Getting in touch with your inner brand

DNA tests have the power to share a lot of information, everything from identifying our ancestors to solving previously unsolvable crimes to helping predict your chance of getting cancer. It’s invaluable insight for those who want to live an informed life.

Too bad there’s not a business-world equivalent…or is there?

Today, that business DNA equivalent is known as your “brand.” According to best-selling author and marketing mastermind Seth Godin, brand is defined as “the set of expectations, memories, stories, and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.”  

Which essentially means your brand is the sum of everything your company espouses, does, produces, and represents, including:

  • The promises you make to customers
  • Your “look and feel” (how you visually represent your company)
  • Your culture and personality
  • Your marketing and sales efforts
  • Your social media accounts (and—yikes!—everything that gets posted on them)
  • How you handle public relations (Particularly important in this digital era… If you need proof, ask Google what it knows about United Airlines or read about the telling conversation Uber CEO Travis Kalanick had with one of his drivers.)

Regardless of whether you’re starting a company or just hoping to take an honest look at your existing organization, it’s never a bad idea to spend some time and energy evaluating your brand. After all, how can you expect others to know what you stand for…if you don’t?

The practical path to brand discovery

We know this can be a nerve-wracking proposition, but sometimes you have to stop working in the business and work on it for a bit. The easiest way to eat this elephant is by breaking it down into the RIPP acronym: reflect, inspect, protect, and project.

REFLECT

Get outside. Go to the mountain…just do something that involves disconnecting from the world and getting closer to intentional introspection. Think hard about the hopes and dreams you have for your company. Take that “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” question to heart and see where your answers lead. And for some solid soul searching, read “Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action” by Simon Sinek, or watch the TED Talk.

INSPECT

Conduct an honest assessment of your current state. Evaluate the good, the bad, and the ugly. Really think about your mission, vision, and values. And to combat surface-level thinking, perform a heavy-duty SWOT analysis, pin-pointing your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Once you’ve come face to face with your true business self, do a few brand personality exercises, posing the following questions:

  • Where do you want to go?
    • Determine your path and evaluate the strategies that will get you there.
    • Explore your brand platform (aka the promise, reasons to believe/proof points, and benefits you embody).
  • What messaging do you want to put out into the universe?
  • How does that look visually?

At long last, put your discoveries and revelations to paper in a living, breathing document, commonly known as a “brand guide.” Your personal brand guide will help ensure consistency in how you and everyone associated with your brand represents it.

PROTECT

You’ve come a long way. Now it’s time to fortify your findings with tangible elements that truly forge and define your brand. First off, develop your brand standards, detailing how your logo should be portrayed, what fonts to use, what photography styles best represent your company, yada yada yada. Then, back up what you’ve built up with official brand training for your team—guaranteeing that everyone KNOWS the specific standards that surround your brand. This is also the perfect opportunity to review your company vision and mission, so employees are equipped to go the distance toward your company’s ideal destination. (For an example of an organization that does this well, read more about Southwest Airlines.)

Once you have a united front among your team members, launch your brand internally, setting up a solid dry run for your external brand debut. Take the opportunity to address questions and concerns among friends and family before you present who you are to the rest of the world.

PROJECT

Believe it or not, you’ve done the hardest work leading up to this point. Knowing the characteristics at your company’s core—the metaphorical helices that make up your business genome if you will—is what will set you apart in a world where competition abounds. So what’s next? Sit down and devote some effort to planning how you want to launch your brand externally. Consider factors like ideal timing (i.e. during an industrywide event), the specific channels that will maximize your reach (web, social, print, email, etc.), and opportunities for ongoing campaigns that will serve as fuel for your brand moving forward.

Go live with your external launch, pushing your campaigns, routing items to the right media outlets, and promoting your “story.” And remember, you haven’t come this far to think inside the box. So go beyond the “We’ve rebranded!” press release, and reach your audience on a deeper, more engaging level—with topics, themes, and talking points that transcend the ordinary angle of just selling services.

The TL; DR version

Digging deep into who you are—and who you want to be—isn’t always the most entertaining, most exciting part of running a business. But it’s an undeniably integral piece of understanding and conveying WHY anyone (other than your mom) should care about your business. Skip this step, and you’ll likely find yourself repeatedly clarifying your purpose or intent whenever muddy situations arise. Do it well, though, and you might wake up one day with a legion of devoted brand ambassadors who line up for your product debuts. Ever heard of a little tech company called Apple?