as others see them.

Practices

The final layer of differentiation is brand behaviors. These are the regular practices your brand engages in — activities, touchpoints, content, tactics, etc. They are yet another opportunity to distinguish yourself within your competitive brand landscape.

Consider all of the touchpoints a customer may have with your brand. The list is endless and ever-changing, but here’s a pretty solid start:

  1. Social Media: Engagement, customer service, marketing campaigns.
  2. Website: First impressions, information, e-commerce capabilities.
  3. Email Communications: Newsletters, promotions, order confirmations, follow-ups.
  4. Physical Storefronts (if applicable): In-store experience, customer service, product interaction.
  5. Mobile App: App functionality, ease of use, notifications.
  6. Advertising: Online ads, print ads, billboards, TV commercials.
  7. Packaging: Product packaging, unboxing experience.
  8. Customer Service: Support calls, live chats, email support.
  9. Point of Sale: In-store, online checkout process, payment gateways.
  10. Events: Workshops, pop-up stores, trade shows, webinars.
  11. Public Relations: Press releases, interviews, articles.
  12. Direct Mail: Physical mail, catalogs, postcards.
  13. Partnerships and Collaborations: Co-branded products and joint marketing efforts.
  14. Loyalty Programs: Membership benefits, rewards systems.
  15. Surveys and Feedback: Customer satisfaction surveys and product reviews.
  16. Content Marketing: Blogs, videos, podcasts, e-books.
  17. Influencer Collaborations: Sponsored content and influencer endorsements.
  18. Referral Programs: Friend referrals, affiliate marketing.
  19. Community Engagement: Forums, user groups, community events.
  20. After-Sales Services: Warranty services, returns, maintenance.

Each of these touchpoints is an opportunity to shape a unique relationship with your customer. Great brands are intentional about what they choose to do and what they choose not to do. Patagonia chooses to be closed on Black Fridays, and Chick-fil-A is closed on Sundays. Love it or hate it, their practices are aligned with their purpose and personality. This gives consumers a distinct, reliable brand to develop meaningful relationships with.

How can your purpose and personality shine through your practices?

Related: The Best Marketing Material Is Something Your Audience Would Miss If They Stopped Receiving It

Conclusion

Your competitors may not think this way, and it’s a huge opportunity to capitalize on this cultural moment. Whether it’s a brand evolution or a brand revolution, your company’s future is worth the temporary disruption. Consumers are expecting more and more from the brands they buy from, and the beautiful thing is — it breathes fresh life into your organization. What a gift that our customers are urging us to be more inspired, more authentically us, and weirder than ever.

Remember: an “Awakened Brand” is self-aware of its role in the world — and has aligned purpose, personality and practices.

It’s time to wake up. The world is waiting.



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