Last year, I was talking to a man at a networking event. He asked what I did for work and I told him, "I work with rebels. Rebels are the startups challenging the status quo. I help them gain more confidence through branding and design."
He paused. "Ok, how would you help me?"
I told him that a brand is a person's gut feeling or perception of a business. The art of branding is using the business's personality, image, and beliefs to foster that gut feeling. This creates trust and an emotional attachment between the customer and the business.
He told me he had named his company Best ______. He said that his industry wasn't exciting, his business couldn't have a personality and that the only actionable "branding" route for him to take was calling himself "the best." His next sentence was what shocked me the most though:
"If I was to build a brand, I'd have to lie."
"You'd have to lie?" I questioned.
He believed that creating a brand would mean that he'd have to create a false personality for his company. I kept talking with him, asked him what he liked to do in his spare time, and what he valued.
Turns out, he builds full-scale medieval catapults in his spare time. He loved comedy. Diving deeper, his greatest desire was that his team would show up to after-work team-building events.
I looked at his logo, the name of his company, their colors, and the way they presented themselves online. Nothing about those elements aligned with who this man is. The brand was stoic, staid, and lacked any character.
What he had built was a brand that others would expect of him. He was putting on his business face, trying with everything that he could to be something he isn't.
If that's not a lie, I don't know what is.
Branding is not covering up who you are in the hopes of appealing to somebody. It's the direct opposite, it's showcasing who you really are and going all-in on it. That is what creates an emotional connection with someone else.
A friend of mine and I met up yesterday. She's a talented artist and creative thinker, but she's struggling with getting her work out there and attracting commissions/clients. It's a common issue for creative types to stall the display of any kind of work to the public unless they deem it perfect. The truth... it's never going to be perfect. You have a better chance at winning the lottery than you do creating the perfect piece to show, especially if you have particular expectations.
She had asked, "what do I need to do to get out there?"
"You need to make something everyday, for fun, for yourself, and show it to the world."
Lo and behold, within the span of 45 minutes today, she had an awesome collage piece completed and ready to go. I'd call that a win.
Here's the thing:
You will always be nervous taking the first steps into a new venture. Be it founding a startup, putting yourself out there as an artist, starting a band, you name it. If you want to get to the top of the mountain, you have to take the first step. It's gonna suck at first, you're going to suck at first. But you will get better and it will get easier if you dedicate yourself to small habits that will make up your success.
Go for it, I believe in you.
I'm currently working on a new website or San Diego Startup Week. Yesterday, the former director of the program looked at the new site and commented on how much it had improved from the previous rendition. Obviously, I was flattered. But at the same time, I felt a void within that work.
What is missing is personality, voice, and character. The cherries that make the entire sundae memorable. The new site works and has a streamlined flow to it. But it has no personality other than being well designed.
It's as if design has a brand in and of itself; sterile, refined, clean, simplistic, lots of white space, you get the picture. The next level is using design to communicate a unique feeling that reflects your company.
That's the difference between design and branding. Design is a set of principles that any creative wields as second nature. Using it to build a brand is the ability to bend those principles toward a personality.