“Branding” is a tricky thing to talk about. It’s one of those things where we all seem to know it when we see it, when we feel it, but to speak about brands and branding objectively, most of us are at it a loss.
Fortunately, in the past few years, we are seeing far more conversations where business owners are finally coming around to the idea that having a “brand” goes way beyond a nifty logo, a colour scheme, or a clever domain name. However, we’re still a long way from discussing brand as alignment.
What is Brand Alignment? Dear business owner: know thyself. I’m willing to bet your brand is nowhere near as strong as it could be, purely because you built it on the wrong foundation.
Because without alignment, your brand will:
If your brand isn’t aligned, no one will align with you. It’s like what all of those dating coaches say: can you really love someone else if you don’t love yourself first?
Years ago, a viral TEDx talk from Simon Sinek went viral. “Start with why,” he said as he walked us through his golden circle of messaging. His idea: don’t start with what you’re trying to sell. Instead, start your messaging with why you got into business in the first place. The video took off, millions of views and shares, thousands of bits of content referred to it, and the branding world knew it had to reckon with it.
Does Simon’s theory work? For most, no. While it put forth clever talking points, it missed one essential element: WHO.
Before you can comprehend the WHY, HOW, and WHAT of your brand, you have to know the WHO. Your “Why” doesn’t mean anything unless you fully comprehend who you are as a brand and how that brand relates to those you are trying to help.
The brands who figured it out started with WHO. With this article, I want to emphasize three points for the why and how of brand alignment.
The Essentialism of Alignment
What Sinek Missed
For what it’s worth, Simon Sinek got many companies to reassess what they offer and how they offer it – this is a grand undertaking for just about any company. It turned their approach around: you weren’t just selling things; you were selling the why you started the company in the first place. For some companies, this meant their purpose was brought to the front lines for the first time ever. For others, it meant they had to go back to square one and figure out what their purpose was in the first place. (Can we just say, “We’re in business to make lots of money so we can make a difference? No?”).
Like everyone else who tries to dish out a free masterclass in a fifteen-minute TED talk, the audience ran with the ideas in every conceivable direction except the one that mattered most. They were told to start with Why, but they didn’t think about The Who.
“The goal is not to do business with the people who want what you have, but to do business with the people who believe what you believe.” - Sinek
And herein lies the rub: the question of Who? The “who” isn’t necessarily your audience avatar or market segment – at least, not yet. First, you have to ask the question: What do YOU believe?
The answer will lead you to other essential questions, such as:
What are you known for?
What do you want to be known for?
The grand “Who” ultimately determines the “Why” at the center of Sinek’s Golden Circle. Those you can best serve are merely a refraction of what you represent. The “Who” determines the group of people you fit with and the communities you can help foster. The “Who” drives the narrative of alignment and determines every other element of your brand. So why isn’t everyone starting with determining who they are? The sad truth of it – and this is likely a bigger, existential problem than what can be discussed here: most people have no idea who they are. The world is in a state of continuous identity crisis – and this bleeds over into their business and what they are trying to offer the world. They ultimately fail to deliver on their authentic selves.
Without authenticity, there is no alignment.
BAM Starts With The Who
To date, the BAM collective has guided over 3,000 companies and individuals through our brand development process. With every organization we have guided, we start with the same question: Who The Hell Are You?
The BIG BAM Process starts with Identity. Who you are, determines who they, your clients, will be. This goes beyond who you, John or Jane Doe, might be and beyond what you think your company or business looks like. The key to your identity is partly determined by what others perceive it to be.
What you have already internalized as your brand’s identity is worthless compared to the external demands of your customers. The balance between what they demand and what you can offer is in constant and continuous refinement, much like how light through a prism is always changing depending on every other variable.
Consider the Kapferer Brand Identity Prism.
Six variables stretched across four different perspectives. The Internal/ External of the customer and the Internal/ External of you, the company. Think of a beam of light that cuts through the prism. The internal culture of your brand will determine the kind of relationship you have with your customers. Your physical attributes will be internalized and adopted as a part of your audience’s self-image. The personality you foster within is reflected in how they amplify, engage, interact, or buy into your brand.
And this is just where we start.
We take this and analyze your brand positioning. Your external product should relieve the client’s internal pain: what is it? Once you know this position, you can determine how to best present your product, the sort of language you use, the visuals, and so on.
“Brand is not what you say it is. It’s what THEY say it is.” - Marty Neumeier
It’s not about saying “trust us, we’re the experts” (your personality) but getting the audience to reflect this by saying, “Trust them, They’re the experts.” Everything a company does with its brand should reinforce its authenticity to confirm with the audience the very thing you want to be known for.
We use the term GUIDE with great intention. This goes far beyond what Sinek first said about how great leaders lead. We know that great leaders guide.
It’s only after we have determined Identity, done the Analysis, and found ways for your brand to serve as a guide that we start developing the outward-facing strategies. This goes from the “WHY” to the audience you’re doing it for. There is often a lot that happens here, and you have to do it over and over again. With 8 billion (and counting) people in the world, your strategy needs to vary from one quarter to the next if you’re going to hit the people who need you the most. Every new strategy yields new pockets of people you are meant to help.
The best part? Because you’re working in alignment with your brand, you shorten the lead qualification process. Are these people the right customer for you? Well, they aligned with you – so you bet they are.
From your Identity, we start to shape your Offer. Everything to this point is to get people to show up – so now it’s a matter of what you can offer them. Now you deliver the answer to the question: “well, now what?” With the right offer presented in the right way, buying into you is a no-brainer. There’s less need for sales because the customer already knows they need what you have – yet another gain from alignment.
Strategy, offer, messaging – it’s all coming together. Alignment determines the best way to share your offer with the world. Social media or direct mail? Twitter or LinkedIn? One-on-one or a 1,000 person seminar? The top of the funnel isn’t the start of your brand journey; the implementation of the brand alignment is.
What are they putting down versus what you are going to offer up?
Taking time To Evaluate
Win or lose, the value is in the debriefing. If you put in all the effort and didn’t draw out a dime, figure out why. Where did things fall apart? What variables can you change? Chances are, you wandered outside of your alignment. Whatever the case, there’s not much use in making the same mistakes over and over again.
Are you a household name? Great. How are you going to hold on to that position? How many Apple-wannabes are out there? How easy is it to copy what you do?
Brand Alignment is EVERYTHING
Chances are, there is something your company is struggling with. As of this writing, in early 2022, companies all over the world are struggling to retain their workforce and talent. They are fighting for attention in an increasingly competitive and expensive advertising marketplace. Supply chains disruptions are causing late delivery in everything from raw materials to finished products.
Can brand alignment really alleviate these issues? Absolutely.
When you know who you are and what makes you different before you approach the “why,” you save a lot of time and resources by attracting audiences who are right for you, customers who don’t need as much selling or convincing, and brand acolytes who will speak on your behalf.
Alignment keeps you in your lane. Brands that wander usually find themselves in some kind of trouble – offering services beyond your scope, marketing messaging that doesn’t fit with your audience or trying to compete with brands that aren’t even in your field. For a large company, this means risking money that will have you losing shareholders. For smaller companies, you may overexert your workforce and bring on burnout. If you’re like so many we know, solopreneurs can find themselves extending beyond their alignment and finding themselves failing. Not just as a brand, but even as a business, even as a person.
Knowing yourself is understanding that you can’t be everything to everyone.
And all of this starts with the Who. Who are you?
Who are you to your clients?
What do you want to be known for?
Are you brave enough to find out?