Move fast, buy fast, sell fast, decide fast, talk fast, think fast — most of the entrepreneurs and CEOs I work with function in worlds where everything is moving at top velocity. Speed is sacrosanct. Success comes from being the fastest thinker or mover in the room. Slowing down means risking someone passing you.
But I want to throw an old idea out there. When it comes to building a corporate brand, or even a personal one, slow down. Do it right and don’t cut corners. On the surface, it seems like an old-fashioned approach. We all function in a modern economy where nearly everything is instantly available, and where things change, or move, faster every day. Here I am suggesting: Take it slow enough to build a solid brand.
I get it: putting time into building a brand feels boring and slow. It’s not as fun as just going for it, which many people, entrepreneurs in particular, love doing.
But here’s why doing a brand right matters.
If the blueprint is weak, the foundation will fall
A brand is a blueprint for every decision you’re going to make about your business. It touches everything. With a solid brand, you waste less time. You don’t need to figure out what works for your audience or customers at each junction, because you already know. You can tackle every business decision from a place of knowing, not guessing.
Which means you can move faster, and more effectively, than your competitors when real word opportunities or changes come up unexpectedly.
I have a client that can spin up a national ad campaign in less than 48 hours because they already know what messages work, and what ad platforms best reach their audience. The ad content, key messages, and visuals have internal buy-in, and have been tested in the market. When the market changes, they take advantage of PR opportunities and start making (or taking) media calls because the team is locked down on messaging, goals and brand. There’s no time wasted on approvals, thinking, or guessing. They know. And they act.
While their competitors falter and look for their footing, my client takes advantage of every opportunity that arises in strideIt results in a huge lift in brand awareness, and customer acquisition.
Part of the reason companies, investors, or entrepreneurs put off brand building is an incomplete understanding of what a brand is. Launching a platform, critical service, or product? Slap a logo on it, maybe one your nephew did as a favour, or one you got from a discount provider. Done. Branded.
Not so fast.
Your brand is more than a logo
Let’s be clear: your brand is not a logo. When I talk to clients about their brand, colour palette and fonts are almost the last things on my mind. I want to hear a story. What are you about? Why did you start this company? What does this company value? What’s your company doing that no one else is? What problem have you solved? What are your goals now, and 1, 5, 10 years from now? How do your customers talk about you?
Questions like these help set the foundation of a brand — the blueprint. And blueprints aren’t meant to be rolled up and left on a shelf in someone’s office. They’re meant to be used as a strategy for building something great. They spur action and instructions that a company, or a person, can follow.
Logos, websites, messaging, social media platforms, PR, C-suite thought leadership, SEO, paid and earned media, marketing tactics, customer service approaches, sales tactics, and yes, even colour palettes, grow out of the blueprint. Not the other way around. Otherwise all you have is a bunch of useless tools or elements that don’t have a clear, effective purpose. And your brand flounders in a sea of competitors, who may not have built their brands either.
During tough times, a solid brand foundation can hold everything together and keep teams focused on what matters. A brand with depth and integrity can even withstand a few mistakes — as long as everyone comes back to the blueprint and refocusses.
Personal brands are not exempt
Well thought out brands are important for individuals too — especially entrepreneurs banking on their personal brand to drive their service or company, or for highly charismatic leaders who are symbiotically linked with organizations (think Sara Blakely and Spanx). The same rules apply: know your brand, know what it means, and know how to use it.
There are, of course, some major distinctions between a corporate brand and a personal brand. A personal brand has to be something you can live with. It’s you — or at least a version of yourself you can apply to your professional life, consistently and authentically.
Building a personal brand can be incredibly challenging because it requires brutal honesty and an openness about who you are, what you can handle, what you feel comfortable sharing with your audience, and how you’re going to present yourself. I advocate for authenticity because personal brands built on anything else fall apart under pressure.
If you’re not a funny person, don’t make humour part of your brand. If you publish content about how much community means to you, don’t ignore your community. Your audience will see through it and drift away.
Recently, I’ve noticed experts in the coaching industry chipping away at their brand foundation. On their platforms, some of these high-profile coaches encourage people to message them or to connect — to share their goals, or their story, or what they’re struggling with. And people do! But these coaches, whose brand equity is built in community, caring, and communication, never respond.
It’s damaging to their personal brands, because would-be audiences (and potentially paying customers) become disillusioned. Rightfully so. Remember: audiences don’t just talk to brands. They talk to each other, and they have the power to dismantle and ditch brands that don’t meet their expectations or don’t act as promised. Maintaining brand reputation is just as important as building it.
All brands, from corporate identities to transformational leaders, need to live up to the brand they’ve built. Brands need to check in on their promises — their blueprint — and keep delivering accordingly. If the foundation was wobbly in the first place, maintaining integrity becomes impossible. Everything comes tumbling down.
Take the time to build a brand that will last — one that will outshine and outpace its competitors. You can go fast. Just slow down a little first.