Editor’s note: Veteran entrepreneur and investor Donald Thompson writes a weekly column on leadership, startups and diversity. His columns appear on Wednesdays.
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Building a brand that stands out from the noise is easier than you think. But it requires that you do some prep work first in order to understand your own identity and create a narrative around it. Brand identity is so much more than just your logo and tagline. It is an embodiment of your internal culture, what Harvard Business Review calls the “culture-brand connection.” The best brands use every interaction to communicate not only what they do but also who they are and why they do it.
How do you build a powerful brand identity? First, you have to know who you are. Define your mission, vision and values then work to create a cohesive story that expresses them authentically. Don’t try to be all things to all people. With trust at an all-time low, consumers are more sensitive than ever to inauthentic and inconsistent messages. If you don’t understand who you are and how you are different from everyone else in the market, I promise your audience will notice immediately.
I’ll share an example. Today, my team at The Diversity Movement launched our new music video, “Who We Are.” It’s a collaboration with local singer-songwriter Autumn Nicholas, featuring images of our friends, family, and partners in the Triangle, including the NC Courage soccer team, paralympian Desmond Jackson, Ablr CEO John Samuel, and local artist King Nobuyoshi Godwin.
It might sound strange for business strategists to produce a music video, but I love unique and unusual brand-building methods. This music video does a great job telling our authentic brand story and communicating our internal culture in a way that feels unexpected. Its words and images showcase our core values in a way that facts and figures can’t. Of course, we have our share of data-driven sales sheets too, but “Who We Are” tells a similar story in powerful visuals and stirring lyrics. With a focus on the business case for inclusion, it is exciting to also share our passion for this work as it relates to connecting, celebrating and embracing people.
How do you build your own brand identity? Here are my 4 top tips.
“Storytelling” has been a marketing buzzword for years, but most small businesses and startups are only recently learning to think of their brands in this way. Connect with your audience by thinking of your brand as a long-arc storyline in which every social post, banner ad, video, blog article, and podcast is an episode. As Inc. magazine explains in Why Storytelling Is More Important Than Building a Presence Online, “your customers don’t just want a product or service. They want an experience.” Look to create a cohesive and consistent story of interconnected pieces that each reflect your values and market differentiators.
Our brains are wired to absorb information when it’s presented in narrative form because stories naturally activate our emotional responses. To tap that power, you have to consider what you want your audience to feel — not just think — about your brand. In terms of emotional storytelling, business-to-business organizations have so much to learn from consumer-facing brands. We tend to lead with logic and facts, but that’s not the best way to make an impact over time.
The Forbes article How to Shape Your Brand in a Post-Truth World explains it well. “How brands make people feel will always open the door to the more rational aspects of purchase decision-making,” they write. “Your ‘why’ has more perception-shaping potential than the ‘what’ and ‘how.’” In other words, it’s not the facts that tell the story. It’s the story that helps us feel connected to the facts.
Once you’ve developed a clear understanding of your brand identity and brand story, look for small moments to share who you are and why you do what you do. As long as your team is using shared language about your brand, not everything needs to be meticulously planned. Depending on the story you want to tell, you may choose to share photos of team training sessions, brainstorming meetings, games or friendly competitions in your office, birthday celebrations or progress milestones. Camera phones and social media make it easy to tell your story small moments throughout the week, but remember not to exhaust your followers by over-posting. 2-3 times a week is enough, and it’s always better to share excellent content on only one platform than share mediocre or redundant content in a dozen different places.
One other low-cost way to build your brand and establish yourself as a thought leader is to share what you know in ebooks, white papers and guides. There’s an old joke that “no one reads anymore,” but in my experience that’s just not true. My executive colleagues read lots of long-form content, especially if it presents helpful information or perspectives from other leaders. We want to know what industry leaders are doing to create success. If you can provide that same content in audio and/or video format so people have multiple ways to learn, then that’s even better.
In sum, developing your brand identity means understanding who you are and how you want your audience to feel about you. It means telling a story that’s emotional and authentic in cohesive images, videos, social posts and reputable written content. You don’t need expensive ad campaigns to get started, but you do need to take the time for self-reflection and understand how each piece ties into your bigger narrative. Put those foundational elements in place, and you’re off to a great start.
About the Author
Donald Thompson is an entrepreneur, public speaker, author, podcaster, Certified Diversity Executive (CDE) and executive coach. With two decades of experience growing and leading firms, he is a thought leader on goal achievement, influencing company culture, and driving exponential growth. He is also co-founder and CEO of The Diversity Movement, a results-oriented, data-driven strategic partner for organization-wide diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Donald serves as a board member for several organizations in marketing, healthcare, banking, technology and sports. His autobiography, “Underestimated: A CEO’s Unlikely Journey to Success,” launches this fall. Connect with Donald on LinkedIn and at donaldthompson.com.