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| Oct 20, 2022

Know Who You Are, Don’t Apologize for It

Building your brand and figuring out what is important to yourself and your company has always been crucial to marketing and advertising. While the market has shifted, the rules of branding have not.

As people, we form our personalities and identities throughout our lives. We develop who we are as we age, and while we may try out different fashions and ideas on our path to finding ourselves, our core beliefs persist. Even if we try to resist them, they bubble up. For those of us who truly find our authentic selves, it is hard not to notice those who let others’ perceptions of them determine who they should be. 

Branding is the same. 

A brand’s identity should be organically grown, original, and personal. That identity should not be an adaptation of a one-size-fits-all model shaped by consumer insights or the marketplace forces that exist around us. 

Individuality as a differentiator 

Many modern marketing systems teach us that consumer research should lead all of our branding decisions. I don’t believe this. 

Brands that place the consumer at the center of their identity rather than the values that define them as a business are mostly bland. While consumer research is essential and powerful and can give us all an edge, it should function as a component of a marketing strategy, not a method to define your brand identity. 

The heart of your brand is your individuality — your organizational values, ethos, and unique worldview. At the end of the day, you know who you are.

As a next step, determining a plethora of ways, guided by research, to translate your unique identity and core belief to a diverse range of consumers is a lesson in great advertising.

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Finding the identity

Depending on your company and industry, you will always want to start with a hypothesis and further test internally what works and what does not. Exercise finding and projecting a point of view outwards; it can be as simple as deciding what it is about your brand that is distinctive and projecting that to the world. 

A strong brand identity does not happen by chance and can be a product of several different aspects. For a founder-based company, the core beliefs usually come through their identity or vision, and founders often have a specific way of changing their category or culture. 

For example, Ingvar Kamprad believed in creating a better everyday life for “the many people,” while Conrad Hilton believed that hospitality could change the world. More specifically, he believed that if he built hotels and allowed people to meet other strangers over coffee, it could surmount cultural barriers. Both IKEA and Hilton still hold these founder visions close.

Being truthful to who you are and what you do whilst being distinct from others will give you the headstart you need to stand out. However, getting noticed and having the identity register in a salient and omnipresent way is another obstacle. A clear brand identity is a roadmap that will stay relevant through changing trends and will help you in your efforts to grab consumers’ notoriously short attention.

Every creative opportunity I have gotten has come from self-belief and a game plan that often goes against what is conventional. Not everyone agrees with my approach, which I have resolved to be OK with to get the results I want. The same applies to brand identity.

Don’t be afraid to stand out

The most successful brands in the world have detractors and advocates. This polarization indicates a knowingness in the minds of consumers; they may not love you — or perhaps they do — but at least they know who you are and what you stand for and have formed an opinion about you. As a brand, the worst position to be in is to have a majority of consumers who have no opinion of you at all.

Building a brand outward is fundamental to achieving originality. The magic that sets you apart comes from within. Sir John Hegarty describes our task as building real estate in peoples’ minds. Marketing is more than just selling products, and this is why building distinctiveness is so essential. The goal is to build up memory structures by having a point of view that is unmistakably yours, and you can’t do this if you are asking people what you should be. Not everyone will like you for it, but you can’t build up this mental real estate unless people notice you. 

To me, the most enduring truth about building a brand is to show up as your authentic self. The second most enduring truth is about confidence. It’s challenging to be disruptive, to be consistent, to drive organizational change, to push for innovation, and to drive results without it. The last is to commit for the long term.

So to unlock your superpower, know who you are, don’t apologize for it, and don’t look back.

James Sowden
Executive Author

CSO and DEI Co-Lead, TBWA\Chiat\Day

James Sowden is a seasoned marketing executive with a passion for the true rules of branding. He is the Chief Strategy Officer at TBWA\Chiat\Day New York. view profile

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