What is a Brand?

People throw the word around a lot. Brand. What is it? A custom shaped piece of metal that you get really hot and use to burn the shape into the flesh of an animal? No, that's a branding iron...

So is it the mark left on an animal? Yes. That is exactly how we think of brand and brand identity. But it's not quite right still.

We think of brand identity as the tool used to imprint the brand on someones mind like a branding iron. On the other side we think of the brand as the impression we leave on someone when they interact with our identity.

So close. So very close. What's missing is the understanding that it is not we, the brand and marketing people who make the impression. Rather, it is the people we seek to impress. They do it themselves. That's what gets scary. As designers, it's the moment we lose control of our work.

You see, our brand is how others choose to see us. It's the stories they tell themselves. We have no control over that. Not if we choose to be moral people, unlike those who work in government propaganda... But I digress. Sure, we can influence these stories, and we do, but ultimately what our audience thinks of us is up to them.

So what's the trick? How do we get people to understand us properly?

There is no trick. There is no easy way. You have to wake up and do the hard work of being communicative and transparent. You have to quiet your inner Sasquatch who wants to run and hide and stay under the cover of the infinite forest. You have to take the risks of exposing yourself in order to be loved. You have to let the haters hate and do it with poise.

Then, even more importantly, (actually you need to start here,) you need to listen. Listen to the feedback. Hear what your audience has to say to you. If they aren't talking, ask them to. If you don't even have one person in your audience, keep practicing your communication until you do.

Then process the feedback and go at it again. This is how we get better at representing ourselves.

The biggest companies can have the toughest time doing this. Inside of them, you have lots of people who love the company and are showing up, doing good work and serving their customers, wishing that their customers could see them and understand how much love they have for the customer (branding iron). Outside, you have a customer that mistrusts big companies and doesn't really believe the previous sentence at all, in fact quite the opposite, but they know they need the services provided so they feel at the mercy of the big company (brand). So the brand of that company is shit. The best in their field have realized that they way out is through.

There are companies who have survived this distrust. Think Coke and Mc'Donald's. For forty years or so, they have sat right next to tobacco and alcohol when it comes to how we as society regard them. Junk food, we call it. But those companies got square with the idea by saying, "yeah, we know it's junk for your health, but would life be any fun without it?" People understand that. Life without ever having a coke? Lame.

Okay Coke, you're right, life is no fun without you, we all like to party at some point. So society respond and says, "okay, well, if you are going to make money off of fun, and admit that it's not healthy if over indulged, we want you to spend some of your money teaching people how to be healthy." Coke says okay and starts supporting athletics and healthy food programs and buying organic juice companies...

Now what we have here is a giant society wide conversation that Coke is having with all of us. And when they do it right, they are really listening to us.

So at the end of the day, you might say, "I'm not Coke," and there are all these reasons why you don't need to or can't communicate with your audience because you don't have marketing, pr, graphics, film, or photography skills at your fingertips and you aren't even that great at the internet, in fact, you might hate facebook and instagram and you might even think it's ruining us all.

Okay, squatchy. Listen here. You DO have all of those things. You can write like the rest of us. You can speak into a camera on a livestream like the rest of us. You don't have to have all of the skills. You just have to start sharing and listening to our responses. Don't look for the fluff of your friends telling you "great job!" Ignore that stuff. Instead, look for the ones who call you out. Look for those who point out something missing. Take the criticism and refine your idea. We want to help you make it better. We want to feel like we are a part of something bigger than us and you are building that thing, so tell us about it!

Also, consume as much info about this as you can. Read and listen to people like Simon Sinek,  Seth Godin, Brene Brown, Gary Vee and Tim Ferris. Follow the people they follow. Learn and grow.

While you learn and grow, start sharing today. Share your Identity with us and let us tell you what your brand is and we can go from there.

Have a wonderful day and I can't wait to see you out there in the world!

Jesse Barney