The Brandprint – Excerpt

What makes a great brand?

Branding is the new black. Suddenly, everyone is talking about it, and we can’t get enough of it. From major corporate powerhouses to your high school friend who is self-proclaimed “Facebook-famous”, the age of social and digital media has opened up our awareness to how others perceive who we are and what we are about.

But what is branding? Lots of people like to throw the term branding around as a substitute for marketing, self-promotion, obnoxious selfies, etc. As Peggy Lee said, “Is that all there is”?

For the purposes of our time together during this book, I suggest we look at branding in the following manner. You have created a successful brand strategy if:

1. It translates: what you say and think about yourself starts to be what others say and think about you too;
2. It influences: you can motivate fans of your brand to do something;
3. It profits: you begin to see monetary return as a direct or indirect result of your techniques.

On translation
Well, if you are like Kanye West, you might be thinking: “I don’t care what other people think about me”. Well, according to my rules above for creating a great brand, if you think this, then both you and Kanye both have failed the test. In this instance, he thinks very highly of himself. He scores well in that category. He is the number one brand ambassador for himself and takes pride in every step (or misstep) as he goes along. However, others don’t seem to be buying it anymore. Even fans like myself (who will play the earlier albums back to back and sing every lyric, much to my neighbor’s dismay), are not picking up what he is putting down. The ego has reached the tipping point. While a healthy amount of ego can draw fans to you, Kanye’s ego has led to stunts like a 2016 Vanity Fair video asking celebrities to read (and mock) his tweets. Collectively we, the citizens of the Internet, hate where the brand is going. I would argue that this is mostly because it fails to include us. There is no room in Kanye’s brand/ego for anyone but, well, Kanye.

When thinking about brand translation, remember that your fans are always going to be asking, “what’s in it for me”? This doesn’t mean that you need to be hokey about sending them free gifts and diluting your brand capital every time they like a post on your page. What it does mean is that fans want to participate in your brand. In the Yeezy example, we want there to be room for us to share in the success. The fans want to be the ones congratulating you, not listening to you congratulate yourself. A good formula to remember is that as a brand, you want to provide the building blocks or the equation. You can give them the “1+1”, and then let the audience yell out “2!, It’s 2!”. In other words, your messaging should communicate to us and ask us if we are on the same page. Your promotion should allow your audience the space to say, “Yea, I’m feeling that”. If we see a new great album by our favorite artist, we want to be ones that break the news to our social media friends that it is fabulous. If we feel proud we will become true ambassadors for the artist.

It seems simple enough, but lots of brands forget to communicate with their digital audiences and have one-sided conversations. This is often referred to as broadcasting. Broadcasting as a sole social and digital media tactic will not help you to build the trust and engagement you will need for the next metric: influence.

On Influence
Influence does NOT mean how many people are talking about you. It also does not mean how many people follow you. Contrary to what many social media “experts” out there say, to me it also does not mean how many people are “engaged” with your content. To me, influence is simply put: how many people can you get to move?
My husband and I spent a good amount our careers throwing and hosting events in New York City. When it comes to pounding the pavement, there is no pavement like an NYC pavement. There is competition everywhere when you are promoting an event. It comes in many forms, including other events, clubs and bars, Netflix, train schedules, weather, and more. Still, we managed to pack rooms of 900 or more, sell out concerts, and be solicited again and again for our network. We got paid for our ability to get people to show up. In this instance, if we measured only the “engagement” with our advertising, we would have to count all the people who responded to our texts and invites and never showed up anywhere, not the one that came through the door and helped to make us money.

The digital space ain’t so different. After all, social media IS social. And influence works online just as it does in the real world. If you share an article with your Twitter followers, will they blindly repost it or will they READ it? When you invite people to an online event, do they come? Can you run a successful crowdfunding campaign? Can you Beyoncé-style drop your album with no publicity and break the Internet?

One way to complete the shift from a brand that simply engages to one that is influential is to create a purpose-driven platform. Your brand should reflect something you truly love, and in a field where you care passionately about making an impact. With this approach, you will more easily find your tribe in the digital space – the types of individuals who would be happy becoming ambassadors for your brand, because they care deeply about the same issues.

To elaborate on Queen Bey, Beyoncé created 2016 Super Bowl fandemonium after her (only one-day prior) release of her hit “Formation”. The song and accompanying video with its bold activist slant and powerful imagery, “allowed” more dormant fans to align with her brand, aloud. Many came to her defense on social media as a champion of the Black Lives Matter movement, New Orleans & Katrina, financial power, Black Panthers and of feminists everywhere. Her fans suddenly expanded from the dedicated “Bey-hive” to all those who believed in justice and freedom. If you didn’t get in Formation, you obviously weren’t “woke” enough”. This purpose-driven song became 2016’s Black History month anthem, and ignited her base and beyond. A group of protesters planned an anti-Beyoncé rally following her Super Bowl performance, which was instead met with zero protesters and instead of dozens of fans showing up in the rain to showcase their support. Oh, and then she sold over one million tickets in 48 hours for a previously unannounced tour of the same name. Convinced yet? That’s influence.

On profit
Early in my career as a consultant, I was sitting in a meeting with a client who when asked how he planned to make money with his career as an artist, simply replied, “I don’t”. He went on to elaborate on how when he creates, he doesn’t think about making a profit or survival. As a person who pursued a degree in acting, I totally empathized. However, profit is much more important than you think to your success ¬– even if you are a purpose-driven brand or passionate artist.

It’s easy to demonize the thought of making money at doing something you love. Because making a profit requires you receive a bigger return than the investment you put in, focusing on creating a profit can seem in direct opposition to the enjoyable experience of giving your talents freely. We often resist “tarnishing” our creative bliss, refusing to focus on the end result. When building a brand or new business, we still want to feel that same transformative high, and often feel we can’t achieve that unless we remain pure and dedicated to our art. People will organically dig what we are doing, and there is no need to focus on becoming rich. As long as we build it, the money will come. Right?

Well, no.

Did any of that seem familiar to you? Were you nodding your head in agreement? Well, this kind of thinking can be very damaging, and not just to your bank account. Even Shakespeare had a patron. And while money won’t make you happy, studies have shown that not having money definitely makes you sad. I propose that even if you don’t plan on becoming monetarily wealthy from building your brand, you should still focus on the ratio between what you put in and what you receive in return.

In order to become successful, you must focus on keeping your costs (whether those be financial, emotional or physical) low and your profits high. For artists and other creative types in particular there should be a clear separation between work made for self-indulgence and work made for consumption.

When we talk about building a brand, we are talking about engaging others in the consumption of our products. We then must approach the process like any businessperson, focusing on the return on our investment. Its not that you can’t do other things for charity or personal enjoyment¬–it’s that you don’t spend valuable time, money, or efforts unless it is going to generate a large return. So if you are someone who has a variety of talents and hobbies, ask yourself these three things:

1. What is it that I specialize in, that makes me unique?
2. What is it that I do for which there is a broad demand?
3. What service or product can I provide that costs me the least amount of effort, time and money?

The answer to these questions will tell you precisely where you should spend your focus while creating your brand.

A note for branding “Overachievers”
Some of you may still not be ready to let go of your “multiple personalities”, i.e. all the wonderful things that you do that you would like to promote. You’re thinking, “…ok but my brand is versatile and I have multiple brand extensions and so I need to do this process three or four times.” STOP IT!

Take this example for instance: You call a plumber to fix a leaky pipe. You need them immediately and find them after a quick Google search. When on the phone with you, they start to tell you about their gardening service, Jacuzzi sales, solar panel installations… and your leaky pipe leaks on. This is called brand confusion, and it can be detrimental to all of your efforts.

Personal brands suffer from this type of brand confusion most often, as people naturally resist segmenting, labeling, and categorizing themselves. We want our fans and consumers to know the whole person. However well intentioned, this doesn’t work as a branding strategy.

I call this conundrum the “Happy Meal vs. Steak Dinner” problem. What we want to provide our fans is like an expensive steak dinner: a full meal with all the trimmings, multiple courses and an unforgettable experience. We want them to engage with every aspect of us, and to provide them with all of the knowledge and talents we have all at once. The issue with “steak dinner” branding is that it is expensive. It costs us lots of time to execute flawlessly, and then even more time to build trust from our consumers to buy into what we are selling. What our fans want is more like a Happy Meal: a small, digestible package that doesn’t cost them a lot of money, time or effort to partake in. Think of creating your branding product as breaking off a little piece of yourself for the purposes of mass consumption. On your side, you want to focus on something that is easy for you to duplicate, so you won’t feel drained and depleted. For your fans, they want something easy to access so they can decide whether they are hungry for more.

So to summarize:

The best product or service that is unique to you +
The highest return on investment of money, time and effort +
Packaging in small, digestible bites for mass consumption =
The focus of your brand strategy plan (your Brandprint)