As the story goes, when Steve Jobs set up his business in the 70s, he didn’t even have a name in mind. At that particular moment in time, he was eating an apple. Rather than spend time deliberating over a name, he decided on a whim that his company would be called Apple Computers.
Nearly 50 years later, Apple looks like anything but a serendipitous accident. Apple’s branding - from commercials to aesthetics to the microcopy on their product pages - is nothing short of pristine. Across just about any industry, they are the gold standard of what it is to create and run a brand.
It took decades for Apple to find its feet, develop its market, and become a household name. Decades of failed products, ousted CEOs, and competitor products. Decades between when Apple started as a business and when it finally became a brand.
And yet here you are, hiring someone to draw a logo for you on day one. Just because you have a business doesn’t mean you have a brand.
Brands don’t just happen. They’re grown from the connection between a business and its audience. How the brand grows directly results from the conditions it is subjected to. Just because you have a business doesn’t mean you have a brand, and vice versa.
“Brand is not what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.”- Marty Neumeier
In this way, brands aren’t unlike people. Some of your traits are naturally ingrained - your hair color, for example. Other traits are gained from your experiences - your personality, how you respond to things, and your preferences or fears. This is the line between nature and nurture. Your brand, like a person, changes depending on how it is nurtured.
To be effective, brands need to feel human. This is why we tie our brand recalibration process directly to the universal archetypes. This is also why I strongly encourage every business we work with to look at their brand through the stages of human development and how it can determine the growth of your business and your brand.
In this article, I will be taking this idea from three angles:
Every human grows and develops in pretty much the same way. We all go through the same stages in the same order, and how we grow within these stages determines what happens next. When we skip or stagnate in stages, our growth is hindered, and we’re stuck in a state of arrested development.
Fetus- The daydream, the inkling of an idea, the thing you’re thinking about while your boss drones on in a meeting or when you wish your paycheck was a little bigger. These are the ideas you have when you’re frustrated with the options in front of you and when you think ,“I can do this better!” Every business starts here, and everyone has a hundred of these ideas throughout their lives. On the one hand, this is the spark that gets people excited and moves the business into the next phase. On the other hand, most businesses never progress beyond this. They die in the dream.
Unless the owner faces enough friction, enough frustration, and can seize upon the opportunity to pick up the phone and make the first call - then it progresses from the fetal stage and into…
Infancy - From day one onward. Your business exists. There is action; things are new and novel and exciting. The world - the whole world! - is about to change and it’s going to be because of you. You’re making something. The product exists and you are earning a bit of income. You discover new ways to talk about it with your friends, family, and potential customers.
You want to run! Nothing would make you happier than seeing rapid growth. But before you can run, you have to learn to walk. And right now, you’re still crawling. But with each step you’re learning more about the world around you and how it impacts what you bring to it. The more experience you have, the more you can test out the first steps.
Childhood - Kids push boundaries. It drives their parents mad, but it is how they learn why they don’t touch the stove or run out into the street. Some of the largest neurological and personality developments happen in the first three years. Likewise, some of the biggest changes to your business identity will happen in your first three years. You’re pushing boundaries in the market, letting competitors and customers know who you are and what you’re offering.
However, most businesses don’t make it past the three-year mark (possibly because they aren’t sure how to endure the “terrible twos”?). On a pragmatic level, businesses close because of financial issues. But this is often an extension of their brand not being honest enough - human enough - to engage with the audience who needed them the most. Moving past this stage is not just about what you can offer an audience but how you’re able to define your business and brand identity.
And identity comes through the experimentation of adolescence.
Adolescence - Of course, once you get comfortable with something, it’s time to start experimenting. As you grow, your limits will be tested. Your brand will be tested. As teenagers get older, they start to experiment with how they fit in with the world around them. They are trying out identities to see how people react, but still never entirely confident that they’ve found a place to belong.
Where do you belong? As you experiment with your brand or try to expand to new audiences, you might get called out for being a “poser” or a contrarian. As your brand grows and is discovered by more people, you’ll likely face more critique. This isn’t necessarily a criticism, it’s feedback - this is your audience telling you what they would like to see from you. You have to ask: how does this information and feedback align with the brand? Does something need to change?
Adulthood - You know who you are and who you appeal to. With your brand and business sitting on a solid foundation, you continue to establish your identity across the global market. You may even find yourself cycling between “riding the wave” and “could I do more?” Growth is steady; things are stable. You can try new things or embellish the nostalgia of something in the past. Not only can you guide your business and brand, but you can also help shape the market and change what newcomers might face.
Old Age - You have made a difference.
When you started your business, you might have wanted to disrupt an existing industry or create a new way of doing something. Now, that new idea is the status quo. Just as our elders tell us about how “this is the way it has always been,” your established brand is what others look to for inspiration and confidence.
As always, you have to look ahead to what is next. You’re established in the market and have done what few are capable of, but where do you go from here? Is it time to change course, go for rebirth and take things from a fetal stage again? Or can you pass the torch to a new generation of thinkers who can take your core principles and share them with a new audience?
Each of these stages are not limited by time. Some can pass in a month; others can stretch for years depending on your specific market. In any case, your business needs to experience the trials and challenges of each stage to properly mature to the next.
It always starts with the ego, doesn’t it? And as much as the ego drives you forward, it can also be the very thing that trips you up. The truth is: you can have a business without a brand, but not an effective brand without a business. Yet, countless businesses worry about their brand on day one - the logo, the website, the attitude - all to feed their ego, all so they can feel like they are doing something worthwhile with their time.
These are the same businesses that focus on what they *think* their audience wants while also spending far too much time trying to help others find their way. It’s the blind leading the blind. These are the businesses that resort to “growth hacks” because they haven’t taken the time to develop through the stages of development that every business needs to endure. Development requires tests, endurance, and failure - the thing everyone wants to skip.
You don’t get the results without the journey. When immature brands and businesses eventually break the trust of their customer, itcan damage the industry as a whole. Like wines and whiskies, stories and brands require time. You may know how they start, but the experience determines where they will finish.
Why is it that most businesses fail to pass the three-year mark?
Well, running a business is kinda boring. Ideas are exciting, but ideas aren’t a business. Ideas aren’t the work required to make the product or deliver the service that the world needs. In so many cases, the founders and creators don’t have what it takes to be effective in their respective markets. They cannot show up every day and do what needs to be done regardless of how they feel on the inside. Everyone loves the idea of running a business and being their own boss, but aren’t willing to give the time and sacrifice that’snecessary to keep things running.
As they say, owning your own business is when you go from a 9-to-5 job to a 24/7 one.
Or, if they do show up, they find themselves focusing in too many directions at once. They are always coming up with and running new ideas, never giving any of them the attention they deserve and watching them fail. On one end is the grind, and the other is burnout.
Most people just can’t hack it. They don’t have the discipline to stay in the game and do all of the grunt work that keeps things moving.
Those who do understand the ideas of compounded consistency. Businesses that grow and develop from one stage to the next are the ones that are worked on every single day. These are the ones who deliver consistent results to their audience - and they can do this because they have taken the time to figure out who their audience is (and, as important, who they are not).
When your audience is focused, your delivery is focused. You can show up daily knowing exactly what needs to be done even though it’s the same thing you did yesterday. Most people get bored with their brand because it’s something they see every single day. But there are still millions of people out there who are seeing you for the first time.
A brand isn’t what you feel about things. It’s what they, your audience, feel. Keeping tabs on these feelings is how businesses develop the flagship product that grows, refines, and becomes the best thing on the market.
Businesses that make it past the three-year mark also have a realistic understanding of the impact their brand can have. We live in a world of mega-brands like Apple and Coke and Chanel and think that every brand needs to work on its level. Yet, most of the clients BAM works with might see 2000 clients in their lifetime. Some may only have five or ten customers a year - and that’s fine. Knowing this helps them better understand how to communicate with the audience who matters most - the more focused the audience, the more human the delivery.
Your solution doesn’t need to be for the entire world. As they say: you can’t please everyone, so just spend your time focusing on the audiences who matter. This is the central idea behind the Big BAM Process - stripping down your business, no matter what stage it is at, and finding ways to focus attention on what matters.
Here’s the first challenge: where are you focused? If you are ready to take the first step and see how your business can change and evolve, then the Big BAM Process is exactly what you need to make your evolution a reality.
It all starts with an email or message to us. Are you brave enough to send it?