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Pretend You're an Amnesiac
A Brief Primer
Branding. Most people think that “brand” begins and ends with the logo, when the truth is much more than that. Essentially, a brand is an idea and perceived value formed by its intended audience based on a company’s culture, product, and service. An identity system that includes the logo and colour scheme is typically the starting point of a brand, but it can branch out to exactly how you word things to customers, to what type of people you hire, to what furniture you even want to use. Tyler Durden says, You’re not your khahkis. With branding, you’re not your frigging logo. Not quite.
So how do you get your brand to dance and sing? Branding for another company is already quite a venture, but branding yourself is almost a completely different animal altogether. The main difference with branding your company versus a client, is that there are restrictions with your client. With you, there’s typically none. And worst of all, you may even have to get philosophical about it!
The best way to go about tackling this project, in my opinion, is to pretend you’re an amnesiac. A new company without a brand is just like an amnesiac — there’s a general feeling over how things should be, but you are completely lost. An amnesiac has a previously established personality perceived by those around him, but has no idea how to define it.
Who am I? What am I?
When you are trying to define a brand, it’s best to get back to basics. Who are you? What do you like to eat? What movies do you enjoy? What music do you listen to? What do you absolutely hate? Define who you think you are… and then, without revealing that, ask others to reveal who they think you are. Back in September, I asked some friends and strangers to play a game — in three adjectives, describe “Lea Alcantara.” The important part is making sure you get a varied number of people with different levels of relation to you to answer this honestly. The results can be very enlightening, as it reveals the depth of this person’s relationship with you as well as how you are perceived. It would be best to ask these people individually so they’re not influenced by what others have already said.
Here are the responses I received:
|Via||Sister||Forever||n/a||Creative, Funny, Intelligent|
|Ana||Sister||Forever||n/a||Funky, Aggressive, Sweet|
|Brett||Ex-Boyfriend||3 years||n/a||Passionate, Impatient, Loving|
|Jason||Best Guy Friend||8 years||n/a||Compelling, Poised, Controversial|
|Elina||Great College Friend||5 years||n/a||Enthusiastic, Independent, Meticulous|
|Anika||Girlfriend of Friend||Few months||n/a||Smart, Assertive, Sassy|
|Dora||Good Friend from High School||8 years, off and on||n/a||Vivacious, Larger-than-life, Exuberant|
|James||Online Friend + Client||2 years||Never Met||Quirky, Sharp, Stubborn|
|Nathan||Online Friend||Few months||Never Met||Independent, Sassy, Bright|
|AJ||Online Acquiantance||Few weeks||Never Met||Diminutive, Girly, Frivolous|
|Abadi||Stranger||n/a||n/a||Funky, Sophisticated, Happening|
What was interesting was people, no matter their relationship with me or length of time, already had a few distinct impressions of me: namely, intelligence and some sort of sassy attitude attached. Naturally, that pleased me, as that was how I would have liked to be portrayed. This is the time you compare the notes you wrote about yourself to what others mentioned.
Now, most of the adjectives are going to be positive because of the nature of my relationship to these people, but it’s interesting to note less uplifting adjectives: diminutive, girly, frivolous. Harsh as they sounded, it actually proved to be a very valuable critique. I fired off an e-mail to AJ and asked him to explain what he meant, and he proceeded to give me a detailed critique that mentioned that pitfalls in choosing a name like “lealea” — that I had to be aware that some will think of it too childish or girly. He mentioned I could get over that by extending my personality as part of my brand and it would justify the name. And I went about and did just that. Now the fact that my website has a feminine slant along with a quirky name and identity has made it unique and memorable.
Use your perceived disadvantages to your advantage!
Where am I? Who are you?
Be aware of your surroundings and who you’re speaking or pitching to. Will you do a lot of local business? International business? What’s your target market? Define these, and then do your research!
Some people have mentioned they found the “tone” of my website refreshing because it wasn’t drowning in fancy business lingo. I made a conscious effort while creating the copy for this website to remain friendly and open, but professional at the same time. This would make sense, because of the types of clients I would like to have — would the arts community welcome a more conservative tone? Not at all. But here’s the thing: I have had a couple of conservative-type clients anyway, despite all this colourful funkiness. How did that happen? Well, because they still liked my work and despite the fact they had more subdued leanings, they appreciated my attitude and are hopeful that whatever “edge” I have in creating this site would be reflected on their work, too. It’s very important to be yourself and brand yourself accordingly — like people will be drawn to you, and those that aren’t similar to you that are still drawn respect where you come from.
How'd I get here?
Remember, remember your roots. When researching and thinking about your brand, ask yourself what brought you to this point in your life to launch a new company, website, identity, what-have-you. Where do you come from and how did you get where you’re at? Remember — your brand must tell some type of story. If you have no roots, you have no history, so why would someone care about your brand or identity if you don’t have anything to back it up?
Never stop asking questions — but also know which answers are most relevant to you. When I was creating my logo and colour scheme, there was a little bit of hesitation regarding the pink. Some absolutely hated it, others loved it. What was I supposed to do? Who should I have listened to? The answer is, of course, yourself. In the end, you have to decide what information given to you is relevant, and don’t be afraid to negate what some have said because sometimes it could be down to personal preferences at this point. Everyone has an opinion. People already have a perceived notion of what they think you should be like, and that could colour their thinking. That’s not to say you should dismiss what others say, but remember to file the bits of info where they belong.
Put it all together
Branding can get as extreme or as subtle as you want. There are many important aspects to branding yourself, but here’s the main thing that you should etch in your brain: be consistent. It’s a simple enough idea, but it’s often bungled up.
A small anecdote that I heard at a business seminar: A company decides to launch a brand new website that caters to youth. The website is fun, interactive, has exactly the right pitch and body copy, and it drew a lot of visitors. Unfortunately, the company didn’t make much money. Why was that? After some investigation, we find out that the company’s physical office was completely wrong: the interior of the place was cold and dark, reminded teens of the principal’s office, and the ancient secretary they had at the front also didn’t help matters. While their website was jumping with youthful vitality, their office was not. The branding was inconsistent, added confusion, and made their potential customers wary.
Again, your brand is more than just your logo or even your website: it is everything that involves your company! You shouldn’t show up to a client’s meeting wearing a grey suit and tie if they run a motorcycle store, the same way you wouldn’t show up in t-shirts and jeans to a financial institution. Be consistent. And most of all, be honest.
Short and Sweet
Who am I? What am I? Where am I? Who are you? How’d I get here? You don’t need to be a rogue secret-agent to ask these questions. With a little bit of work, you’ll be on your way to defining your own brand!