Brand Building Isn’t a Happy Accident. Take These Steps to Find Success.

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February 28, 2021 6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

All you need is an idea, a little grit, and an empty garage to launch a global brand. Right? That’s the story we’ve happily internalized for years. Perhaps it explains why ideas like Juicero and MoviePass not only saw the light of day but were generously funded before their spectacular demises. Or why, despite the endless void that is our current health and economic crisis, the rate of business applications in the U.S. has surged to a 13-year high, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Yes, the barriers to building a business are startlingly low, but the same doesn’t hold true for building a brand. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Brit, aren’t ‘brand’ and ‘business’ synonymous?” I don’t think so. Businesses sell you stuff; brands make you feel stuff. Businesses can be created overnight; brands must be built over time. Businesses are owned; brands are communal. True brands — the ones that get into our hearts — deliver inherent, intangible value.

Related: 9 Tips for Creating an Awesome Brand

So how do you create value beyond what you’re selling and apart from your core customers? When I pose this question to early-stage founders, they often throw around (and confuse) words such as “purpose,” “vision,” “mission,” and “values.” But these buzzwords aren’t one and the same. They are separate building blocks of your brand framework.

To begin building your own framework, follow these steps:

1. Define your why

At the top of your brand framework sits purpose, or your reason why. It’s an open invitation to the party — a reason for the public to like, subscribe, comment and share, yes, but also a reason to believe in what you bring to the world.

When consumers subscribe to your purpose, they’ll show up for you. Case in point: Research from Zeno Group found that consumers are four times more likely to purchase from brands with a strong purpose. And an Accenture analysis of Unilever’s portfolio of brands determined that its purpose-led ones (such as Dove, which aims to instill confidence in girls by helping them reject conventional beauty standards) grow 50 percent faster than its other brands and deliver more than 60 percent of Unilever’s overall growth.

Related: Why a Purpose-Driven Mission Is Key to Motivating Millennials

Remember: That “why” is the foundation you start from. And during this journey, I find it helpful to keep this Simon Sinek quote in mind: “People don’t buy what you do — they buy why you do it.” Sinek places the “why” at the center of his “Golden Circle” and then builds out to “how” and, finally, “what.” To establish that why at the center, ask yourself these questions: What are you fighting against? What are you fighting for? What are your competitive advantages that will allow you to prevail in these fights? What will be different about the world once you’ve achieved your goal?

2. Find your direction

Under purpose sits vision, which steers you where you want to go. Pangaia is a brand that’s recently caught my eye (and wallet), and it offers a great example. At first glance, it sells apparel, but with only a few scrolls, you realize that Pangaia is using materials science to save the planet.

It’s amassed an enormous following in a short time — selling us sweatpants and T-shirts. Its customers, including me, are buying something bigger than a fashion-forward sweatshirt (though that’s a nice plus). We’re spending our money with Pangaia because we believe this brand can do good in the world and we want to wear that on our sleeve — literally.

Don’t try to force a brand vision based on what’s trending at the moment. Instead, play to your strengths. What are you good at? What do you know? In what way can your skill set support your why? Pangaia, for example, is made up of creatives who’ve worked for luxury fashion and scientists with experience in biofabrication. Combining these two very different strengths brings a unique and exciting strategy to the fight against climate change.

3. Chart your course

Next up is mission. Or in other words, how you’ll accomplish your vision. Pangaia is working to save our planet by combining fashion with the science of sustainable clothing, and the company gives consumers other reasons to buy into the why of what they do. Pangaia uses collaborative philanthropy to reverse planetary harm and benefit people. In October, for example, the company created a collection of hoodies and T-shirts with beauty brand Costa Brazil to support villages in the Amazon, where the fashion industry has historically left a destructive footprint. All proceeds from the collection were used to deliver PPE and other medical supplies to remote villages and helped relocate doctors to the region to fight the novel coronavirus.

To chart your course, think about how to deploy your mission multidimensionally. From what angles can you approach the goals you set when you defined your why?

4. Walk the walk

Finally, your values are what prescribe how you behave along the journey. Does your whole company embody your why? Does your mission align with your vision?

Related: Don’t Let These 3 Threats Kill Your Startup’s Mission in Its First 5 Years

Although the answers to these questions need to be yes, consumers don’t expect infallibility, and having a strong why can secure you some grace. The Zeno Group’s research showed that consumers are six times more likely to defend and protect a purpose-led brand after a public gaffe.

But that can be pushed only so far. United Airlines has long invited passengers to fly the friendly skies. But when it had a paying passenger forcibly dragged off an overbooked plane, with the company’s CEO defending the action the next day, the public noticed. Polls after the incident found that 79% of potential travelers would choose another airline, and 40% would do so even if it meant paying more and taking longer.

Stay in the Game

Brands don’t spring forth from aha moments — nor do they happen by accident. Your business might grind away for years to build its brand identity and still be seen as a business. But when you’re intentional and committed to building your brand’s framework, you will see gains. Momentum builds, word spreads. You start to make the shift from selling to customers to recruiting advocates. And that is what will sustain you for the long haul.


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