Good branding is the most powerful marketing tool. But understanding how to build a brand with value can be very confusing. The first step is to understand what a brand is and what it is not.
A brand is not your logo, the fonts and pantones you choose. It’s not the messaging on your website, and it’s not even the product itself. It’s not all of the PR you might receive, the marketing you do, or the ads you take out. All of these elements are just ingredients. They are important, but they, in of themselves, are not a brand.
A brand is actually defined not by you, but by the customer . It’s their gut feeling on your product, company or the service you provide. An excellent example of powerful branding is TOMS shoes. When you think of TOMS, what comes to mind? They were the innovator of the One for One® giving model; you know that for every pair of shoes you buy, a child in need gets a pair too. You feel good about the purchase, and you know you are doing something good in the world when you buy from TOMS. Giving is at the root of their very existence. You, me, and everyone who feels the same way makes up the TOMS brand tribe, and tribes are very powerful. Tribe members are linked by a common understanding of what TOMS stands for.
Now that we understand what a brand is and is not, how do you create a brand that will resonate with an audience? How do you create that all too important brand tribe?
1. What is your story?
People buy into products and services when there is a story attached. The narrative is the critical component to creating a brand people want. This can be your personal story, your ‘why I did this!’, and it can be about someone else (TOMS shoes), but there must be a compelling story for people to latch on to. Coca-Cola tells the story of fun, friends and happiness in every piece of marketing they create. When you think of Coke, you think of good times with
friends and family, that’s the narrative they want swirling in your head; they want you to feel . Coke is selling emotions.
1971 – … I’d like to buy the world a home and furnish it with love….I’d like to teach the world to sing with perfect harmony…I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company …
1990 – …y ou can’t beat the feeling…(with Matt LeBlac, by the way)…
1993 – … whenever there’s fun, there’s always Coca-Cola…
2016 – …. it feels good in my heart, in my soul, when you’re right here beside me, I don’t ever want this day to end, we can watch the waves have a coke and just sit here beside me…so we can feel together, be free together….Taste the feeling!…
2. Create a brand strategy. This is a map of your visions and goals. Why are you
doing it? What do you want this product or service to stand for? How do you
want others to feel about it? This is an extension of #1. Here you should also
map out the ways you will get this message across (media, messaging, website,
In the case of TOMS, the founder, Blake Mycoskie, was traveling in Argentina in 2006
and in seeing the hardships faced by children growing up without shoes, he came up
with a solution to this problem: to create a business where he could help others with
every purchase of his products. Among the give-backs: With the purchase of TOMS
shoes, a brand new pair is given for school and play to fit kids from toddlers to teens.
TOMS bags purchases provide training for skilled birth attendants and vital materials to
help women safely give birth. TOMS eyewear purchases help restore sight to an
individual through sight-saving surgery, prescription glasses or medical treatment.
Purchases of the TOMS High Road Backpack collection will help provide training of
school staff and crisis counselors to help prevent and respond to instances of bullying.
The brand not only made a strong connection with customers, but the strategy was not
to engage celebrities, but rather to create a strong community (the brand tribe) of
advocates who would spread the message. The word-of-mouth endorsements are seen
on the TOMS Instagram page, where people eagerly post images of the products they
buy from TOMS. The company also hosts the yearly One Day Without Shoes (ODWS)
initiative, which is wildly successful with retailers worldwide. If you post your bare feet
with the hashtag #withoutshoes on ODWS day, a pair of shoes is automatically donated
to someone who needs shoes. This is \now a real movement and the user-generated
content across Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter sparks an ongoing
conversation among tribe members and showcases their commitment to the brand.
3. How is your product or service different? I mean really really different?
There’s nothing but noise out there: product noise, advertising noise,
the-fun-features of “here’s my thing” noise, and messaging noise. The market is
overwhelmed with things and ideas. The only way to stand out is to truly be
different. If everyone is going right, you go left.
Here are some cool examples:
The Fifth Paw tells you exactly what how they are different with their tagline: An Extra
Paw To Help Hold the Doody. They created a solution for those of us who have to carry
those plastic bags filled with doody until we can find a garbage can. The hands-free
dog poop holder attaches to the leash for easy transport of the doggy doody.
I want to point out here with The Fifth Paw that they also did something else very
interesting and important, they solved a problem . If you can solve a problem, your tribe
will find you and love you.
Treat Worthy Pet Creations came up with the idea of sending your pet a basket of
goodies, such as gift baskets filled with doggie cookies for dogs and cat treats for cats.
If we can do it for people, why not pets?
Vinebox sends you wine by the glass on a monthly basis, just enough to fill one glass
so you can sample wines without the waste. Monthly subscriptions from $29/month for
three glasses. Another problem solved here: why waste an entire bottle when you may
not like it. Just get it by the glass and then you can invest more if you want more.
SleepPhones are headphones designed for sleeping. These headphones are
snuggled into a soft and comfortable headband so you can listen to audio comfortably
without plugs in your ears all night. Another problem solved: who wants earbuds in their
ears all night?
4. What is your value? What is the consequence of anyone not buying your
product or service? This is a harsh but very real question you need to answer,
and the more consequence that exists, the more unique your product or service
Here is an example that pertains to 1 – 4. A realtor once asked me how she could stand
out among her peers. This is a big ask because there are more realtors than sticks and
twigs on a tree. I asked her why she went into the realty business and she told me
about her divorce, how devastating it was, how she ultimately found financing through
women’s organizations and minority loans, which led to the dream home she owns
today. Great story! I suggested she write bylined articles for her local publications on
how to finance a home after a divorce. Putting herself out as an expert in home buying
for divorcees shows a distinct competency and puts her in a very identifiable niche. She
could also write on her own website about why she went into the real estate business,
and create a video to accompany that. By doing these things, she is creating her story,
her narrative, her why. Applying a strategy like this across all mediums will slowly
develop an audience of not only women, but also men, who are seeking post-divorce
security. Part of her strategy could also be aligning herself with banks that offer great
rates on minority loans, women’s small business organizations, etc… She has made
herself different in a sea of also-rans, and the customer will get the message that by not
using her, they may fail at securing that forever home, which would be devastating.
Another great way to illustrate your value is through endorsements. Ask your current
and previous clients to tell you what they love about you and your business, and post
these liberally on your website or blog. Having someone else testify to your strengths
shows the potential buyer that you have have proven your value to customers who hired
You vs. Your Brand
You personally and your brand are never separate. Your brand is never off the clock;
everything you do, say, write, and how you express yourself, across the board, is all part of building a brand that will leave an impression with everyone who comes in
contact with you.
As messaging and branding expert Terri Trespicio says “Act like you are always
If you send out an email or letter with type-os or half-bake a business proposal, your
brand just got sloppy. If you are an expert at knitting colorful hats for cats and appear
on a radio show praising one political party and bashing the other, your brand is now in
cardiac arrest — your political opinions have nothing to do with your brand and should
not be shared publicly.
You must also be authentic. This is something you cannot fake. Being your true self
has a lot of appeal in today’s modern media culture. Being informal doesn’t mean that
you are off-brand, you should think through your strategy with every post, webinar,
meeting, etc… Transparency works. Show people how you work; don’t tell them why,
show them the why. This can be done through images and/or video, even more than
through written content on your blog or website.
A fun example of brand authenticity at work each day is vlogger Karina Garcia, a
YouTube sensation well known for becoming the penultimate expert in slime. Yes, you
read that correctly, slime. And since becoming a social media star, Karina how offers
DIY life hacks, everything from popping pimples with a bobby pin to preventing juices
from leaking out of your garbage bags by placing a piece of plain old paper at the
bottom of the bag. She even has her Official Make Your Own Slime Kit By Karina
Garcia, which you can buy at Target, among other retailers. Karina’s brand has
become a huge sensation, not only because it’s fun and clever, but she’s totally
authentic and transparent. The 23 year old former waitress now garners sponsorships
from brands like Disney and Coca-Cola, upwards to $200k/month. The secret sauce is
that Karina is Karina at all times, doing what she loves and speaking with a no-fuss,
girlfriend-next-door candor. The chunky Latino is also perfectly comfortable sharing
female period hacks, talking about the crime scene in your underwear, and even
showing blood stains on a bed towel. And she does all of this wearing a light blue
hoodie that says “Hey Girl!” on it. She’s beautiful, relatable and comfortable saying it as
it is, which is why her tribe loves her so much.
In your branding journey, remember that it’s all about the marathon and not the sprint. If
you are creating something to sell them, you will fail. If you create a storyline, a
dialogue, an experience and a long-term relationship, then you will create a strong