With all of the shifts that the Internet has brought, many of us don’t know what to do or even where to start. As our megaphone for getting our stories to the masses has changed, many of us are overwhelmed by the intricacies of these channels. Instead, we need to take a step back and examine the brand behind the digital marketing megaphone.
One of the first pieces of brand DNA we need to look at is what your brand stands for. Many get so lost in the tall grass of identity checklists and agency briefs that we miss that common denominator that underlies everything. This may sound like conceptual fluff, however, at the end of the day standing for something and making a clear statement on who you are is the difference between a Ben and Jerry’s and a Haagen Daz, a Nike and Reebok, or — overused as the example is — a Mac and a PC.
Beyond being conceptual, this often-missed piece of brand DNA could seem challenging to identify and create for your brand. First, you have to define what you’re looking for and how you can find it for your brand.
The Spark That Starts the Fire
Simply put, what we’re looking for when we take this introspective look inside our business is a brand spark. I’ve always been a fan of the concept of a ‘spark’ because it’s the catalyst that starts the fire but not the fire itself. As the dictionary reminds us, it activates and stimulates. It’s the inspiration.
Ben and Jerry’s message of social justice is why they make ice cream. Defining the intersection of technology and liberal arts is why the leaders behind Apple get out of bed every day. Note that neither of these examples focuses solely on their basic product offerings of ice cream and computers. Instead, these sparks speak to bigger issues that bring the brand to life and give it a soul.
In reworking our own brand this past year, we were faced with a similar challenge. On one hand we are an agency. That’s our version of Nike making shoes. However, a fully activated brand must be more than that. As such we looked at what we do on all fronts — this blog, our events, my teaching at the University of Iowa, ebooks, and more — and realized that the spark that ignites us is helping businesses. Whether you hire our agency, attend one of our events, or are one of my students, our spark of helping is the catalyst.
As a spark is something that activates, you should gravitate toward a verb to help figure out what motivates your brand and helps you stand out from the crowd.
So, What Does Your Brand Stand For?
If you are an entrepreneur or the owner or principle of your business, then chances are you have a good idea on that spark that got you off of the bench and into the game. However, it may be hiding as you also have every other aspect of your business from payroll to logistics on your mind. In any case, grab a legal pad — longhand is best for an exploration like this — and take a moment to write out your brand’s creation story. Underline or capitalize active keywords that could be your brand spark in hiding.
Okay, what if you didn’t start the business? If you can, find the founder or principal or someone close to them and repeat the exercise above in an interview format. If you don’t have access to any of these people, take a look at your organization and assemble a short list of trusted team members who best embody your brand. Try to make it a cross-functional team of experts from the product team, marketing, and sales. Once gathered, work through defining why your brand is in business. Beyond providing employment, at some point this business launched to serve a very specific need to your customers, constituents, and community.
All of these exercises should help you boil down the excess clutter that surrounds your brand during the day-to-day hustle and bustle. In the end, you should be left with a simple verb that exemplifies your brand’s purpose and passion.
The Spark Is Just the Beginning
A word of warning: Don’t over think this. This could sound like an academic exercise but nothing could be further from the truth. Identifying your brand spark is a very tactical move to help you build a solid foundation for the marketing programs you create. If you play out the fire-starting metaphor fully, you could say that in uncovering the spark we’re hunting for the best, most flammable materials to put at the very core of our dry wood in hopes of creating a roaring blaze that attracts the masses.
Who are you and what does your brand stand for? Is your brand here to help or to disrupt? To challenge or to build up? To change the world or to bolster your local community? It’s your brand’s fire. Only you know what kind of spark it requires.
Take a look inside, yourself.
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of posts on how to build a better brand in the digital space. Subsequent posts will focus on defining what your brand stands for, who you serve, and the digital touch points you can use to bring it to life, and the advocates you want to rally around you.