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What your Brand is NOT

An observation on brand and marketing, regardless of if you're B2B, B2C, or any other freaking combination you can imagine.

Several months ago I was in the retail space for Treason Toting Co. (Treason is the company I've been with for a little over a year now.) We make backpacks and carry goods. I jokingly say we make elevated man purses for hipsters with expendable income. :) I was in the storefront and a group of tourists from Alabama walked through the doors and asked about the bags. They felt them, tried them on, commented on the great quality. You know... all the usual things. Then came the moment I'd been waiting for. We talked... I learned a bit about them, and then they said, "why the name Treason?" So I gave them the schpeel. I told them of how were were founded by two unlikely Baltimore natives. And I drew them in by connecting it with them and passionately spoke of how every single day we wake up wanting more. More time... a better job... deeper friendships... or to finally chase that passion we've set aside for so long. And how there are some people out there that are actually DOING that. They defy what is expected of them and press in to that unknown territory and commit "everyday treason". I highlighted how the last two things you grab before you walk out your door every single day are your keys, and yes... your BAG. And that we are a company that is not just about making a product that carries your crap. But we make a product that inspires you to be a Treasonist. Our bags are a symbol of possibility. Our bags stand for more than just a bag. By the end of it, a large, scrappy man with a Marlboro ball cap from Alabama said, "Brother, can I hug you??" And we hugged it out right there in the store. 

Why did that happen?? What compelled a grown southern man in a Marlboro cap to hug a millennial hipster kid in a fedora? I can tell you this: it wasn't how well our bags are made. It wasn't the color choice of our canvas. It was that we made the leap from it being about the bag, to it being about HIM. We got to the heart of the matter. We got to the emotion of it all. And THAT, dear ones, is brand. 


It's as simple as that. Your brand is what a person feels when they think of your name, your logo, your product or service... it's what is evoked from deep inside the moment they come in contact with any of your collateral. 

What often happens is, well-meaning businesses are so focused on what they offer to the consumer, that they obsess over explaining the product. They spend energy, resources, and most importantly -- precious moments of a consumer's time -- obsessively talking about that "thing". But here's why that doesn't work: we're all selfish. We're all far less concerned with that thing you're obsessed with, and far more self-interested! Wanna sell me something? Woo me. Wanna give me a reason to buy from you and not amazon? Tell me how great I am. Want a second date?? Act interested in ME. And then once you know who I am, use some your energy explaining how your thing will meet that need you know I have. It's sales and it's psychology, and it's like good old fashioned dating.

So here are a few steps to help you figure out how to make the leap from it being about you and your product, to truly drawing emotion out of that consumer and give your brand sticking power.


This is more than just your value propositions. Take time to run yourself through a brand prism. Create guidelines and a one-sheet that articulates it all clearly and concisely. Understand the words, colors, shapes, smells... that best describe you! Hone it down and be laser focused. This way when that consumer finally gives you a chance to speak, you know exactly what to say in as little as one sentence.


Identify who in the world you're actually trying to reach! Once you know who they are, you can identify how to get in front of them, and when you're in front of them, you'll actually have something worthwhile to say because you've taken the time to figure out who you are. (Side note: often you'd be surprised at who a company THINKS their clientele is versus what the data shows.)


This part is sneaky: do you ask that amazing human to marry you after your first date? No. Of course not. And buying patterns for humans are not that different. Yes, some will buy at first touch, but the reality is, you'll probably need to date a bit longer before a real commitment is made. So be patient! And when you go on that second date, you had better present yourself as the same human being you were last time! Be consistent and align every bit of collateral, every word, every everything with who you are as a brand. (If you don't, you'll erode buyer confidence... but that's a whole blog post in it's own right!)

This can be deep stuff to wade through. I'm here to help. Let's brand it up together, dear ones.




The Secret behind UX: BE HUMAN

User experience... or UX as all the cool kids call it... is an important slice of the pie. It's the place where the thing you've been pouring your energy into intersects with the humans for whom it was made. And this angle of industry is ubiquitous because essentially it's function is to make sure that when that happens -- when people touch / feel / experience what you've worked so hard on... it's a genuinely positive situation. UX is not limited to a department. Proper UX should be woven through the fabric of your brand/organization/product from start to finish. Here's why:


To effectively filter your ____ through UX, you simply must approach it with empathy at every step of the journey. From "What question does this answer or problem does it solve?" to "Does this aspect of the design create a seamless engagement for the human interacting with it?" ... To literally every other question you should be asking -- the common thread -- the golden nugget -- the question behind the question -- is always centered around placing oneself in the heart/mind/soul/shoes of that person you intend to engage. It's not just about your product. It's not just about your brand. It's ALWAYS about how those things come in contact with that end user -- and ultimately how it makes them feel.

Here's a quick litmus's test: If you've compromised significant quality or design that you know is better/important to the people you touch -- you aren't being empathetic. Try again. Be human.




I'd like to ask permission for a brief moment of honesty to discuss a topic that seems to be a favorite in some circles: "Relevance." And I would say this about it... The idea of relevance is actually rather silly. It's silly because relevance is completely subjective. In a desperate effort to be "relevant" to one audience, you instantly make yourself irrelevant to another. It's just how it works. So I would submit that we change our language, and change our thinking. Instead of filtering our ideas through relevance, let's filter them through transcendence. In other words, what are the elements that transcend one audience? What are the ingredients? What is that thing hiding inside the idea that will move anyone/anything? THAT is the spark we're after. That's the flame to fan. Anything less will burn out and -- ironically -- end up being completely irrelevant.