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.
In my newsletters, I do a segment every month called the Brand Spotlight. Within these emails, I go over a brands positioning, messaging, visuals, crafted experiences, and what could be improved. Today, I was able to speak with my good friend, Melinda Livsey, about a recommended brand for the spotlight: Thuma.
Thuma sells bed frames. Really nice, easy to assemble bed frames.
When Melinda and I were discussing the things that made the brand impactful to her, we centered their success on one thing: the intention and thought that was put into every aspect of their experience makes them worth a premium and telling others about. Thuma showed they cared through their website, their product design, their packaging, instructions, and delivering on their promise as an easy to assemble product.
Think about it, if you encounter an amazing experience, even if it's more costly, you will tell others about it. In turn, putting more resources into the experience your customers have makes it so you don't have to spend so much on advertising. You've already paid for it by creating something worth telling others about.
The headline (H1) on your site could be the most SEO friendly on the planet, but it will not outdo a pleasant, worthwhile experience.
My favorite color to wear is black. Typically, I'm wearing a Buck Mason black T-shirt, Levi's blue jeans, and white sneakers. However, I would not wear that to the gym. In the gym I wear a black dri-fit, black shorts, and black training shoes. And while that's great attire for the gym, I would not wear that to a wedding. Instead you'd find me in an all black suit. Regardless of what I'm wearing though, I'm still the same person. I have patterns, yes, like wearing black, but it's important to fit the occasion.
You can run with the design of your branding the same way. What is the occasion we are designing for and how do we flex our visual identity to match? What matters most is whether or not the personality underneath stays the same and can be felt.
Dress for the occasion and be yourself.