We live in a brand-saturated world. Everywhere you turn, an advertisement promoting a service or person lurks in the foreground, hoping for your engagement. Branding has evolved, it’s not only found in places like New York City’s Times Square, but also in your everyday barista, mother, server, pastor, or student who represents a personal brand. With internet and social media giving a voice to everyone, everyone has seemingly turned into a brand – or have they? Here is the little black book on branding, defining what it is, how to create one, and answering the million-dollar question: Is everyone a brand?
1. What is a brand?
In the Digital Age, the misuse of the word “brand” is as common as the misuse of the word “love,” used by many but known by few. Once a straightforward, black and white definition, the meaning of “brand” has connotatively evolved into something multi-dimensional and abstract.
a: the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.
For example, let’s take Nike. Traditional branding says the check mark represents the Nike brand, as it is the symbol used to distinguish Nike from its competitors. However, when a young, aspiring athlete sees Olympic gold medalist Alyson Felix run across the finish line with Nike spikes, 15 Grand Slam winner Rafael Nadal walk into Wimbledon with his Nike tennis bag, or Rory McIlroy squat down for a shot wearing a Nike golf hat with a matching Nike polo, it becomes much more than a check mark, but an essential part of athletic victory. These stories and memories, watching the greatest athletes in the world compete in Nike apparel, create an expectation. Nike’s brand becomes the standard for well-crafted athletic wear, proving a progression past the simplicity of a name or logo, into a culmination of created memories, stories, and relationships that truly form a brand.
As branding continued to evolve, a secondary tier developed, the amorphous personal brand. Personal branding is the marketing of yourself in a specific industry or industries with distinguishing characteristics to accomplish a certain mission while yielding some form of influence through a following. You are the product. For example, while the company Apple itself is a brand, billionaire CEO and founder Steve Jobs is also. His personal brand represents untouched genius and a mastermind of innovation and technology, which in turn drove sales and demand for his voice and insight. When you boil it down, personal branding is synonymous with reputation. Intentional or not, how people view you is important when trying to accomplish a goal in business.
2. How do I create a brand?
Branding is the blueprint to entrepreneurship. While there are many details involved in creating a brand, I’ve simplified them into four steps.
Strategize: This is your initial planning. What goods or services are you going to provide? How does your product or service differ from your competitors’? How do you want your customers/clients to feel after working with you? What will their experience be?
Create: What’s the name of your company going to be? What’s the logo going to look like? How does your company’s name and logo appeal to your target market? Do you want a tag line? Secure a consistent website domain name and social media accounts.
Protect: Maintaining a strong and recognizable brand requires an investment, of both time and money. Protect your investment in your brand by getting a federal trademark for your brand name and logo. For more information on trademarks, click here.
Build: You can have the best product or service in the world, but without customers, your business will fail. Build your brand through consistent promotion and delivery of your one of a kind experience. Whether through traditional means like word of mouth, or more advanced methods such as SEO (search engine optimization), get people excited about what you have to offer. Show consumers the distinction between an experience with you and your business, and that of others.
3. Is everyone a brand?
Yes, everyone is a brand, falling into one of two categories: intentional or unintentional personal branding. While some may protest this concept, associating intentional branding as those with overwhelming followings or visibility. Intentional branding is revolved around controlling your own narrative, instead of letting others. Nowadays, one popular way of intentionally building your brand is through social media by strategically sharing your expertise or interests to build a following and certain reputation. Outside of social media, another way to intentionally build your brand is through creating a consistent reputation of certain characteristics such as being a hardworking, honest person to people who you come in contact with such as friends, family members, and co-workers.
Although more risqué, unintentional branding also plays a role. It’s letting the chips fall where they may. Unintentional branding requires no work outside of being yourself. The only potential problem here is found in the unknown abyss called perception. Many times, people perceive things that aren’t true. We label those who are quiet as antisocial, people who are ambitious as aggressive, and people who are friendly as overbearing. Unintentional branding is a game of Russian roulette, and your reputation is at stake. Everyone is brand, whether you like it or not, but the real question is “will you be smart about creating yours?”.
Branding has evolved from a black and white dictionary definition to an amorphous concept that fuels the world. It no longer belongs to only the white-collar magnates, but to any and everyone through four simple steps of strategizing, creating, protecting, and building. While some leave their branding fate in the hands of strangers, many are intentional about how they are perceived. Much like a steak, branding can be as raw or well done as you’d like it, but in the end the fate of your brand rests in your hands.