To be clear, it is not hard to build a brand. Well, it’s not complicated, at least. It is infuriatingly simple. You only have to let people know why they should care about what you do. It’s as simple as that. Yet, building a brand, and maintaining it, in a noisy world is increasingly difficult and requires some of the best-run companies in the world to invest billions of dollars to ensure that people know what they stand for. Standing is no longer enough. You have to stand out in a sea of others standing.
You don’t want your brand to be a wallflower, the company who no one notices at the dance until it slips away into obscurity. Your brand doesn’t need to be irreverent or brash, but it can’t be shy. It needs self-confidence. It needs to know why it is unique and why it deserves attention. If your brand lacks the courage to be itself, then you might need to mature it. For companies small and large, and even for individuals, this comes down to two things: Clarity and Conviction
Clarity: If you want people to know about your company, products, services, and people, you need to know your brand well enough to introduce it at a cocktail party. What is the one thing that makes it special among the “next best alternatives” in your category? What is it’s value and why are customers willing to pay? Why does it deserve the market share you aspire to? If you have more than one answer about this question, you have more work to do. I love the timeless introduction to Steve Jobs’ speech to introduce the “Think Different” campaign as it speaks to the link between values and brand. To find your “one thing” might be obvious, but for most it requires some research and some soul searching. To find out what customers are buying from you (which may very well be different than what you think you are selling) and what you aspire to become.
Conviction: This is where most brands get into trouble. Companies simply lack the conviction to be clear and talk about their “one thing.” They simply don’t believe enough in their brand position or in their strategy as a company enough to focus on it. They are sustainable, AND fashion-forward AND have the best features. They are value-priced, AND celebrity endorsed AND available for immediate delivery. They are the most established AND the most current AND the safest choice. And because their “but wait, there’s more” approach to brand marketing, leaves customers confused (at best) or creates so much noise, that the signal of their true purpose can never reach their potential customers. And standing, proud enough and long enough to be noticed, requires stamina and perseverance, so can be sure your conviction will be put to the test.
I am as guilty as anyone of taking the “yes, and” approach to branding from time to time. It is human nature to want to please and make our brand relevant to more segments, more customers, and have more value (propositions) than is necessary. Branding is one area where “yes, and” - this communication tool, borrowed from improv - doesn’t apply. You can succeed in negotiations, conflicts, or even creative collaborations using “yes, and” responses, but brand conversations need a lot more “no” and “this, NOT that” clarity. What you say “no” to is the test of strategy and what where you choose not to stand is the test of your brand strategy. It is difficult because you have to fight human nature, sustain under pressure, and have courage. All so that you can stand, with confidence, clarity, and conviction until people think about your “one thing” when they think about your brand.
This article originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.