The Four Noble Truths of Branding

In a world full of competing voices, your brand needs the one that speaks on a higher, emotional level. That emotional level, for better or worse, represents your brand.

Why is Apple so successful? Sure, the products are sound. But, you could find comparable examples across the market. It’s the way Apple makes you feel. An Apple product elicits a certain emotion, even if it’s not one that you can define with your mind. You make an emotional investment when you purchase any product, Apple included. These aren’t always rational decisions, folks.

That irrational decision-making trait of your customer base is driven by your brand. Do you have one that speaks to your customers? Are you consistent? Can you even define who you are?

These are the four noble truths of branding and how they exist in the world.

1. Seek deep understanding.

Who are you? If you had to define who you are as a person, could you?

You’d probably mention something about your career, maybe how much you love chocolate ice cream with gummy worms on rainy days even though you know it’s totally weird. Maybe you’d mention your faith, or your family, or how you love to go to feed the birds in the park on Sunday.

But is that who you really are? Effectively, you’re listing characteristics, not the core of who you are. This is a trap brands tend to run into. They list features and quirks and puffed-up mission statements, effectively evading the establishment of a true core value.

Take Patagonia. The outdoor clothing company maintains their commitment to building the best product, causing no unnecessary harm, using business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. And, working from their core, they launched the Common Threads Initiative, urging people to protect the planet by reducing excess consumption. Patagonia even encouraged customers to bring used products to them to be fixed or recycled instead of buying new things that they don’t need.

Emotionally connecting with your base + living your values: that’s good branding. The company saw revenues grow 30 percent the year following the campaign, and they saw another 6 percent growth the year after that.

2. Fly your freak flag.

You can’t be everything to everyone, especially in the constantly evolving media landscape. Gone are the days of 95% penetration rates and mass-marketing idealism. The new world is unforgiving to brands that refuse to differentiate, drowning them out in a sea of competition.

This isn’t a bad thing. Quite the opposite actually. We now have the ability to know what advertising content is resonating and what isn’t. Our audiences can be heavily segmented, allowing us to push our messages at the exact moment an ideal customer is making their decision.

But that is just technology working for us. What about true, deep branding? How do you find your 1,000 true fans, the ones who live and breathe your brand?

Let’s take advantage of these new relationships that we can have with customers. Never before could we directly interact with them on a personal level. The one-to-many model is over. It’s done. The one-to-one era has arrived.

How do you differentiate if you have a comparable product? Let your eccentricities be your differentiator.

Take for instance Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital in metro Detroit. The hospital functions like a luxury hotel more than a hospital. And why not? Why shouldn’t hospital stays feel less clinical, and more comforting?

These seemingly benign tweaks can have a huge impact on your customer’s experience. In HFWB’s case, it was a shift in perspective. In your business, it could be something as simple as a cheeky shipment confirmation email. Think about what makes you unique and double-down.

3. Consistency is key.

Chick-fil-A has a commitment to its employees and customers: They treat them like family. Understanding the importance of these close relationships, Chick-fil-A is closed on Sundays so that employees can set aside a day to rest and spend time doing things that are more important than business.

Chick-fil-A’s choice to remain closed on Sundays is an ideal example of consistency. Their commitment to creating the best possible experience for families isn’t just a fancy thing they say; they make it a part of their operation. They practice what they preach.

Some might assume that this has a negative effect on Chick-fil-A’s bottom line. It doesn’t. In fact, Chick-fil-A has some of the most fervent and dedicated followers, beating out top fast food chains year after year to win as America’s favorite fast food restaurant.

4. Be who your fans need you to be.

What if TOMS Shoes chose to stop practicing their one-for-one model, a project that is synonymous with their brand and has defined them for the masses? Maybe you’re thinking that is an extreme example. You might say, “Never. That would never happen! That model is in TOMS DNA.”

You’re right; they would never do that. It would be brand suicide, to be sure. Think about the visceral reaction their fans would have to such a fundamental shift in values.

Your brand can live on that level. Those values are so tightly connected with TOMS because they live and breathe them. The brand is coherent, consistent and exactly who their fans need it to be at all times.

Chick-fil-A doesn’t open on Sundays. TOMS Shoes will never stop giving shoes away. What does your brand do that defines your brand so much that it would cease to be different if it stopped?

When you can answer that question, you know who you are to your customers. Just do that better every day.